Archive for Thursday, February 27, 2003

Wal-Mart planning hearing delayed

Some claim politics are motivation for holdup

February 27, 2003

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Tuesday's primary election victory by Progressive Lawrence Campaign candidates could be creating new pressure on developers with proposals in the pipeline.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission on Wednesday delayed -- for a week -- a hearing on a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter for Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.

Immediately afterwards, opponents speculated the delay could mean the Lawrence City Commission won't be able to consider the issue until the new commission is seated April 8.

With Progressive Lawrence Campaign candidates taking the top three slots in Tuesday's primary election, the reasoning went, the commission could soon be filled with new members more inclined to cast a skeptical eye on development proposals. Horizon 2020, the city-county comprehensive plan could be interpreted more strictly in the near future.

"The majority of the standing City Commission has had a lenient view of Horizon 2020," said Melinda Henderson, Progressive Lawrence Campaign coordinator. "So I'm sure developers want to get their projects approved before the commission changes."

But Todd Thompson, Wal-Mart's Lawrence attorney, cautioned against reading too much into the delay. Planning commissioners decided to wait a week, he pointed out, because it was nearly 10 p.m.; they hadn't started with Wal-Mart yet because they had struggled with earlier items on the agenda.

"The only issue that was considered tonight was what's fair for everybody," Thompson said. "I think they did what was fair.

The opposition scenario is unlikely to play out, however. If the Planning Commission makes its decision next week, the City Commission could address the issue as soon as March 25 -- a week before the April 1 general election and two weeks before the new City Commission is seated.

Dozens of northwest Lawrence residents who sat through more than three hours of the meeting Wednesday night grumbled when the delay was announced.

Lawrence and rural Douglas and Jefferson County residents wait at
City Hall for the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission to
rule on an agenda item involving Hamm Quarry and concerned
neighbors. After a three-hour wait, the commission postponed the
discussion of a proposed Wal-Mart development at Sixth and Wakarusa
streets for at least a week, angering many who attended. Pictured
are, from left, Bobbie Neis, her son, Nicholas, 10, David Beebe and
Mark Neis.

Lawrence and rural Douglas and Jefferson County residents wait at City Hall for the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission to rule on an agenda item involving Hamm Quarry and concerned neighbors. After a three-hour wait, the commission postponed the discussion of a proposed Wal-Mart development at Sixth and Wakarusa streets for at least a week, angering many who attended. Pictured are, from left, Bobbie Neis, her son, Nicholas, 10, David Beebe and Mark Neis.

"It's frustrating," said Jeff Moran, one of the neighborhood opponents. "We've had people get baby sitters and have spouses watch their children for these meetings.

"Every time we muster our forces, it gets put off to the next meeting. Everything works for the developers."

Thompson said the delay was the correct action.

"I think it was the fair thing to do, for both the neighbors and the applicant," he said. "It would've been unfair to have rushed the testimony."

Planning commissioners defended their decision, saying they couldn't extend the meeting into today's early-morning hours.

"I don't think it's fair to take half the testimony one night, then put it off a week," Chairman Tom Jennings said.

Another hot northwest Lawrence issue, rezoning and plans for a housing development at Sixth Street and Folks Road, also was delayed until next week.

The Planning Commission will consider the issues at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Douglas County Courthouse.




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