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Archive for Monday, June 10, 2002

New planner claims no agenda

June 10, 2002

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You might expect Dennis Lawson to arrive on the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission as a firebrand defender of rural interests.

He still lives on the same rural Douglas County farm first settled by his great-grandparents in the 1880s. And he hopes to pass the land on to his children, keeping it in the family a fifth generation.

What's more, he was appointed by Douglas County Commission Chairman Jere McElhaney, who has been critical of city appointments to the commission as unfriendly to rural interests.

But Lawson, who starts the job this month, says he has no special agenda.

"I think I can claim a lack of agenda," Lawson said. "Which may mean I don't know enough to know what the agenda should be."

"He'll evaluate every issue, not just the issues that are of interest to him, and he'll make good choices," McElhaney said.

Lawson, 53, is a Republican. He said he had no development interests. He works by day at Farm Credit Services and comes home to run a couple of dozen cattle on his farm. He said that experience and his long history in Douglas County should serve him well on the commission.

"Obviously, I'm going to have a different view of Douglas County than a recent arrival," he said. "We can't necessarily make all our decisions based on that history, but we can have some balance between the way it has been and the way it's intended to change."

Lawson said he didn't know Horizon 2020, the city-county long-range planning guide, well enough to say whether it should be followed strictly or as a loose guide.

"I don't come with a certain set of knowledge and beliefs about what's there," he said. "I've been told by certain folks the (commission) requires thoughtfulness and common sense, and I'll approach it that way."

Lawson said he had mixed feelings about the five-acre exemption. The exemption basically allows property owners to build a home without going through rezoning or platting if they have five or more acres. The rule has been criticized as allowing explosive unplanned growth in the rural parts of the county, but defenders say it allows farmers to build new homes on their property for adult children.

"I don't know enough to be certain what kind of approaches are correct on that," Lawson said.

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