If city officials aren't willing to renegotiate the boundaries of an urban growth area around Lawrence, Douglas County commissioners say a rural water agreement -- and maybe even Horizon 2020 -- will be in jeopardy.
In more immediate peril is the water meter deal. The city of Lawrence had agreed to let southern Douglas County water districts sell more meters if the county commission approved rural development controls in areas outside the city limits.
The sticking point for at least two county commissioners is the size of the urban growth area around Lawrence, where the tightest development controls would be in effect. The city wants the UGA, which is part of Horizon 2020, the proposed guide plan for development, to extend two miles south of the Wakarusa River.
County Commissioners Mark Buhler and Louie McElhaney say that goes too far. They aren't interested in a UGA that includes areas that the city isn't in a position to annex and the city currently has no plans to build a sewage treatment plant south of the river.
County commissioners are expected to consider approval of Horizon 2020 when they meet at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday in the Douglas County Courthouse, 11th and Massachusetts.
Sheila Stogsdill, assistant planning director, said there were many variables in the situation and that she wasn't certain how the process of approving Horizon 2020 would play out if the county refused to approve the UGA.
City Manager Mike Wildgen said city commissioners have indicated that they are unwilling to redraw the UGA boundaries, on which they already have compromised. City officials thought they had a tentative agreement with the county on the terms of the agreement, including where the UGA would be.
``What's on the table is on the table. The deal has not changed,'' Wildgen said.
``They went through a lot to get to that,'' he said of the ground city commissioners already have given up, ``and I don't expect them to change that.''
Buhler, who has lobbied on the rural water districts' behalf, said he does not want to hurt their cause but that he's prepared to reject the city's offer.
``I guess I'm trying to decide who I'm helping with a water meter deal if it means putting a 2020 in place that doesn't really make sense,'' he said. ``If I have to fall on the sword or give something up, I guess 2020 is more important to the long-term benefit of the county.''
McElhaney, whose home on N. 1100 Road is in the proposed UGA, said that letting the boundary creep past the Wakarusa River would be inviting the city's encroachment on rural property rights far from the city limits. He feared the city would use the five-year reviews of Horizon 2020 to extend its control in rural areas.
``Every time they review this thing they could push that line out a little further,'' McElhaney said. ``I think it's just a loose cannon once it gets started.''
Buhler said his misgivings about the city's UGA were reinforced last month when the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission recommended on a 9-0 vote that the UGA shrink.
``They said it can be a smaller area and make sense -- and they said it in spades,'' he said.
Buhler said he was surprised at the city's unwillingness to reopen discussions in light of the planning commission recommendation and criticized the city for being high-handed in its dealings with the water districts.
``I think the city needed to extend the olive branch months ago instead of just digging their heels in and saying, `I'm the boss,''' he said.
Commissioner Jim Chappell, who has said his vote on Horizon 2020 hinges on passage of the water meter compromise, said he too is displeased with the city's unwillingness to negotiate.
He and Buhler noted that not resolving the UGA issue now may mean that Horizon 2020 won't be passed before the end of the year, when Chappell and McElhaney complete their terms. They'll be replaced by Dean Nieder and Tom Taul, two rural Republicans who espouse conservative views on property rights issues.
``We may have to deal with 2020 with a new commission and I don't know whether the city thinks that's going to be a help,'' Buhler said.
Chappell said he was leaning toward proposing a deferral of the vote.
``It may be appropriate for me to let the next commission vote on Horizon 2020,'' Chappell said. ``They're the ones that are going to have to live with it.''