Oh, what we fight about at City Hall when the gavel bangs.
Neighbors and developers have had fights about how tall an apartment building should be. There have been squabbles over whether a street is wide enough for a fire truck. There have been debates about the merits of a bush versus a tree.
When city or planning commissioners gather to discuss development proposals, all bets are off about where the minutia meter may land.
Soon, though, a new set of city regulations may make it more difficult for average residents to dive so deeply into the development process.
"What's being talked about would be a very, very big change," said Gwen Klingenberg, president of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods.
The new set of regulations is called the Smart Code. Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners at their meeting Wednesday will consider approving the new code and sending it to the City Commission for approval.
The Smart Code's main purpose is to give developers a new option for building neighborhoods that more closely resemble older areas of town. Homes and apartments would be closer together. Space would be set aside for neighborhood shops and businesses. Streets and alleys would be set up on an old-fashioned grid, rather than in a maze-like pattern of cul-de-sacs and dead ends.
"This is really our only chance to stop suburban sprawl," said City Commissioner Boog Highberger, a champion of the new code and its underlying concept called New Urbanism.
But these days the Smart Code is creating concern with neighborhood leaders such as Klingenberg. The new code would allow city staff members to give key approvals for projects instead of requiring the development to go through the City Commission and the Planning Commission.
Dan Warner, a planner for the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, said the administrative approvals are meant, in part, to be an incentive for developers to try the new way of building neighborhoods.
"It definitely could save time because you are not waiting on a public hearing," Warner said.
An incentive is important, Warner said, because developers aren't required to use the new code. They could continue to use the existing code, which promotes more suburban style development.
But Klingenberg said neighborhood groups are concerned that the new set of rules will make it more likely that items will fall through the cracks. After all, a discussion about how tall a building should be is boring to most, but it may be important if the building abuts your backyard.
"I honestly believe that public involvement is very important in creating our community," Klingenberg said.
Supporters of the new code say the community still will have plenty of input into the process. Warner said, for example, that all rezonings still must be heard by the Planning Commission and approved by the City Commission. The main difference is that for some types of projects - mainly developments on the edge of town - developers won't have to submit a development plan for the Planning Commission or the City Commission to approve.
The development plan spells out items such as street layouts and other similar details.
The Planning Commission meets at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall. If planning commissioners approve the Smart Code, it will be up for City Commission approval later this summer.