Archive for Friday, February 10, 2006

City hopes to get a jump on growth

February 10, 2006


Lawrence city commissioners want to make 2006 the year they stop playing catch-up with the community's ever-expanding list of growth issues.

"It is time to stop this conversation about wanting to get ahead of growth, and instead just start doing it," City Commissioner David Schauner said Thursday at a study session designed to help commissioners plan for the new year.

Commissioners agreed that they want to at least discuss changing the city's annexation policy from one that responds to requests from developers to one that annexes large sections of land in anticipation of development occurring there in the next three to five years.

"I think it would give the developers more predictability, and it would give the city more control over its planning," said Mayor Boog Highberger, who is championing the policy change.

Fellow city commissioners largely agreed with the need to be more aggressive, but also worried that a change in policy could have significant implications on the city's budget.

That's because the current system of waiting until developers bring a project forward basically assures the city that developers are willing to pay for part of the costs to install roads, sewers and other infrastructure.

But if the city initiates the annexation process, the area may include land that property owners don't have immediate plans to develop, and thus wouldn't be ready to help pay for infrastructure. In that case, the city could force those property owners to pay for the infrastructure by placing them in a benefit district against their will, which city commissioners have been hesitant to do in the past.

Or the city could choose to pay the infrastructure costs up front and eventually recoup the cost from property owners as the land is developed. On Thursday, commissioners seemed more interested in the latter option.

"What we have been told is it takes more up-front money, and you are left with figuring out ways to recoup those costs down the line," City Commissioner Sue Hack said. "But we'll have to bite the bullet in the beginning, and I think it will be a pretty big bullet."

Consistent vision

But there will be long-term payoffs for the city, Highberger said. One of the biggest is that the city will be more directly responsible for laying out the streets that serve new neighborhoods and commercial developments. That should make it more likely that new areas of town will be better equipped to accommodate traffic and pedestrians.

"It would allow us to plan real neighborhoods instead of disconnected subdivisions," Highberger said.

Some members of the development community, though, are urging the city to approach the change with caution. Mark Buhler, an executive with Stephens Real Estate and a former county commissioner, said the new policy would add costs to the city's budget.

"They need to go into this with their eyes wide open," Buhler said. "This will get them into the borrowing and financing business in a large way, and they will definitely need more staff to do everything they're talking about."

Plus, Buhler said, developers would be worried that one City Commission would set the community on one growth path, but later a different City Commission would reverse course and look elsewhere.

"There's going to have to be some consistency in the vision," he said.

Big-ticket items

Staying ahead of growth likely will take more than a new annexation policy, commissioners were told. City Manager Mike Wildgen said there was a need to prioritize the growing list of major projects that commissioners have expressed an interest in funding.

Within the last year, commissioners have discussed proposals for a new library, purchase of the abandoned Farmland Industries plant, a program to add industrial and open-space land, construction of a new multipurpose sports complex and several other smaller projects. Costs haven't been attached to most of those projects, but they'll likely add up to more than the city can cover in the short-term.

"We really don't have a lot of choices about how we're going to fund a lot of these projects," Wildgen said. "A lot of times it comes down to taxes, so at some point you are going to have to decide what really is the No. 1 priority."

Commissioners didn't start that ranking exercise Thursday, but agreed they must.

"We need to put them all up there on the wall and make some decisions," Schauner said. "It is just like your budget at home. You have to decide whether you are going to take a vacation to Europe or put braces on your kid."


mcoan 11 years, 11 months ago

Once upon a time, there was a state where, for over 30 years, each town had to establish an Urban Growth Boundary. Inside that boundary had to be enough land to cover the expected growth needs of the town for 20 years. By state law, the plans had to be updated every 5 years.

Outside the UBG, it was a big hassle to develop land. Basically, it was reserved for farming, with minimum lot sizes of 20-40 acres, and you had to prove that you were actually farming it. (Real farmers loved it; farmers who wanted to be developers and carve up their land into subdivisions hated it.)

The towns didn't annex the land until it was actually needed, but they knew exactly where they would annex it from. And they could therefore plan for transportation infrastructure, schools, etc. They were able to have zoning plans in place before annexation.

Developers and everyone else therefore knew long in advance where growth would take place. When the developers wanted to expand, they could, but they had to pay for the planned schools and transportation systems.

Growth was steady and slow through the 70s and 80s, but it took off in the 90s. Yet it was managed and planned growth, so it was accomodated relatively easily.

It was a concept called Long Range Planning, unheard of in Kansas, and it worked pretty well. Most importantly, the people really cherished the law and it survived several judicial and electoral challenges. If it had been the law in all the states for the last 30 years, our country would have a lot less sprawl and be more ready to handle the coming $5 gasoline.

Sound like a Fairy Tale? Nope: The state is Oregon, and it is recognized by professional urban planners worldwide as the Mecca of urban planning and responsible growth.

Sigh. Sadly, Kansas, or even Lawrence, could never be so far-sighted. But perhaps Lawrence and Douglas Co. commissioners could study Oregon's land use planning and see if they could implement it here.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 11 months ago

I fully support the mcoan very well put statement. Right on target.

Sprawl has yet to take a back seat because the developing community still buys property then feels as though it is the city's responsibility to accomodate their plan for THEIR pocketbook. Contrary to popular belief that is not true although it has not appeared that way going on 16 years.

Commissioner Schauner, Rundle,Highberger,Hack and Amyx could say no but do not... Rundle has been saying no lately. Comm. Hack believes they can't say no because it would not be fair considering some projects are in the works. That logic apparently will be the prevailing authority simply because the development community can easily manipulate that situation.

Just because investors buy land does not mean they can build anything anywhere. They know this so when is the commission going to be the boss?

We don't plan space for schools or fire stations?

We have 12,000 people commuting for employment so who is bringing the high paying jobs to town in order for the majority to work here?

RonBurgandy 11 years, 11 months ago

Stupid long posts...must fight short attention span...

bankboy119 11 years, 11 months ago

No one is bringing the high paying jobs becaue no businesses want to be in Lawrence.

RonBurgandy 11 years, 11 months ago

Ooh burn, good one Marion, you are so wise...

I just wish I could be you...

lunacydetector 11 years, 11 months ago

oregon? oregon?'s some oregon housing prices for you for 2005:

Salem $253,536.00
Portland $304,650.00
Eugene $327,000.00
Bend $363,778.00
Medford $387,500.00

lunacydetector 11 years, 11 months ago's Kansas' average housing prices for 2005:

Wichita $151,275.00
Topeka $151,562.00
Leavenworth / Lansing $205,740.00
Overland Park $225,517.00
Lawrence $237,237.00

PLEASE NOTE: Lawrence is the HIGHEST!

....something is terribly wrong in lawrence, oh yes, it is the ZERO growth mentality of our elected officials. bring on the urban growth boudary (lawrence already has one), so all the other cities' housing prices can go up too!

hawkbygod 11 years, 11 months ago

You will never see state mandated UGBs in Kansas. The Johnson County delegation will never allow it. There are too many development dollars that would be lost to MO.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 11 months ago

Hey Luny, exactly what should the city be doing to encourage growth? Surely you must have some secret formula that will send our property values plummeting to a level acceptable to you.

lunacydetector 11 years, 11 months ago

the city needs to embrace more commercial specifically more retail. whatever happened to the professor 'expert' who said lawrence was way over built with retail per capita? haven't heard anything from him in a couple of months in the newspaper.

anyway, unfortunately, the progressives based their philosophy on his 'expertise' and he turned out to be wrong, big time.

40% of lawrence's spending goes elsewhere. imagine the sales tax revenue that even 20% would generate.

it's time that some REAL business people took back our city come next election. i'm not talking a chamber of commerce banker or a lawyer (they only know how to take people's money), but bonified business people.

Todd 11 years, 11 months ago

Why aim to be like other cities? Make Lawrence into something special. Every city that's nice to live in is expensive. Of course, being a public forum I'm sure someone will claim with all their heart that Topeka/Witchita are great places to live.

Look, either this town can be cheap and suck or be expensive and not suck. It's the quality of the town that creates competition for housing. THAT demand is what drives up prices. If you want cheaper housing just commute to/from Topeka.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 11 months ago

There is more to economic growth than building houses. Thus far that is where so many eggs have been placed and property taxes have increased rapidly.

Lawrence needs high paying jobs to employ commuters. That too will produce substantial economic growth and should balance out property taxes at the same time. Light industry pays higher property taxes which is customary from what I've read. Residential cost the city/county more because people demand/expect services from a list as long as your arm also from what I've read. Light industry can be white collar and skilled blue collar.

In addition to light industry Douglas County/Lawrence could build on the education industry as well. Why not participate in training and educating the skilled work force? Maybe a community college which at the moment involves a fair amount of commuters.

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