A new set of regulations that will determine how the city develops for decades to come is again moving forward at City Hall.
City planning staff members Thursday evening had an open house to answer questions about the proposed development code, a massive document that replaces the city zoning code created in 1966.
Sheila Stogsdill, acting planning director for the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, said the age of the current code sometimes made it difficult to use because there are many types of businesses today that didn't exist 40 years ago.
"There has had to be quite a bit of interpretation over the years to determine whether new uses fit the spirit of the code," Stogsdill said. "The idea with the new code is to simplify the development process and make it more easily understood by everyone."
Members of the public will have additional chances to share their thoughts about the code. The Planning Commission will have a hearing at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 22. If the code is approved by planning commissioners, city commissioners will have a hearing on the document in mid-March.
City commissioners were set to approve the development code in January 2005, but then a host of business owners, property owners and attorneys began expressing concern that the new code would make hundreds, if not thousands, of properties in the city nonconforming uses. Being labeled a nonconforming use allows people to continue using their property, but would make it more difficult to rebuild a home or a business if it were destroyed.
A Kansas City law firm hired by the city has been reviewing the document for several months. Provisions that would have made many properties nonconforming have been changed, Stogsdill said.
"Our intent has never been to create a status that puts a person's property in any sort of jeopardy," Stogsdill said.
Stogsdill said the document had been revised to make it more difficult for a row of existing duplexes to be torn down and replaced with an apartment building, or for fraternity and sorority houses to be converted into apartment buildings.
Mark Andersen, a Lawrence attorney who brought forward concerns last year, said he was pleased with many of the changes.
"It is a much more workable document than we had a year ago," Andersen said.
Andersen said he would like to see the new code approved but wants city commissioners to keep a close eye on several provisions. Specifically, he said the provision that calls for new retail projects to be denied if there's an overall retail vacancy rate of more than 8 percent in the community could be problematic.
Other key provisions of the proposed code include:
¢The use of smaller building lots. The code would allow 3,000-square-foot lots, compared with a minimum of 7,000 square feet today. Supporters have said the smaller lots could help with affordable housing issues.
¢Larger setback areas and more landscaping between residential and nonresidential developments.
¢Requirements that developers provide written notification to neighborhood associations when a rezoning is proposed for the neighborhood.