Archive for Tuesday, May 20, 2008

City may soon approve Smart Code

May 20, 2008


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.


igby 9 years, 4 months ago

Anything that tells your it's smart has to be a lie.

Godot 9 years, 4 months ago

I can only say that I am glad that limiting new construction to smart growth will only make my home more attractive to future buyers who don't like having the neighbor's house so close you can hear what they are doing in their houses.

Richard Heckler 9 years, 4 months ago

In Lawrence this new fast track system will be abused. Considering Lawrence is over built in residential there is no need to promote home building. The traditional neighborhood design, such that East and Old West Lawrence present, are concepts to prevent sprawl. In Lawrence,Kansas it will be used as a tool to expand sprawl under the guise of new urbanism. This comes at the request of the real estate/home building community. They do not like neighborhoods because they have no respect for the folks that live in neighborhoods. Our city's current budget crunch can be tied directly to infrastructure expenses needed to serve new housing developments.If residential growth paid for itself and was financially positive, we would not be in a budget crunch. But with increased numbers of houses you have increased demand on services, and historically the funding of revenues generated by residential housing does not pay for the services, they require from a municipality.The city needs impact fees to protect the taxpayers from subsidizing the home building industry.The fees should be as closely tied as possible to when the demand is being generated, Water and sewer fees would be collected when the subdivision is constructed. Services more related to occupancy and homes being constructed would be collected later. For example, no one will have a need for a park until there are kids in that neighborhood."While developers pay for onsite water, sewer and road infrastructure it is costly to pay for offsite upgrades needed, such as enlarging lift stations and raising water towers.Now if we have to upgrade a lift station, it is paid for by the general fund revenue paid by each taxpayer in the city. Someone on the East side of town would have to pay for subsidizing the growth in demand caused by the development in the southeast,west and northwest parts of town.The southeast,west and nortwest parts of town is where the greatest residential growth is being seen. There has been so much in the last 15 years that our sewage rate has been increased quiterecently by 9%. That is a direct result caused by the growth. In order for the city to have orderly growth, developers need to be responsible for a certain amount of the infrastructure. Most builders understand impact fees are for a purpose that improves their development."

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