Residents of the Oread neighborhood left a meeting Wednesday night at the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce offices a little less anxious about a chamber report that recommends expanding downtown business district boundaries.
"Our main apprehension was that we'd be presented with a plan and be asked to either endorse it or shove it," said Kyle Thompson, president of the Oread Neighborhood Assn. "I've been reassured that this is not a plan of action.''
Authors and supporters of the report frequently assured Oread residents that the report was only the beginning of long-term dialogue on how best to keep downtown economically strong.
The meeting marked the first in a series with affected neighborhoods and other groups.
"This is just a starting point," said Earl Reineman, president-elect of Downtown Lawrence Inc., which has endorsed the report.
"It's a living document. It will be changed many times, as it already has."
THE REPORT, drafted by the chamber's downtown development task force, provides several recommendations for maintaining the economic vitality of downtown Lawrence.
Residents of neighborhoods that skirt downtown have expressed concern over a recommendation calling for a significant expansion of the downtown central business district.
DLI and the task force called the meeting to explain the report to neighborhood residents and record their concerns for the Lawrence City Commission, which should receive the report in early March, Reineman said.
Thompson said he was encouraged that the report in essence addressed mutual concerns, such as avoiding large retail developments outside downtown that could siphon the life out of downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.
"I'M ENCOURAGED, but I'm not signing off at this time," said Thompson.
"It will be interesting to see how this evolves."
Exchanges at the meeting were friendly, although several Oread residents expressed suspicions and concerns about aspects of the report, especially a section on improving access to downtown.
"How can you talk to us about widening Ninth Street and think we won't be suspicious?" said Fred Sack, 936 Ohio.
Bob Georgeson, chairman of the task force, said the recommendation on widening Ninth Street between Iowa Street and Emery Road was made before the city commission decided against widening the stretch between Highland Drive and Avalon Road.
RESIDENTS also questioned a recommendation calling for the expansion of the central business district to allow the building of residential multifamily housing, which would act as a buffer zone for neighborhoods.
"It doesn't make sense on the west side of downtown because you have multifamily zoning there," said Marci Francisco, 946 Ohio.
Georgeson assured her the task force members had discussed how multifamily housing would be more appropriate in some areas more than others.
Marcia Epstein, 1041 Tenn., complained that the report did not address historic preservation concerns.
Georgeson said preservation concerns were not purposefully omitted, and they could be addressed by the city and the community coalition.
DLI and the task force have scheduled several meetings with other groups potentially affected by the report, including neighborhood and church organizations, to present and discuss the report, Reineman said.
Their input also will be submitted to the city commission, he said.