New members of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission wasted little time Wednesday night in making their presence felt.
David Burress, Myles Schachter and John Haase took their place on the 10-member commission Wednesday. Their first act: joining a unanimous vote to make Commissioner Ron Durflinger the board's chairman for the next year.
Burress then quickly challenged a seemingly routine item on the commission's agenda.
The item concerned a revised preliminary plat for a proposed 21-lot residential subdivision west of Kasold Drive and north of West 28th Street. Much of the development, Burress said, sits within a floodplain.
"In general, it's bad policy to build a house in the floodplain that's not a surprising idea," he said. "As a matter of policy, we should prevent building in floodplains."
A spokesman for the developer said the plans include efforts to mitigate flooding at the development.
Planning Director Linda Finger said Horizon 2020, the city-county long-range planning guide, contains "generalized wording" against floodplain development, but city codes allow the practice. That makes it difficult to reject such a development without incurring the risk of a lawsuit from a developer, she said.
"If you're acting on the comprehensive plan," she said, "you'd need the (city) code in place to support it."
As a result, Burress said, "I'm going to vote yes, but I'm not happy about it.
"It seems pretty clear we've got a bad policy here, and we ought to change it."
Durflinger said the development adheres to all local, state and federal recommendations.
"It may be the opinion of certain people that this is bad policy, but we're not here to make policy," he said.
"Certain people," Durflinger suggested, should contact elected officials to change the policy.
In fact, Lawrence city commissioners this week reiterated their desire to take a close look at floodplain development regulations.
The new planning commissioners replaced Greg Frost, Frank Male and Paul Werner, whose terms expired.
Burress and Schachter were active questioners during much of the meeting. Jane Bateman, the outgoing commission chairwoman, welcomed all three newcomers to the board, but gave them a reminder.
"It takes 10 of us," she said, "to come up with good decisions."