The First Southern Baptist Church's last-ditch effort to sell its property at 19th and Naismith cleared its final hurdle Tuesday night, when Lawrence city commissioners agreed to rezone the land for apartments.
In a battle that pitted neighbors against neighbors and planning commissioners against planning commissioners, Tuesday's 3-2 vote cleared the way for redevelopment of the 40-year-old church building at 1917 Naismith into student apartments.
Several nearby residents, two neighborhood associations and even the citywide Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods all opposed the rezoning, which will permit multifamily rental properties on land previously reserved for single-family homes.
Commissioner Bob Moody, who joined Commissioners Jo Andersen and Bonnie Augustine in approving the rezoning, said the city should be happy that an apartment developer wasn't continuing the recent trend of residential sprawl on the outskirts of town.
The intersection's other corners feature another apartment complex and two dormitories for Kansas University students.
"I can't think of a more logical place to allow infill development of a multifamily setting than next to the university," he said.
But opponents wanted to draw the multifamily line at 19th Street, west of Naismith. And Commissioner Allen Levine sided with people who argued that the apartments could lead to more traffic, more noise and lower property values in the fragile Schwegler neighborhood.
"The commission's goal should always be to protect its neighborhoods," said Levine, who joined mayor John Nalbandian in opposing the project.
Mark Lehmann, one of five partners in River City Development LLC, which will convert the church into apartments, said he was happy to have an opportunity to help his neighborhood retain its character.
The group plans to spend $385,000 for the land, plus another $400,000 for renovations, to provide 11 three-bedroom apartments -- each with three bathrooms -- for students, he said. The group plans to open Naismith Street Station by Aug. 1.
"We want to see a quality project in there ... something that will protect the neighborhood," said Kandace Lehmann, another partner in the project.
Others didn't see it that way.
Jim Patti, president of the Schwegler Neighborhood Assn., said the church could have sold its property, despite assertions that it had not received a single viable offer in six years.
Patti said that while the church would move into its new home on Sixth Street, with plenty of money from the sale, elderly residents along Emerald Drive and Hillview Road would be left with declining property values.
"Who should be the loser -- those who have to stay there, or those who decided to leave?" Patti said.
In other action, commissioners heard about plans to coordinate traffic signals on Iowa Street, from Ninth to 33rd streets. With new timings in place by the end of this month, drivers can expect to shave up to 90 seconds off the usual seven-minute trip during the 5 p.m. rush hour, traffic engineers said.
The timing plan, which cost the city $36,335, will be evaluated again in early November.