Controversial plans for a new industrial park along Interstate 70 won a key approval late Tuesday evening.
Lawrence city commissioners sided with numerous business leaders who said the 155-acre site just north of the Lecompton interchange on Interstate 70 may represent the city's best opportunity to attract a large employer. The site has easy access to both the Kansas Turnpike and Kansas Highway 10.
"We're in a competition, a fight to prove that Douglas County is a place that wants to grow," Mayor Mike Dever said in support of the project. "We have a competitive advantage with a site that is at the confluence of these two roadways."
Commissioners approved the rezoning for the 155-acre site on a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Boog Highberger voting against it. Commissioners heard more than two hours of public comment, including much from neighbors who said the developers were asking for zoning that would allow for extremely intense industrial uses.
"I think a lot of the homeowners realize this is a good site and probably will be developed, but I would just like a little bit of protection," said Joe Farb, who lives near the site. "Giving a developer basically unlimited freedom to put nearly anything he wants on the property doesn't seem fair and it doesn't seem good for the community."
The development team - led by Lawrence businessmen Duane and Steve Schwada - did agree to prohibit some uses from the site. Those included a truck stop, a slaughterhouse, explosive storage facilities and salvage yards. The developers don't yet have a business identified to locate on the site, but said they are seeking to develop a high-quality project.
When the site could be ready for a business also was an open question Tuesday. Don Fuston, chairman of Rural Water District No. 6, told commissioners the water district would not supply water to the industrial park. He said because the city has taken the step of annexing the property, his district has no legal obligation to provide it with water.
The city has said it does not have the money to extend city water lines to the site, which is several miles outside the city limits.
A majority of commissioners, though, said they were content to leave the water issue up to the developers to resolve with the water district.