Mayor David Dunfield soon will appoint a task force aimed at giving City Hall a stronger hand in guiding Lawrence's growth.
New policies developed by the task force should give officials a road map to guide how the city can build new roads, utilities and other services in areas where the Lawrence City Commission wants growth to follow.
"I think this is a significant change in how we'll do development in Lawrence," said Phil Struble, president of Landplan Engineering and a likely member of the new task force. "I'm hopeful, based on the discussion, that it will be a change for the better."
Commissioners in May said that development of an "adequate public facilities" policy -- to have city services ready ahead of new development -- was their top priority.
"It's a way of making it possible to put the planning ahead of growth so we're not always reacting to pressures, but are providing a clear direction," Mayor David Dunfield said in May.
And during a City Commission study session Wednesday in City Hall, Dunfield said the people who would be affected by such policies must be part of shaping them.
"I think we're going to have to get the development community involved in this discussion," he said.
There will be a cost, however. Constructing roads and utilities before developers are ready to build their own projects means the city will have to shell out its own money and wait for repayment until the projects become reality.
"If the city is going to take the lead in how the city grows, we have to be willing to spend the money up front," Commissioner Boog Highberger said.
Assistant City Manager Dave Corliss said one option being used in Johnson County was an excise tax on newly filed plats, documents that show the legal descriptions of lots in a new development. The tax, a one-time charge, rises to as high as 19 cents per square foot in Johnson County, Corliss said.
In the short-term, commissioners said Friday, they want city staffers to come up with new mandates for residential developers to pay for bike lanes on new streets in their neighborhoods, and to come up with new ways of financing the costs of new water lines so that payments can be spread over a period of years instead of up front.
The city may also look at using sales taxes on goods sold at new commercial developments to pay the costs of adjacent street improvements required for those new stores.
Commissioners said the coming changes, while dramatic, might help the city grow in a more orderly manner.
"It's not the intention of the regulations to throw up roadblocks unnecessarily," Dunfield said. "It's just to manage things better."
He said the task force should be named within weeks.