A group of property owners once again wants to open a new business park at the northwestern edge of town.
And, once again, opponents are lining up to quash it.
Steve and Duane Schwada are leading a group seeking permission to develop an industrial park on 155 acres near the Lecompton interchange along the Kansas Turnpike, at the northwestern edge of Lawrence. The site is at the northwest corner of East 900 Road and North 1800 Road, also known as the Farmers Turnpike.
The site would be able to accommodate a single warehouse operation covering up to 600,000 square feet, or perhaps a collection of smaller industrial uses that would not include a truck stop or any of the list of "noxious" uses that might otherwise be allowed in a light-industrial area, Duane Schwada said.
History of rejections
The proposal comes nearly four years after the Schwadas' group made a run at a similar proposal, but was rebuffed twice: first by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, and, ultimately, by the Douglas County Commission.
While the substance of the plan hasn't changed in recent years, Duane Schwada said, the need for it certainly has increased.
"People can do what they need to do, if they think it's in their best interest," he said of the inevitable opposition he is prepared to encounter. "But this is a community requirement. We need jobs. We've been talking about that for eight or 10 years, what we need to do in the future to provide goods and services jobs, for the future.
"But the future never seems to come."
The previous rejection had come in March 2004, and by the slimmest of margins. Because area residents had filed a valid protest petition, the only way the project could have won approval would have been if County Commissioners had voted unanimously to rezone the property from agricultural to light-industrial use.
That didn't happen. While Commissioners Bob Johnson and Jere McElhaney voted to approve the plan, Commissioner Charles Jones - then commission chairman, and still the lone commissioner whose district lies completely within the city of Lawrence - voted against it.
Jones' reasoning at the time: The site simply was too far outside the city limits to support such urban development, especially with it being outside the community's adopted urban growth area.
"I don't think this plan is well conceived," Jones said, back in March 2004.
Now, nearly four years later, the proposal is back. Planning commissioners are scheduled to consider the proposed rezoning during a meeting that begins at 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.
The proposed site includes 16 parcels of land with multiple owners. The area generally is agricultural, except for a handful of residences nearby, Heritage Baptist Church to the west and a home occupation for an excavating operation to the north, according to Sandy Day, the city-county planner who analyzed the proposal for commissioners.
Day recommends that planning commissioners once again deny the request because, among other reasons, the site still remains outside the community's established urban growth area. She said she'd already heard from four people opposed to the proposal, including three nearby residents and David Ross, president of the Scenic Riverway Community Association, the same group that led opposition to the rezoning proposal four years ago.
But Duane Schwada dismisses the urban growth area as an "invisible line" that fails to account for a concrete (and asphalt) reality: the business park would take access onto the Farmers Turnpike, which leads directly to the South Lawrence Trafficway and the Kansas Turnpike less than 1,000 feet away.
"Any traffic exiting this (park) goes straight into the UGA, straight onto K-10, without going through neighborhoods, without going down other streets that need to be improved, without going through other parts of the community," he said. "You're not going to be able to satisfy everybody, but the community as a whole needs jobs, and it needs locations for those jobs."