The horse should go before the cart.
The city should build its infrastructure where it wants development to happen instead of letting developers decide where the city should provide new services, a consultant told government officials Wednesday.
That was one suggestion in a new report by Eric Damian Kelly, a consultant with Austin, Tex.-based Duncan Associates. Another option: imposing impact fees on developers to recover the cost incurred by the city in providing the public facilities required to serve the new development. And Kelly said officials also might want to include schools and other Douglas County cities in the planning process.
But, Kelly told city and county commissioners in a joint meeting Wednesday, Lawrence and Douglas County get mostly good marks for their existing development policies.
"The city is using its development policy constructively," he said. "There are still problems out there."
Officials commissioned the "adequate public facilities" study last year to look at ways to make sure Lawrence development happens only when the city is ready with finances and facilities to provide services to the new area.
Assistant City Manager Dave Corliss said the city already was working with the county to build sewer lines west of the city where growth was anticipated. And city officials always negotiate to have developers pay part or all of the costs of extending services to their projects
Kelly said it was unclear whether those fees represented developers' fair share of growth expenses. He said the "necessarily incremental approach" of building services as development popped up meant some systems must be rebuilt several times as new and unexpected developments create new demands. An example: The intersection of 31st and Iowa streets will be rebuilt where a new Home Depot store is replacing a mobile home park, bringing much more traffic to the area.
What's more, Kelly said, it didn't appear the city would reject a development it didn't have the resources to serve.
"There's little implication a development would be turned down because it overwhelms a system in its area," he said.
Lawrence and Douglas County politicians have a host of policy decisions to make before any of Kelly's suggestions become reality. They said it might be tough to convince developers that greater government guidance over growth is good.
"There's more restraint here for developers," County Commissioner Charles Jones said. "Is there anything in here that they'll say is a good thing?"
"I think you'll find that developers want predictability from the system," Kelly said. "They might argue against specific programs, but in general they'll thank you.
"Developers will be suspicious of the cost, but once they're convinced you'll treat them fairly, they'll love this system."
They might, said Bobbie Flory of the Lawrence Home Builders Assn.
Developers, she said, try to build "where they think it's logical the infrastructure is going to go. If (the city) is actually getting out in front of that, it would be helpful."
Bill Yanek of the Lawrence Builder-Realtor Coalition suggested developers might not even have a problem with impact fees under certain conditions.
"I think developers are concerned impact fees go to the actual cost of development instead of being a supplement to the rest of the city budget," he said.
Kelly will submit a final draft of the report within three weeks, he said. Local officials said they would take extensive public comment before they put any of his recommendations into practice.
Staff writer Joel Mathis can be reached at 832-7126.