The move by Nieder Acres property owners to prepare their residential subdivision south of Lawrence for a commercial takeover may hit a snag -- the city's Plan '95.
In something of a surprise move Wednesday night, representatives of Downtown Lawrence Inc. and the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods urged the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission to examine what the appropriate land use should be for the 30-acre subdivision.
In response, the planning commission decided to hold an informal public hearing on June 21 to consider how Plan '95, the city's comprehensive land-use plan, deals with commercial locations in the city.
Nieder Acres property owners have formally asked the city to annex their subdivision and rezone it from agricultural to a planned commercial development. Most of the residents want to sell their land because of commercial encroachment and failing utilities.
Target Department Stores Inc., a retail chain based in Minneapolis, Minn., wants to build a 116,000-square-foot store on a 10-acre tract within the subdivision, located west of Iowa Street between 31st and 33rd streets.
The Nieder Acres annexation and rezoning request is expected to come up before the planning commission in July.
Marsha Goff, one of the 21 homeowners in Nieder Acres, said this morning that she was unaware of Wednesday night's decision but was opposed to it.
Goff said holding a public hearing on Plan '95 would cause unnecessary delays for the Target store project.
"There has been ample time to correct the problems of Nieder Acres and they have had an opportunity to right something that was wrong," Goff said.
"I think that Nieder Acres is in the situation because of something that Plan '95 set up to happen," Goff said. "It wasn't apparent because it's taken awhile for the commercial development to surround us. For the last 10 to 15 years it's been apparent to everyone involved that Nieder Acres was in a lot of trouble."
Goff, who is a member of the Horizon 2020 land use and development task force, said she is part of the task force because of her experiences with Nieder Acres.
"If it's possible, I'm not going to let this happen to anybody else. This shouldn't have happened to us," she said.
Wint Winter Jr., a Lawrence attorney representing Target, said this morning that the company is willing to follow proper procedure but is opposed to the delay the public hearing would create.
The company had hoped to break ground in October and open the store early next year.
"We have considered that issue, and in our view it is a waste of time and is absolutely unnecessary. Plan '95 is, in effect, amended each time there is a zoning action," Winter said.
Winter said the company doesn't believe that the Nieder Acres rezoning issue is contrary to Plan '95.
"Secondly, if this does amend Plan '95, it is only a recognition of what has already been approved by the city, and that is discount stores in the area of South Iowa," Winter said. "It's unnecessary and could cause delays which may be fatal to the project."
At Wednesday night's meeting, several people told the planning commission that before it considers changes at Nieder Acres it first should determine whether the change would fit into Plan '95 and whether the comprehensive land use plan should be amended.
"What's relevant is appropriate land use," said David Longhurst, a former Lawrence mayor who is now manager of Lawrence Riverfront Plaza Factory Outlets.
Longhurst presented a letter to the commission from 10 people who called for a public hearing on changing Plan '95 before considering the annexation and rezoning of Nieder Acres.
He said Plan '95 identifies Nieder Acres as a single-family residential area.
"The ramifications of change in the comprehensive plan for this area are extensive," he said. "It is imperative that such change be considered prior to any request for a specific use."
He said some of the issues that should be considered include commercial containment, the amount of commercial zoning now in the city and whether another community business center should be established.
"Not very long ago, the city of Lawrence defended in state and federal court a decision they made in regard to rezoning for a suburban mall," Longhurst said. The basis for that defense was that the city held to its comprehensive land-use plan, he said.
"It is critically important that the integrity of the land-use plan be maintained," he said.
Earl Reineman, president of Downtown Lawrence Inc., said his organization supported the public hearing.
Also calling for a public hearing was Arthur Anderson, president of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods.
"This is an enormous land-use question," Anderson said. "It has an impact on the entire community."
If any amendments to Plan '95 are suggested at the public hearing, they later will be presented to the planners at a formal public hearing.