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Archive for Wednesday, February 23, 2005

City Hall report

Weekly review of city government

February 23, 2005

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Development code delayed 6 months

A proposed document that would set the rules for development in the community has major mistakes and will not be ready for approval by city commissioners until after the April election.

A pair of Lawrence attorneys urged commissioners Tuesday night to delay the adoption of the proposed development code, which will replace the city's 30-year old zoning code.

Commissioners agreed that city and planning staff members likely would need an additional six months to review the document to ensure that it doesn't have major mistakes that could create confusion over what type of future developments should be allowed or denied in the city. But commissioners said they were disappointed that the issue would be passed to a new city commission, which will take office after the April 5 general election.

"I'm very uncomfortable passing this on to at least one new commissioner who will be sitting where I'm at," said Commissioner David Dunfield, who is not seeking re-election. "There is an awful lot to learn in this document. If I were a new commissioner, I would be hard pressed to act on this during my first or second month in office."

There could be up to three new commissioners on the five-member board. Commissioners David Schauner and Sue Hack are seeking re-election.

Attorneys Mark Andersen and Todd Thompson both told commissioners that they had found more than two dozen serious questions in the proposed code during a review of the document. In one instance, Andersen said the code was misworded in a way that would have made more than 90 percent of all the businesses on major thoroughfares nonconforming uses because it required businesses to have a minimum lot size of 5 acres. Staff members conceded that was not the intent of the code.

The commission decision means the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will cancel a public hearing it had scheduled for March 9 to discuss the code. It likely will be rescheduled sometime in May.

Storm shelter plan for homes rejected

Lawrence city commissioners aren't yet ready to mandate that every new single family home have a storm shelter to protect residents from tornadoes. But commissioners do want city officials to study whether apartment complexes should have some type of group storm shelter.

Commissioners followed the recommendation of the city's Building Code Board of Appeals that the proposal be rejected. Some commissioners said they were concerned about the cost the storm shelters would add to homes.

Builders have said the units would add at least $5,000 to the price of a new home. Jane Graves, a Lawrence resident who began advocating for the shelters after the May 2003 tornado, said she had heard from builders that the rooms could be built for as little as $1,500.

Commissioners set no timetable on when they would discuss the issue of whether the storm shelters should be part of apartment complexes and other multifamily residential units.

Condo project OK'd

An area near Wakarusa Drive and Bob Billings Parkway will soon become home to the city's newest upscale condominium development.

Commissioners on a 4-1 vote approved the Bella Sera at the Preserve development, which will allow for 99 condo units to be built on vacant ground at 4500 Bob Billings Parkway. Work on the first of three multistory buildings is expected to be completed late next year.

Jes Santaularia of the Lawrence-based development company Diversified Concepts said the condos would target retirees and other empty-nesters. The development is expected to have amenities ranging from Bocce ball courts to an outdoor swimming pool and spa.

Commissioner David Schauner voted against the development because it required rezoning the 8.24 acres the project will sit on from Research Industrial to Planned Residential Development. He said it wasn't in the city's best long-term interests to begin losing future industrial- or research-zoned property.

The property is just east of Wakarusa Drive and Bob Billings Parkway and is adjacent to the McGrew Nature Preserve.

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