The future of more than 1,300 acres in southeast Lawrence is caught in a tug-of-war between two community needs: industrial land and affordable housing.
Lawrence developer Bill Newsome has proposed developing some of the land to include what he calls "starter-priced" housing.
Members of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission say they have a better idea: Set aside the property for badly needed industrial sites.
But economic development officials Wednesday suggested planning commissioners shouldn't derail Newsome's plan while the search continues for industrial sites.
"It concerns me to think of this as an either/or: either we're for affordable housing or we're for industrial land," said Lynn Parman, vice president of economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. "There has to be a balance."
At least one planning commissioner, however, wasn't budging.
"The area within the Southeast Area Plan, I would argue, has greater (industrial) potential than any other area that I'm aware of," said John Haase, Planning Commission chairman.
The Southeast Area Plan maps out the future of land south of the closed Farmland Industries Inc. fertilizer plant on Kansas Highway 10, between O'Connell and Noria roads and north of the Wakarusa River.
The draft plan envisions mostly low- and medium-density residential uses for the land, with some industrial land set aside along the north edge. Commissioners delayed approving the plan, saying most of the property could be used to fill the need for 1,000 acres of industrial land sought by economic development officials. Lawrence and Douglas County governments both have passed resolutions calling for identification of such land.
Newsome, whose Eastside Acquisitions has proposed building 200 apartments and 55 townhouses on 180 acres of the property, did not attend a Planning Commission study session on the topic Wednesday.
"I don't think that anyone would argue that there is a demand for lots and there's a demand for starter-priced housing in Lawrence," Newsome later told the Journal-World. "There really is no other area to do it in today, other than this southeast area."
Margene Swarts, the city's community development manager, said federal guidelines suggested a home priced at about $150,000 would be considered affordable in the Lawrence housing market. County officials said the average home sale price in 2004 was more than $160,000.
"It's very tight," Swarts said of the affordable housing market.
Newsome said the proposed townhomes would probably sell for "south of $150,000."
Jobs needed, too
But Haase and Commissioner David Burress said there were several reasons the site should be used as industrial land, which officials say is needed to lure jobs and businesses to town:
- It's located near an existing industrial cluster. The East Hills Business Park, just north and east of the land in question, covers 300 acres.
- It's adjacent to Lawrence city limits, and thus could be connected to city services relatively easily and cheaply.
- And it exists near a future "transportation nexus;" Franklin Road is projected to become a north-south arterial street, and the South Lawrence Trafficway should connect nearby with K-10.
At the very least, Haase suggested, commissioners should wait to approve the Southeast Area Plan -- and Newsome's proposal -- until officials have a clearer sense of where they want to set aside industrial land.
"Once we've answered these questions satisfactorily, then we can do some land-use planning," he said.
No decisions were made Wednesday. The Planning Commission will formally consider the Southeast Area Plan at its Sept. 22 meeting, 6:30 p.m. in City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.