New urbanism could change Lawrence lifestyles

Plan advancing for new style of neighborhood

Work is expected to begin by the end of the year on a new northwest Lawrence neighborhood that is designed to feel old.

Developers of Bauer Farms – a neighborhood featuring homes, apartments, shopping and office space on 43 acres at the northeast corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive – expect to receive their final city approvals for the project by the end of this summer.

When construction work begins shortly thereafter, Lawrence will be on track to having a brand-new neighborhood that feels more like something in Old West Lawrence or East Lawrence.

“Our idea is to create neighborhoods like they did prior to the ’50s when we went to a more wide-open suburban style development,” said Michael Treanor, a Lawrence architect who is the lead developer for the project. “It makes for a fun place to be when you are living a little closer together to your neighbors, when you are sharing amenities like a park.

“When you live in a neighborhood where you see your neighbors, it can be really nice.”

The neighborhood will try to create the old-style environment by mixing up the type of uses it contains. The project will have 61,350 square feet of retail space that is being billed as a “Village Market.” It also will have other commercial spaces for banks, office users and a centerpiece development of 25,000 square feet of space that developers are working to fill with the Lawrence Community Theatre.

As for housing, the neighborhood will have 23,000 square feet of apartments or condos that will be over or among the stores and offices. It also will include 18 custom-built homes, 18 carriage-style homes, 19 starter homes, 93 row homes that would be similar to brownstones, and 60 condo units that would be in 11 “mansion houses” that would be designed to look like large old homes. Many of the homes would be built on smaller lots than currently allowed in the city’s development regulations.

City planners and leaders are keeping a close eye on the project. Many are saying that the project is the city’s largest foray yet into new urbanism, a planning concept that is gaining in favor in cities across the country.

New urbanism developments frequently have several key characteristics, including:

¢ Mixed uses. There aren’t block after block of duplexes that then transition into block after block of starter homes that then lead into block after block of estate-style homes. Instead, duplexes, single family-homes and even some small-scale apartments or condos are interspersed throughout a new urbanism neighborhood.

¢ Neighborhood shopping. Most homes would be within walking distance of a small retail center that would have typical neighborhood services ranging from a deli to dry cleaners.

¢ Traditional streets. Cul-de-sacs aren’t usually part of a new urbanism development. Instead, traditional square grids of streets are often the norm. Many times, streets are narrower, and on-street parking also is utilized.

¢ Design standards. Buildings often must meet strict design guidelines to ensure the mix of uses are compatible. For residential buildings, alleys often are used to access parking that is in the rear of the property. Many times, detached garages with small “mother-in law suites” located above them are used. For commercial buildings, they typically have more of a downtown building feel with an emphasis on pedestrian access and parking lots located behind buildings.

The idea has appealed to some city commissioners. Both City Commissioners Sue Hack and Boog Highberger have went to several conferences over the past few years detailing the new urbanism movement. Both also have pushed for the development of a new set of codes that would more easily allow developers in Lawrence to build in a new urbanism style.

“Imagine if you could design a neighborhood so a young, married couple can come into the neighborhood, and then when they have a family, there will be a larger house in the same neighborhood that they can move up to,” Hack said. “And when the kids are gone and they are retired, there will be a condo or some type of retirement home for them in the same neighborhood.

“You could really sustain a neighborhood that way. Think how wonderful that would be.”

But there also are other planning factors to consider. The Bauer Farms project won City Commission approval on a tight 3-2 vote. City Commissioners David Schauner and Mike Rundle both voted against the project because they were concerned that the higher densities associated with new urbanism could create traffic problems on adjacent streets, such as Sixth Street.

Several neighbors in the area also expressed that concern.

But a majority of city commissioners ultimately agreed that Sixth Street had been designed to carry large amounts of traffic.