The time it takes to develop a plan for the future of a major northwest Lawrence intersection will pay long-term dividends both for residents and developers.
The Lawrence City Commission's decision to table a plan for a major commercial development in northwest Lawrence is raising objections from some corners, but it may well prevent a far larger controversy down the road.
Developers and a member of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission have blasted Tuesday's commission decision to put off a decision on a 92-acre residential and commercial development on the southeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. The arguments they offer against the delay, however, have some weaknesses.
Their primary contention is that the action prevents the developer from working with the Kansas Department of Transportation as it finalizes plans to widen that section of Sixth Street. This raises the question of whose responsibility it is to work with KDOT on traffic issues at a major city intersection. Is it the responsibility of individual developers who are seeking to advance their own financial interests? Or is it the responsibility of city officials who represent the best interests of the entire city and its residents?
Traffic flow at what seems destined to be a major commercial hub for Lawrence is a matter of concern for all Lawrence residents. The intersection should be designed to accommodate whatever commercial developments the city decides are appropriate at that location, not necessarily the needs of the first developer to present a plan for one corner of the intersection.
Too often, the city has allowed approval of individual commercial plans to drive piecemeal development that results in an area that serves neither local residents nor local business people in the best way. A notable example of this is the intersection of Iowa and 31st streets where complicated traffic issues are forcing taxpayers to foot a significant bill for traffic improvements that nonetheless will restrict access to some existing businesses at the intersection.
Similar problems are arising at the intersection of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. Early developments on that corner received approval for access points that now may be restricted because additional development at the intersection, or a lack of foresight by city officials, make them unworkable. Accommodating one development on a busy intersection may not serve the long-term interests of residents or of future developments at the site.
Those opposing the city commission's delay also argue that the commission was going against the recommendation of planning staffers and commissioners. However, attached to the planning commission's recommendation for approval was a request for planning staff to draw up an "area plan" to guide development on the other three corners of the intersection. In tabling the action, city commissioners were saying it would be even better to have such a plan in place before approving development on any of the four corners.
Mayor Sue Hack was on target when she said, "I am concerned about approving a portion of an area but saying we need the rest of it to have a plan. It seems to me that's a backwards way of doing it."
The time to make a plan that looks at the long-term future of that intersection is before any development is approved. The city hasn't won many medals for vision and long-term planning. Hopefully, those studying the Sixth Street and SLT intersection will have a more accurate crystal ball to guide their planning. City commissioners are drawing some short-term criticism for taking that approach, but, a solid long-range plan for the intersection might save the city some long-term headaches.