After a nearly a week's worth of work by a $250,000 team of planning consultants, city commissioners on Tuesday night were given the big show of ideas by planners who specialize in creating old-style neighborhoods.
Members of the PlaceMakers consulting group asked city commissioners to imagine a new, ornate city library not in the core of downtown - as has been proposed - but rather northeast of Sixth and Tennessee streets in Constant Park along the banks of the Kansas River.
And when the community looks west, it shouldn't see more of the same typical cul-de-sacs with large, sprawling ranch-style homes. Instead, picture new neighborhoods where most every child would be within a five- or 10-minute walk of three new schools that would be built west of the South Lawrence Trafficway. Plus, their parents would be able to walk to a corner coffee shop or general store and leave their cars in the garages for longer stretches of time.
For downtown, there's a new marketplace that would allow butchers and cheesemakers to set up shop year-round, a new clock tower, new buildings designed specifically for mom-and-pop businesses, and - yes - grand roundabouts that not only move traffic but also serve as gateways into downtown.
Reactions from the presentation
"Wow. There is a lot of information that we have been provided this evening," Mayor Mike Amyx said after the two-hour presentation at City Hall that attracted about 75 people. "That's a lot to think about."
Several commissioners, though, said they were impressed by the long list of ideas from the group, which arrived in town a week ago.
"It was a night of tremendous vision for the community and showed us some exciting opportunities for the community," City Commissioner Sue Hack said. "I think we'll look back 20 or 30 years from now and be glad we did this."
Now commissioners and community members have to decide which ideas to keep and which ones to file under the thanks-but-no-thanks category.
Consultants stressed to commissioners and the crowd that their ideas - which were complete with color renderings - weren't meant to be taken as set-in-stone proposals.
"What we're showing you is not necessarily what this new code would produce but rather what it could produce," said Bill Dennis, a team leader with PlaceMakers.
Here's a look at several of the ideas.
Consultants challenged commissioners to rethink an idea proposed by private developers with the Fritzel family to build a public library on the site of the exiting post office at Seventh and Vermont streets.
"It seems like that plan and others for a downtown library were going to require a lot of moving of pieces to make something actually happen," Dennis said.
Instead, the city should think about using property it has at Constant Park, which is just north of Sixth Street, directly across the road from Watson Park.
The building would be designed using a classical style that would have an architectural grandeur of the Carnegie Library age. It would include a unique octagonal reading room that at night would light up like a "beacon" for travelers entering downtown from the Kansas River bridge.
Dennis, though, said flooding issues could be a problem on the site, especially for the below-ground parking needed to serve the library. But he said such flooding problems would be limited to the parking garage and could be dealt with through drainage systems.
City commissioners didn't offer any comment on the library proposal or any of the other ideas presented by the group. Instead, Amyx said he wanted to schedule a separate meeting within the next month to receive public comment on the ideas after the community had a chance to digest them.
The consultants praised the quality of the city's downtown but said there were several opportunities for redevelopment and enhancement.
Dennis said transportation could be improved by creating an egglike loop to serve the area where Sixth, Massachusetts and Vermont streets converge. In the center of the loop would be a large green space appropriate for community art or another gateway type of feature that would help signify the importance of downtown.
A roundabout also could be built at Ninth and New Hampshire streets. That roundabout would feature a clock tower in its center.
There also are several opportunities for building redevelopment. Dennis showed drawings of how the east side of the 800 block of New Hampshire Street could be redeveloped to include a grocery store or a unique permanent marketplace. The marketplace concept would work like an antique mall, except that it would feature booths of food and produce vendors.
The group also showed drawings of how parts of the 600 and 700 blocks of Vermont Street could be redeveloped with new buildings that would look similar to the old buildings along Massachusetts Street. Those buildings could be marketed as "live-work" units, where entrepreneurs would buy the entire building and use the ground floor for their store or office operations and live on the one or two stories above.
The group also provided redevelopment plans for the shopping areas near 19th Street and Haskell Avenue, 23rd and Louisiana streets and 25th and Iowa streets. All of those proposals included adding residential units to the shopping areas and moving retail closer to the street in buildings that have more of a downtown feel.
The consultants also studied undeveloped areas west of the trafficway and south of the Wakarusa River. Those plans highlighted more densely developed neighborhoods adjacent to large areas of green space. The neighborhoods west of the trafficway would be built around elementary or junior high schools.
City staff members expect to receive a draft version of a new Smart Code - which would be the actual document giving developers the ability to build the old-style neighborhoods and still be legal under the city's development rules - within two to three weeks. A full report from the PlaceMakers group is expected to be delivered to the city in about six weeks.
If city commissioners want to adopt any of the recommendations, they would require hearings at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and City Commission.