Construction has begun on a $2.3 million project to convert O'Connell Road from a thinly paved county route into a bustling city street.
The project also marks the beginning of a major transformation for the rural area along the southeast edge of Lawrence.
"A couple of years from now, the residents out there won't be on the edge of the city," said Sheila Stogsdill, assistant planning director for the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department. "They'll be part of a greatly expanded neighborhood."
In addition to a wider- and newly-paved road, plans have been proposed that would add about 300 houses, more than 300 apartments and perhaps a long-awaited grocery store near the corner of O'Connell Road and Kansas Highway 10.
Terese Gorman, Lawrence city engineer, said the road construction should be completed by the end of the year. When finished, the new road will include:
- Three lanes, including a center turning lane;
- A bike lane;
- A roundabout at the intersection of O'Connell Road and 28th Street;
- Sidewalks, curbs and gutters on both sides of the road.
The one-mile project will stretch from Kansas Highway 10, which also is 23rd Street, to 31st Street. O'Connell is closed to traffic south of 28th Street. Gorman said in about a month the entire road would be closed.
The road project has been in the city's plans the past five years. Stogsdill said the need had been there since the Prairie Park neighborhood was built in the early 1990s. The latest proposed development makes the need even greater.
A development group, led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Bill Newsome, bought the 180 acres that run along both sides of O'Connell where it intersects with the highway. For more than 50 years the property has been undeveloped agricultural ground owned by Farmland Industries. The company sold the property in May 2003 after it filed for bankruptcy protection.
Plans for about 60 acres, on the southwest corner of the intersection, have been approved by city commissioners. Newsome said the development, to be named Fairfield Farms, would include lots for 56 townhomes, 25 single-family homes and about 260 apartment units.
Plans for the remaining 120 acres on the southeast side of the intersection are pending before the Planning Commission, which has refused to hear them until a proposal for a sewer system can be developed. Stogsdill said debate on the development could begin in September.
Plans for the 120 acres include 230 lots for single-family homes and townhomes, about 15 acres for multifamily apartments, 10 acres for office development and 20 acres for a commercial development.
Newsome said he hoped the development would meet some of the city's need for starter homes. He estimated prices for townhomes would begin in the low $100,000 range, while single-family homes would cost between $150,000 and $200,000.
The 20-acre commercial development would be anchored by a grocery store, Newsome said. He said developers envisioned a center similar to the one developed at Sixth Street and Monterey Way. It houses a Hy-Vee Food and Drug Store and smaller retail shops.
"Everything is preliminary, but we have gotten feedback (from grocery companies) that is positive," Newsome said. "The preliminary feedback is that there's probably the demographics out there to support one now."
Newsome said grocery store companies had been hesitant to locate on the eastern edge of the city because they feared there weren't enough homes nearby.
He said it was too early to predict when work would begin on the commercial portion of the project. Newsome said the development group would not begin work until signing a major tenant.
"We all want it to be sooner rather than later, though," Newsome said.
The possibility of a grocery store has some area residents cautiously optimistic about the new development.
Amber Shultz, who lives in the adjacent Prairie Park neighborhood, said she wasn't looking forward to taking detours because of the road construction. She said she also was concerned about the number of new apartments in the development plans.
"But I would love to have a decent grocery store on this side of town," Shultz said. "A grocery store and maybe a nice little gas station. Something that would keep us from getting on K-10 all the time."
Marcia Tyhurst, also a Prairie Park resident, said she was surprised to learn about the development. She also welcomed the possibility of a grocery store but expressed some sorrow about the changing character of the area.
"When we moved here from Overland Park we said we liked the quaintness of Lawrence," Tyhurst said. "Now it is beginning to look like Overland Park. But I want the grocery store, so I guess I can't win either way."
-- Business editor Chad Lawhorn can be reached at 832-6362.