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Archive for Sunday, July 5, 1992

July 5, 1992

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Why does Lawrence have retail outlet shopping downtown and not a "cornfield mall?" It's in the plan.

Why is the community working on a highway system around Lawrence? It's in the plan.

Why aren't there any apartment complexes on Ninth Street? Well, it's in the plan, but it didn't work out that way.

Since 1977, decisions on how the city, residents and developers can use land in Lawrence have been guided by Plan 95, the city's comprehensive land use plan.

The city soon will retire Plan 95 and replace it with Horizon 2020, a new guide which also would cover the nonincorporated areas of Douglas County.

"This will determine generally the kinds of things we want to achieve as a community," said Price Banks, city-county planning director. "It's what we want to be when we grow up."

But polices carved out in Horizon 2020 won't necessarily be set in stone, Banks said. As in the past, local politics will have the final whack at shaping Douglas County.

"There is a lot of political activity that goes into the zoning process, so things in the plan don't always follow through," Banks said.

Organizers say the new plan should be complete by September, 1993. The planning process already has begun.

Consultants from Trkla, Pettigrew, Allen and Payne, a Chicago-based firm chosen to guide the community in the process, are gathering information on the community and preparing surveys for residents and business leaders.

City and county officials have appointed a 15-member commitee to steer the process.

The first public meeting to get input from the public is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 6. Consultants will ask residents what they want the county to be in the future.

The policies spelled out in Horizon 2020 will shape all aspects of county life, including neighborhood quality, agriculture, housing, streets, recreation and economic development.

"There is no question that Plan 95 has had an impact on the shape of the city," Banks said.

When developers came to town with plans for a "cornfield mall" on the outskirts of town, city officials pointed to a policy in Plan 95 saying downtown should be the primary retail center.

Riverfront Plaza, the city's downtown answer to mall shopping in Lawrence, has strengthened downtown's stance as retail center, said Earl Reineman, president of Downtown Lawrence Inc.

"Downtown is stronger than it's ever been," Reineman said. "People would not invest in downtown if they thought its future was threatened by a suburban mall," he said.

Plan 95 always comes into play in zoning decisions, Banks said.

When residents of a west side neighborhood recently tried to convince the planning commission to recommend downzoning land set aside for an apartment complex, they ran into a Plan 95 provision saying the area was appropriate for the complex.

Plan 95 also called for a circumferential roadway around Lawrence, and it will take shape with construction of the South Lawrence Trafficway, the Eastern Parkway and improvements to U.S. Highway 40 west of Lawrence.

But the policies in the plan are not always the final word on land use decisions.

"Planning quite often runs against politics," Banks said. "We're hammering on them (city commissioners) to be responsive to plans, but sometimes you have an interest group out there that wants something now."

Plan 95 originally called for high density housing surrounding the Kansas University campus to serve students. But as housing started going up, Oread neighborhood residents objected.

"We decided to push high density housing away from the neighborhood," Banks said. The move led to high density apartments on Ninth, 15th and 23rd streets, which were not earmarked for so much development.

In addition, some Plan 95 policies are vague, Banks said, allowing decision makers to deal with an evolving community.

However, that flexibility can lead to some pretty loose readings of the plan, said Lawrence City Commissioner Bob Schumm.

He points to a decision in 1989 by commissioners for commercial zoning at the corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. Plan 95 called for a limit of 30 acres of commercial land at the intersection.

At Schumm's objection, commissioners voted to rezone about 27 acres commercial on two corners, leaving the two other corners open for more commercial zoning requests.

"I think that narrowly fit inside the plan," Schumm said. "In the future, we will have problems there. You will have overzoning."

Overzoning leads to too much supply for the community demand, abandoned businesses and eventual decay. It also steals business away from downtown stores.

Schumm fears that the owners of land on the other two corners can make a good argument for zoning their land commercial as well. "My prediction is, they'll be back," Schumm said.

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