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Archive for Friday, July 7, 2006

Commissions ironing out rural regulations

July 7, 2006

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It's come down to a matter of acres and rooftops.

A key sticking point between Douglas County commissioners and city-county planners as they hammer out new rural development regulations centers on how to split rural acreage and how many houses can be built on the resulting land parcels.

County commissioners and the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission are trying to iron out differences on how those regulations should be written. County commissioners Bob Johnson and Charles Jones met Thursday with a planning commission subcommittee as discussions continued. Commissioner Jere McElhaney was at work and didn't attend.

Under current regulations, building permits for four houses on a 20-acre parcel can be obtained if certain requirements are met. County commissioners and the planning committee agree on the need for reducing the number of rural 20-acre subdivisions that are proliferating in rural areas.

Limiting the number of rural residences avoids dramatic increases in road and bridge maintenance costs for rural areas, Planning Commissioner John Haase said after the meeting. Moreover, increased rural residential density doesn't sit well with Douglas County farmers and ranchers, he said.

"There is a political presence of rural residents who don't make their living farming and ranching, and they begin to influence politics with limiting farming and ranching," Haase said.

But the planning committee and county commissioners are stuck on whether to allow one, two or three houses on lots in 20-acre parcels. Commissioner Charles Jones favors two houses on 20 acres while Johnson favors three.

Jones expressed willingness to compromise but wasn't sure what that would be. He said he thinks the two commissions have made major progress agreeing on the development regulations and hated to see them get hung up on this issue.

"I think we've come a long way," Jones said of the discussions.

Johnson said he thinks three houses on 20 acres is a more realistic approach. In practice, it is difficult to get building permits for three or four houses on 20 acres because of road frontage and access requirements, Johnson said.

Jones and Johnson met for the second time with the subcommittee chaired by Grant Eichhorn. Other members are David Burress, Lisa Harris, Dennis Lawson and Haase.

The regulations are now before the Planning Commission and will be passed on for further approval later by the Lawrence City Commission.

The issue will be among the topics the entire Planning Commission will take up during Wednesday's study session. County commissioners could meet again with planners at a later date. But Haase said he doesn't think the Planning Commission needs to resolve every issue of contention with the county.

"I think it's the duty of the Planning Commission to conduct the public outreach program, unearth as many facts as we can and turn it over to the (city and county) commissions to iron out," he said.

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