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Archive for Sunday, March 24, 1996

NORTHWEST AREA PLAN STILL DEVELOPING

March 24, 1996

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Efforts to build around Free State High School have been held up until officials craft a development plan.

As construction continues on Free State High School in west Lawrence, efforts to build a plan to develop the rugged, hilly area around it haven't made the grade.

Last week, the Lawrence-Douglas County Commission decided it needed more time to work on the Northwest Area Development Plan, which one commissioner called "a good idea gone bad."

The plan is being designed to manage growth in the area bounded by County Route 438 on the north, U.S. Highway 40 on the south, East 900 Road and the South Lawrence Trafficway on the west and East 1100 Road on the east.

After hearing from about 15 speakers -- all of whom had problems with the plan -- the commission decided to continue working on the plan next month.

The commission will study the plan at its 7:30 a.m. April 10 study session in the city commission room at city hall, Sixth and Massachusetts.

At issue is how to let those who want to develop their land do so without unduly disturbing the natural beauty that some neighboring landowners crave.

"It's a classic meeting of those who like their lifestyle exactly as it is today and hope to preserve it in the future, and those who want to exercise the opportunity to change the uses that their land now has," Phil Bradley, planning commission chairman, said Friday.

"It's my hope we're going to discuss it, and when the smoke clears, we'll have a rational plan of action of what we want to consider," Bradley said.

The commission hopes to confirm the data presented to it in the plan, which was put together by a consultant hired by the city. Among the problems cited in the plan were definitions used for determining what areas of ground should be set aside from development as conservation or riparian areas.

Curtis Sorensen, chairman of Kansas University's geography department and a soils specialist, told the commission that he walked the land and couldn't find any "prime farmland" in the southern half of the area the plan covers.

"To even begin to think we have a plan that addresses the facts would be a joke," said Dennis Snodgrass, a planning commissioner. Snodgrass said he personally didn't want to hold up developers any longer.

"We dropped the ball. We did something, but it wasn't right. It didn't work," said Frank Male, another commissioner.

One of the major problems expressed was that there hasn't been enough public input on the plan, which has been worked on by a five-member subcommittee consisting of planning commission members. Members of the public who attended complained they weren't allowed to address the subcommittee, except in written form.

"The process has simply failed here," said Price Banks, an attorney who represents landowners who want to develop property near the high school.

Jane Eldredge, an attorney who represents clients in the western part of the area, said Friday she thought the planning commission was correct in continuing to move forward on the plan.

However, Eldredge said the plan isn't needed -- all of the policies and principles it needs are already in the Western Development Plan adopted in 1989. She said the planning commission could deal with the area by amending the Western Development Plan, rather than creating a new plan.

"Basically, what the people on the north side of Sixth Street want is to be treated the same as the people on the south side of the street," Eldredge said.

"The (new) plan suggests entirely new policies on annexations on sewers and would apply only to this area," she said. "It suggests new subdivision regulations that would apply only to this area."

It also creates access regulations that would apply only on the north side of Sixth Street, she said.

"And it proposes the entire area as a conservation area, which in essence, would prohibit any development," she said.

She said other areas in the county with similar features haven't been targeted as conservation areas.

Meanwhile, Larry Kipp, who has 36 acres in the northeast section, has been interested in maintaining the area's ecological diversity.

"My biggest concern is uncertainty," said Kipp, an entomologist.

He is worried that landowners who don't live in the state won't care what the area looks like once it's developed.

"They want to take the money and run. But for those who are going to live here, we have to make sure they don't do it in a way that is trashing the place out," he said.

Oliver Finney, who lives in the area, told the commission he found the plan to be flawed in that it is so vague. That vagueness causes worries in landowners, Finney said.

"You make them crazy when they don't know what it is you have in mind," he said.

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