The city of Lawrence took a crucial step toward New Urbanism on Wednesday, despite angry cries from members of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Assn.
The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission voted unanimously, 8-0, to approve an experimental mixed-use zoning district for a housing, commercial and retail project along Pennsylvania Street to be built by Harris Construction.
But despite three years of meetings and community events to discuss the multimillion dollar development, neighborhood members left furious.
"We are extremely upset," association member Dayna Carleton said after the vote. "We will use any means at our disposal to oppose this."
The project calls for six acres of high-density, mixed-use buildings along the east and west sides of Pennsylvania Street between Eighth and Ninth streets. According to plans Bo Harris and his team presented at the meeting, the development would include almost 50 loft and brownstone-style dwellings, storefronts and office space.
The Poehler Building would stand as the project's cornerstone and prime example of the New Urbanism concept, with all three uses packed into the historic four-story building at 619 E. Eighth St.
The project also would help the push to get the former industrial district on the National Register of Historic Places - the application process is already in the works - by refurbishing the area and buildings to historic standards.
The process also would reap tax breaks for Harris and other future developers.
But residents voiced loud concerns over the possible traffic density that the project would bring to the area.
"I thought I was going to live my life in quiet," Judy Renero told the commission.
Plus, besides the new mixed-use zoning, the area would be open to businesses that residents said they didn't want - liquor stores, pay-day lenders and pawn shops.
After the residents' comments, Harris seemed stunned by the response. He thought he had cleared all of the neighborhood association's hurdles months ago.
"There seems to be a lot of comment on this project at a pretty late stage," he said. "We're talking about replacing three lots of old buses and tires."
The commissioners agreed. Although the project had its risks, they said, a few minor alterations to parking requirements and green-space setbacks cleared all of the obstacles there.
"I will always give the nod to neighborhood issues," Commissioner John Haase said. "But I think this is a good project."
Now, the project heads to the City Commission for consideration - and possibly East Lawrence residents' final chance to protest.