Views vary on New Urbanism proposal

Bauer Farm plan features mix of housing, shops, offices and a theater

Lawrence city commissioners are about to get their first taste of New Urbanism, and they must decide whether the high-density style of development is bitter or sweet.

Commissioners on Tuesday will consider approving The Bauer Farm project – a mix of housing, retail stores, offices and even a community theater on 43 acres at the northeast corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.

Approval of the project is being viewed by some commissioners as more than just allowing a single new development to move forward.

“I’m hoping it will set a tone for future creativity in development projects in the community,” City Commissioner Sue Hack said.

Hack and Mayor Boog Highberger have been strong proponents of the New Urbanism style of development, and have advocated that a new set of city codes be written that would more easily allow the pedestrian-friendly development style that is designed to mimic the feel of older neighborhoods.

City commissioners on Tuesday will consider approving The Bauer Farm project on 43 acres at the northeast corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.

The Bauer project – which is being developed by local architect Michael Treanor – incorporates many of the New Urbanism concepts, including houses served by alleys, apartments located above stores and offices, and plenty of sidewalks and trails that will allow residents to walk to neighborhood shops.

“It will really give people another type of living choice,” said Dan Watkins, a Lawrence attorney who represents Treanor.

Not everyone is enamored.

“I’m not at all convinced that it is New Urbanism,” City Commissioner David Schauner said. “I think it is a fairly traditional site plan that has tried to attach a new label to itself in hopes of getting more commercial square footage than either the City Commission or the Planning Commission has said is appropriate.”

Schauner said he has heard concerns from neighbors who fear that developers are trying to place too many people and stores onto the 43-acre site, and that the development will add too much to Sixth Street and other area roads.

The city commission has previously said it wants to limit commercial retail space at the intersection to 62,000 square feet. The project comes in with a proposed 61,350 square feet of retail space. But it also includes another 10,000 square feet for banks, 40,000 square feet for office uses and about 25,000 square feet for the Lawrence Community Theatre, which has expressed an interest in moving to the site.

Originally, plans also called for a 133,000-square-foot convention center and hotel near Wakarusa and Overland drives. But that idea did not receive a positive recommendation from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. Watkins said the area now likely would be used for office or residential uses or a mix of the two.

All commercial buildings would comply with proposed design guidelines that the city is considering. Those guidelines require large amounts of natural material and “four-sided architecture.”

The residential portion of the project includes 23,000 square feet of apartments and condo uses that would be over or among stores and offices. It also would include 18 custom homes, 18 carriage style homes, 19 starter homes, 93 row homes 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 will be built on smaller lots than currently allowed in the city’s development regulations.

“I have some major concerns about the size appropriateness of the development and the traffic it will create,” Schauner said. “I think the neighbors will shoot us if we permit that big of a development on that corner.”

But Hack said the community needed to begin embracing developments with higher densities as land becomes more expensive. She also said the development wouldn’t create traffic headaches.

“There will be traffic, but this is along a state highway (Sixth Street),” Hack said. “It is designed to carry traffic. I think this is a project that we would look back on and be proud to have in Lawrence.”

Commissioners will consider the project at their meeting at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.