Lawrence's planning processes are broken, city staffers create unnecessary burdens and obstacles to development, and the community demonstrates an anti-growth attitude, according to a new survey of 29 unidentified community leaders.
"There's a lot of conflict and dissension in the community," Dave Kingsley of Lawrence-based GRI Research said as the results of the survey were unveiled Thursday. "That's OK in the political process, but it's hurting us economically, and we need to deal with it."
But GRI's related survey of 1,700 residents in the broader community suggests that Lawrence residents are happy with City Hall -- if not the Planning Office. And they believe the community is friendly to, but should be choosy about, the businesses it attracts.
Both perspectives offered in the surveys, commissioned by the city, need to be taken into account, said Jackie Counts of GRI Research.
The "qualitative interviews" with community leaders seemed to carry the most weight with members of the city's Image Survey Committee, which includes Mayor Sue Hack. The committee met Thursday.
"It's difficult to hear things that are problematic," Hack said. "The only way we get better is to know where our mistakes are and try to improve on that."
Lawrence city commissioners authorized the survey last year amid criticisms that City Hall under the leadership of City Manager Mike Wildgen wasn't "user-friendly" enough. Wednesday after Wildgen's annual job evaluation, commissioners said user-friendliness at City Hall had improved. Hack said Thursday that the survey results wouldn't hurt Wildgen's job security.
"The goal is to serve the public," Wildgen said. 'We've heard some of those comments before. Maybe this validates some of it. Hopefully, there's some compliments."
Mostly the community leaders had complaints.
- Development faces "unnecessary burdens" from city staff, as well as delays and inconsistency from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission.
Planning Commissioner Jane Bateman disagreed.
"It'd be a lot easier if one person were making decisions," she said. "But that's not the way the process works. We have 10 people working on these things."
- "Diversity and passion" are community strengths, but the "anti-growth attitude" stymies progress.
Melinda Henderson, coordinator of the Progressive Lawrence Campaign -- and one of the community leaders interviewed in the survey -- thought otherwise. "We're not anti-growth; we're pro-planning," she said.
- Partnerships with Kansas University are difficult for businesses to cultivate but improving. Lynn Bretz, a KU spokeswoman, noted KU was instrumental in attracting two new biotech companies, Serologicals and Deciphera Pharmaceuticals, to Lawrence.
The surveys could prompt changes in city government. City commissioners will get a closer look at the survey results during a study session at 9 a.m. Feb. 27 at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.