A proposed commercial development policy would lead to a South Iowa Street-style shopping corridor on far West Sixth Street and kill downtown, two groups warned Lawrence city commissioners Tuesday.
The Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods and League of Women Voters said they opposed a provision in the policy that de-emphasizes downtown's role as the "primary" regional shopping center in the city.
And they objected to provisions they said would create a South Iowa-type shopping corridor on West Sixth Street between Wakarusa Drive and the South Lawrence Trafficway. Such a district also would hurt downtown, opponents said.
"Our downtown has already suffered from competition with businesses on South Iowa," said Jeanne Klein, representing the association. "Another de facto regional commercial center will kill it outright."
Commissioners delayed a decision on adopting the new commercial chapter of Horizon 2020, the city-county planning guide. They said they would take a closer look at the document in a future study session.
"This may be one of the most important issues this commission faces with respect to the city's development future," Commissioner David Schauner said.
The chapter, a revision of policies already contained in Horizon 2020, would govern city decisions on allowing proposed new stores such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot.
Three major concerns emerged during Tuesday's meeting:
- The current version of Horizon 2020 calls downtown the city's "primary regional commercial center." The revised policy takes "primary" out of the language.
"We think this is premature and not well thought-out," said Elizabeth Banks, of the League of Women Voters.
- The revised policy creates a new designation, CC500, that would allow creation of "community commercial" centers with 500,000 square feet of retail space smaller than the South Iowa corridor, but bigger than the center at Sixth and Wakarusa, which has a top limit of 450,000 square feet like other community centers.
West Lawrence residents expressed concerns that CC500s would be allowed on Sixth Street, both at Wakarusa and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
"If you go with this," Banks said, "you are creating de facto regional commercial centers."
- The revised policy also mandates the city should track whether the city has too much or too little commercial space by monitoring vacancy rates in Lawrence stores.
Kansas University professor Kirk McClure said tracking retail sales taxes would be a better measure.
"It is a fiction to believe we can build retail space faster than our retail spending," he said.
City planner Bryan Dyer said the policy, drafted by a Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission subcommittee during the last two years, was aimed at resolving some of the debates of recent years.
"You could research comprehensive plans in other cities and counties and not find anything as detailed as what you find before you," he said.
But no one spoke in favor of adopting the revised policy without revisions.
"I think we see the same issues coming to the surface a number of times," Mayor David Dunfield said.
The study session will be 9 a.m. July 9.