Call it a two-for-one deal.
City commissioners at Tuesday evening's meeting approved a project that will add both a new golf course and apartment complex to the northwest area of town.
On a 4-1 vote, commissioners approved the necessary rezonings and development plan for The Links, a project about a half-mile north of Sixth Street and west of Queens Road. The project will feature 480 apartment units built around a nine-hole golf course.
"I think this is a very creative, very interesting project," Mayor Sue Hack said. "I think it is something that we'll look at and be proud of and be happy with once it is built."
Representatives with Arkansas-based Lindsey Management Co. said they hope to break ground on the project - which will be spread over 80 acres of undeveloped farm ground and timber area - by May.
The company has built 32 of the golf and apartment complex projects across the country, and in total has nearly 27,000 apartment units. The company's overall vacancy rate is less than 5 percent.
"We want people to know that this is not our first rodeo," said Kim Fugitt, the project manager for the company. "We're not using Lawrence as our guinea pig."
Fugitt said the company likes to locate in college communities because it allows the project to attract a mix of mature students and retirees to the complex.
The biggest demographic, however, likely will be golf fans. The nine-hole golf course will be open for play without greens fees to any resident of the complex. The course also will be open to the public on a pay-for-play basis.
Fugitt said the company thought now was the right time to pursue the project, despite national and local news about a severe downturn in the housing market.
"One reason the housing market is depressed is that people are having a harder time getting loans," Fugitt said. "But people still need a place to live, and they often turn to the rental market."
Tuesday's discussion did not spark talk among commissioners about whether the Lawrence rental market could handle the 480 new units, which will equate to about 800 bedrooms.
Instead, opposition to the project was based on concerns that city planners were not forcing the project to more strictly follow new regulations designed to protect sensitive lands, such as mature trees and steep slopes. The Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods and the League of Women Voters also expressed concern that the Northwest Area Plan envisioned single family homes for the area, not apartments.
City Commissioner Boog Highberger voted against the project for many of those reasons. But staff members said they believed they were properly enforcing the regulations related to sensitive lands, and said that they were comfortable with apartments because the overall density of the project was no more than would be allowed with single family homes.
The overall density of the project is about six units per acre, but instead of single family homes, there will be 40 apartment buildings spread out over an 80-acre tract.
The majority of commissioners said they thought the apartment buildings would be a better fit because it would make it easier to keep development out of the sensitive land areas, and would do a better job of limiting the amount of impervious surfaces.