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Archive for Tuesday, June 15, 1999

June 15, 1999

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After numerous debates over the last 20 years, Douglas County may be on the verge of repealing its 5-acre exemption on the fringes of Lawrence.

It is a neighborhood without a name, a private gravel road lined with about 10 houses well within the cluster of fast-food restaurants, strip malls and sprouting new homes that signal the western edge of Lawrence.

The area just south of Sixth Street at Folks Road is also a city planner's headache, without a through street, sewer line or utility easement.

It is a situation county officials are hoping to avoid in the future by repealing the 5-acre exemption in the parts of Douglas County nearest to Lawrence, the so-called urban growth area. The topic is to be discussed at Wednesday's Douglas County Commission meeting.

The 5-acre exemption was created to allow rural property owners to break off 5-acre portions of their farms where family members could build homes without having to jump through hoops of platting and rezoning.

"You've got to get a building permit, but that's the only oversight," Linda Finger, Lawrence-Douglas County planning director, said.

But what is easy for farmers will be hard for urban planners if the property is eventually annexed by a municipality.

"It prevents the ability to be proactive in your planning," Finger said. "If somebody goes in and builds a house where logically a road should happen, " then it's something you have to fix rather than something you did right the first time."

The topic has been seriously discussed six times over the last 20 years, Finger said.

Each time it has received a cool reception by rural landowners.

"There's still a little bit of country in us," Finger said.

Former commissioner Louie McElhaney has been one of the vocal opponents to such a move.

"Everybody tries to restrict what everyone else does," McElhaney said. "Once you do away with it you are not going to get it back, that's for sure. It's gone."

By confining the change to the urban growth area, the planning staff may have found the spoonful of sugar to get it passed.

"As government officials we want to be consistent," said Craig Weinaug, county administrator. "But it doesn't make sense to impose the same rules on the southwest corner of the county as you put on a property 50 feet outside of a city that is growing as fast as any city in America."

The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission voted unanimously last month to recommend the 5-acre exemption be repealed within the urban growth area.

County commissioners seem to be in agreement.

"I didn't know they could build on 5 acres inside the growth area," said Chairman Dean Nieder. "I really don't think it's going to be very controversial."

Even McElhaney is supportive.

Weinaug said he doesn't believe the change in the urban growth area is a precursor to repealing the exemption countywide.

"Not with the current county commission," he said. "I can't say what a future county commission may say."

But the change's effects will grow with the urban growth area.

That's only fair, Finger said.

"If you are going to be next to the city you ought to develop with city standards," she said.

-- Kendrick Blackwood's phone message number is 832-7221. His e-mail address is kblackwood@ljworld.com.

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