Pennsylvania Street development receives tentative approval

City commissioners gave parts of a controversial East Lawrence project preliminary approval Tuesday night but ordered the developer to continue working with neighbors on the project’s design.

“We need to make this all work, and I really suggest that you work hard with the neighborhood,” Mayor Mike Amyx told Lawrence developer Bo Harris, who is proposing a mix of housing and commercial uses in the area near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets.

Neighbors had expressed concerns about the density of the project, which would add 54 condos and townhomes on the west side of Pennsylvania Street between Eighth and Ninth streets.

Commissioners gave preliminary approval of rezoning for the area but directed Harris and the neighborhood to conduct a “design charrette,” or collaborative session, to hammer out issues about how the mix of housing and commercial uses would fit into the existing neighborhood.

Janet Good, president of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Assn., said it would have been preferable that the city delay approval of the rezoning until after the design session. But Good said she was optimistic that Harris would listen to neighbors’ concerns because many parts of the design still were subject to City Commission approval.

“Bo is still going to be seeing a whole lot of us, and I think we have proven that we can make his life difficult,” Good said.

Commissioners approved the rezoning on a 4-1 vote. Commissioner David Schauner voted against the proposal, saying that he thought the approval put the neighborhood in too weak of a negotiating position with Harris.

Harris and neighbors last week had tried to reach a compromise on the project’s design, but Harris told commissioners Tuesday that the neighborhood suggestions would be tough to implement and still meet historic preservation regulations.