Count John Kiefer among the skeptics of an effort unfolding this week to zero in on a handful of areas around Lawrence and create a vision for the future that will bring back the pedestrian-friendly, neighborhood feeling of yesteryear.
"I think there's some good ideas. I think their goals are good," Kiefer said Wednesday night at City Hall. "They need to look at areas that are failing, not that are successful."
Kiefer owns much of the land near 25th and Iowa streets. It's one of six areas city leaders have chosen for scrutiny this week as a team of planning consultants visit town seeking the community's input on a "smart code," which is essentially a set of building rules that developers can elect to use instead of the city's standard zoning code.
The idea is that if the city offers incentives for developers to follow the "smart" code, they'll opt to create pleasant, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods - think connecting streets instead of cul-de-sacs - that future generations will want to preserve decades from now.
Kiefer was one of about 90 people who attended a public forum Wednesday night, the first day of a weeklong community dialogue about the proposed code. From now until Tuesday, the team of consultants will be here meeting with leaders and allowing members of the public to drop by and see what they're drafting.
"This code is only as good as you make it," Susan Henderson, the project principal for PlaceMakers consulting company, told the crowd on Wednesday. "If you're not involved, basically it's generic."
At Wednesday's event, people split into groups to brainstorm about what they like and what they'd like to see improved about the places being studied: the shopping center at 19th Street and Haskell Avenue; the Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana streets; the development on the west side of Iowa Street between 25th Street and Clinton Parkway; downtown; and two rural areas outside the city limits - one west of the South Lawrence Trafficway and one south of the Wakarusa River.
Those who discussed downtown, for example, said it could use a grocery store and might play up its historic significance more. Planners asked who comes downtown and why.
"There's kind of an illusion of it being a mom-and-pop territory," said Phil Collison, president of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association. "It's getting harder for mom-and-pops to be there."
A common question about the code is whether the planners envision these outlying developments eventually being clones of downtown.
"We will not replicate the intensity of downtown anywhere," Henderson said.
Another question is whether the rules eventually could be made mandatory. Henderson said the rules can stand by themselves but that usually the group recommends that city leaders make them mandatory only for newly annexed areas.
Kiefer spoke up during the meeting to say that he doesn't see the area at 25th and Iowa being redeveloped to be oriented to walk-in business. For one thing, his business at Kief's Audio & Video, 2429 Iowa, is moving more toward mail order and Internet sales.
Smaller shops mean more overhead costs for buildings, which means higher rent, he said.
"To try to make little blocks of downtown all over the city... I can't think of anybody that would pay rent," he said. "I have no interest in doing it."
The consultants will have a drop-in open house from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. today at Spring Hill Suites, 1 Riverfront Plaza. More information is available online at www.lawrenceks.org.