Archive for Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Officials size up city growth issue

Public hearing Tuesday draws no comment

September 17, 2003


Few believe the topic of directing Lawrence's growth into rural areas will be easily settled, but a debate failed to materialize Tuesday when the issue hit the Lawrence City Commission.

That's expected to change, perhaps as soon as tonight, when the Douglas County Commission takes up expansion of Lawrence's urban growth area.

No one from the public showed up to comment on the expansion Tuesday, even though rural landowners in its path aren't expected to like the proposal since it would restrict their development options.

Bryan Dyer, a city planner, said a "proliferation" of home construction on five-acre lots south of the Wakarusa River and west of U.S. Highway 59 would be halted if the proposal were approved.

"If we extend the growth area, this would stop that," Dyer told city commissioners Tuesday.

As expected, commissioners put off a decision until they can meet jointly with the Douglas County Commission, which also must agree before the urban growth area and its attendant land restrictions become law.

"I think the hope is we can come to some consensus instead of bouncing this back-and-forth," City Commissioner Mike Rundle said.

Douglas County commissioners are expected to follow suit when they discuss the issue at 6:35 p.m. today at the county courthouse, 1100 Mass. The meeting will give county commissioners a chance to float their own ideas for how the city should expand.

They, too, intend to hold off on making a formal decision until after a joint study session can be scheduled with their city counterparts.

Adding to the growth area would stretch city-minded development regulations farther into rural areas, land expected to become an urban environment in the next decade or two. City planners are preparing for 20,000 new residents south of the Wakarusa River by 2025.

The idea behind the regulatory growth area: Make sure that any new homes, schools or businesses built near the city in the coming years won't cause any problems when annexed into Lawrence.

The main point of debate, for now, is where the line should be drawn. Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners say the southern boundary should be North 900 Road, while their paid advisers -- city-county planners -- advocate keeping the boundary a mile closer to Lawrence, at North 1000 Road.

County commissioners are to weigh in on the issue tonight. Commissioner Charles Jones already has indicated that he supported expanding the growth area, while Commissioner Jere McElhaney has expressed fears of a wider area pricing people off of their properties because of rising land values.

Bob Johnson, commission chairman, said he would prefer to support the North 1000 Road line.

"If left to my own devices," he said during a meeting last week, "I'd probably go farther."

Johnson also advocates extending the northern boundary of the growth area -- an area generally north of Lawrence Municipal Airport -- all the way to the Jefferson County line. Such an extension, he said, could help accommodate future industrial projects and the jobs that would come with them.

No firm date has been set for the joint study session.

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