Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners shouldn't be hasty in designating all or most of 1,300 acres in southeast Lawrence for industrial development.
Economic development officials have said there is a need to identify about 1,000 acres of potential industrial space in the county to meet the expected demand over the next 25 years. The Southeast Area Plan presented by the planning staff last week covers about 1,300 acres south of 23rd Street to the Wakarusa River and east of O'Connell Road to East 1750 Road. The draft plan includes about 440 acres of land for industrial, office and warehouse uses, but it also includes a variety of other residential and neighborhood commercial areas.
A couple of planning commissioners apparently are seeing the area covered by the plan as a golden opportunity to address most of the county's need for industrial land in one fell swoop by designating most of the area for industrial uses and eliminating residential development. The debate also is being cast as a contest between the affordable housing a local developer is proposing in the area and industrial development.
That's unfortunate, because affordable housing and industrial development both are high priorities for the community. We need more business to support our tax base, but we also need more affordable housing for the workers that will fill the jobs those businesses provide. It's not a matter of one or the other; the community can and should address both issues.
Affordable housing aside, however, there are other reasons that argue against designating 1,000 acres or more of that site for industrial development.
The planning commissioners note that the land is located near an existing industrial cluster, the East Hills Business Park. That's true, but how much industrial land is needed in that location? What if some of the former Farmland Industries property to the north is developed as industrial land? The city might be better served by having smaller industrial sites in several different locations to serve the needs of different businesses.
One of those needs is transportation. The planning commissioners point to the fact that the land in question is located at a future "transportation nexus" because of Franklin Road becoming a north-south arterial street and the South Lawrence Trafficway connecting to nearby Kansas Highway 10. The SLT is far from a reality and, if it receives the necessary approval and funding, still would take years to build. Even if it's completed on the currently proposed route, it might not supply the access some businesses want to Interstate 70.
The planners also cite the fact that the land is adjacent to Lawrence, simplifying extension of city services to the property. That's true, but other sites have that same advantage and should be considered.
City and county planners are working with the county's ECO2 group to find specific tracts of land in the county for possible industrial use. Six areas already have been identified, and information should be refined within a few months. Instead of rushing to designate a large portion of the 1,300 acres in southeast Lawrence for industrial use, planning commissioners should at least wait to examine the big picture study that's being prepared.
Looking at planning issues through a narrow lens hasn't been a winning strategy for Lawrence in the past, and taking a broader view of the issue of industrial expansion probably will result in a better decision for the future.