New Urbanism development moving ahead

With Wal-Mart proposal going forward, Lawrence architect can solidify plans

Now that a plan for a new Wal-Mart store in northwest Lawrence is moving forward again, activity is starting to pick back up on the intersection’s other major development proposal.

Lawrence architect Michael Treanor said city commissioners soon will see new plans for the Bauer Farm development, which seeks to put a mix of retail, offices and residential units on the northeast corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. That places it across the street from a proposed Wal-Mart store that received Planning Commission approval last week.

The Wal-Mart store – which has been fought by neighbors for nearly five years – still must receive approval from city commissioners. But Treanor is excited that plans for the mega-retailer are moving forward.

“If we could have the big, comparison-shopping anchor, Wal-Mart, on one corner, then on our side we would have more of the specialty stores, lifestyle, pedestrian-oriented shopping,” Treanor said. “We think it would be a good mix.”

The Bauer Farm development, which would have a mix of about 220 homes and apartments along with a retail area, has been billed as the city’s first significant foray into the concept of New Urbanism or Traditional Neighborhood Design. That means the project will feature narrower streets, homes with alleys, and a business district that mixes retail, office and residential uses like a mini-downtown.

“It is a little bit more like the traditional neighborhoods around downtown,” Treanor said.

Treanor said he would like to start moving dirt for the project in late fall, with construction beginning in early 2008. Treanor has touted the project to city leaders for the last three years. The project received the necessary rezoning approval in January 2006, but it has been slow moving because potential retail tenants wanted to know whether Wal-Mart would be on the opposite corner, Treanor said.

“We had to have an answer to that question,” Treanor said.

The project, though, is tentatively scheduled to go before city commissioners again on Aug. 14. Treanor will be asking commissioners to allow for more retail space than previously approved and to lift conditions that prohibit liquor stores and businesses that sell liquor-by-the-drink.

Treanor wants commissioners to allow 72,000 square feet of retail space in the development, up from 62,000 square feet that has been approved. Treanor said the intersection can handle the additional retail because the proposed Wal-Mart store is significantly smaller than what traffic designers previously planned for.

On the liquor issues, Treanor said that he saw no reason to prohibit liquor stores or restaurants that sell liquor from the development. The conditions were placed on the plan by a previous Planning Commission as a last-minute addition, Treanor said, presumably because of its proximity to Free State High School.

Planning staff members are recommending approval of the liquor changes. The development meets the state liquor requirements for being the necessary distance away from schools.

“Any liquor store operator in that location is going to be more cognizant of young people rather than less cognizant,” Treanor said. “If you’re going to have a neighborhood, we just feel you should have a place to go walk to and buy a bottle of wine.”

Planning commissioners already have recommended approval of the liquor changes and the increase in retail space.

“I think this is probably the most exciting real estate development I’ve seen in about a half century of living here,” said Planning Commissioner Joe Harkins. “I would like to do whatever I can, within reason, to help it succeed.”