According to reports of this week's Horizon 2020 community forum, it appears there has been some effective, behind-the-scenes lobbying going on concerning the 2020 Strawman Plan.
Members of the land-use task force, for example, devoted many hours to their particular task, but said the Strawman report bore little resemblance to what the majority of the committee members had agreed upon in their deliberations.
Steve Sublett, a member of the committee said, "The land use group met for many, many hours, but very, very little of what we worked on is reflected in the report. If the only reason I was there was so people would think there was public input, then I'm frustrated."
There's every reason for Sublett to be frustrated, but should the slanted Strawman report really come as any surprise?
Last spring, the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods' newsletter headlined their report, "Task Group reports: 9 Hits; 1 Miss." The land-use report was termed "land useless," and a LAN member who also was on the land-use task force said he and a few others on the committee had been "steamrollered by those who would like to steamroller more of Douglas County."
Clearly, someone in LAN did a bit of steamrolling, if the Strawman report did not resemble what members of the committee had voted on some months ago.
This raises questions about who did the interpreting or editing of the various committee reports. Apparently, some of those attending this week's meeting raised the same question because other committee reports did not reflect the thinking of those who had served on some of the committees.
One thing should be remembered in all of this. Although it is not the case in all situations, consultants are very much aware of who is paying their bill, and they are eager to please the customer. They want clients who will say how great they were, how well they carried out the task and anything else that might help the consultant get a job in another city. The consultant surely knew the city-county planning office view on growth and development.
According to some at the 2020 meeting, the interpretation of committee reports seems to have been in the hands of the consultants. Did disgruntled members of the land-use committee lobby to have the Strawman report revised? Others who attended the meeting also suggested there may have been some slanting of other committee reports.
Votes were taken at Wednesday's meeting concerning physical growth of the area, nonresidential development, local neighborhoods, farming, downtown Lawrence and the development of conference facilities, but the meeting was open to anyone, whether or not they had participated in the various study sessions. Because of that, votes taken at the meeting do not necessarily reflect what members of the task forces think about the issues. It's easy to pack an audience with those who will vote a certain way.
The consultant told those at the meeting that discussion on 2020 has "unnecessarily polarized you, and we need to find some ways to address it."
Special interest groups, those who are determined to do whatever they can to stall or defeat growth or those who continue to insist the downtown area is the city's and region's primary business area are not prone to give and take. They want it all their way, and if they can't have it, they'll do what they can to defeat a project or policy.
Take the South Lawrence Trafficway. This is a badly needed, long-overdue road, but there are those who are committed to ruining the plan. How about the Target department store? Many of those who give lip-service to the Target project are working to defeat or stall the effort. They will use the Southern Development Plan or other schemes to place so many roadblocks in the way of Target or other retail developments that they will decide to move to other cities rather than jump through hoop after hoop to get the city's blessing.
Horizon 2020, although it has been presented merely as a guide to growth and development, will be used just as Plan 95 has been used -- to justify and defend the actions of city planners and others trying to slow down growth and development in Lawrence.
It will be interesting to see what happens with the soon-to-be-vacated Woolworth's building, one of the largest buildings in downtown Lawrence. If the downtown is indeed the "region's primary shopping area," it shouldn't take long for a major retailer to announce plans to move into this prime location.
The Horizon 2020 completion schedule calls for many more meetings before the plan receives final approval and becomes an integral part of this area's plan and policy for future growth, land use and economic development.
Organizations such as the LAN, the Lawrence Preservation Alliance, Downtown Lawrence and the League of Women Voters, with the help of the city's planning office, have been working for years to get their votes, policies and plans in place for Horizon 2020. They are not likely to abandon their goals until final approval of 2020. They will continue to lobby and they will pack any meetings with as many supporters as they can.
Those who favor continued growth, the kind of growth that in past years has made Lawrence such an attractive city, should keep this in mind. They should work just as hard as the narrow, special interest groups to have Lawrence continue to be a great place in which to live, work and play. The potential for Lawrence is almost unlimited, but a negative, restrictive Horizon 2020 that doesn't set high goals and challenge area citizens, can have a disastrous effect on the city.