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Archive for Thursday, September 9, 2004

Planning pact

An agreement that defines a boundary between city and Kansas University planning authority is a step forward in town-gown cooperation

September 9, 2004

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Although some local residents aren't satisfied with a proposed new agreement between Kansas University and the city of Lawrence, the pact represents a significant piece of planning cooperation.

The pact would set a boundary for the KU campus that includes property owned by the state and by the KU Endowment Association. Any campus expansion or construction outside that line would be subject to city zoning rules and processes.

At Tuesday's Lawrence City Commission meeting, some local residents complained that the city wouldn't have enough power over expansion or development on the campus, but the pact does draw some important lines and address some key concerns of people living in areas adjacent to campus. It also helps define what has been a nebulous legal position between the city and the university.

For instance, the pact offers what many neighborhoods refer to as "predictability" about where the campus will grow. People living just outside the boundaries drawn in the pact will know that the university can't encroach further into their neighborhood without submitting to city zoning regulations. That should stabilize property values and discourage property owners from allowing houses to deteriorate beyond repair on the assumption that the university still will be interested in purchasing the land.

Designating a campus boundary also will allow the university to move ahead on reasonable projects inside the boundary without facing lawsuits or neighborhood protests. Some people who attended Tuesday's meeting objected to the inclusion of Endowment Association land within the campus boundary, but that land is acquired to provide room for the campus to grow.

If either the state or the Endowment Association acquires land outside the boundary, the property would be subject to city zoning laws unless the campus boundaries are renegotiated. The Endowment Association also has a long history of being a good neighbor, as illustrated by its agreement earlier this year to lease for $1 a year property for a new city fire station near 19th and Iowa streets.

KU already has approved the planning pact, and city commissioners referred it Tuesday to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission for review. It appears that some fine-tuning on the pact may be needed, for instance, to make sure the boundaries don't include any private property except what is owned by the Endowment Association. But, overall, the agreement, which is the product of a yearlong negotiation, is a big step forward in town-gown cooperation and should go a long way in ending battles over the university's expansion into neighborhoods on its border.

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