City commissioners got their most detailed look yet at a set of proposed development rules that could produce major changes in how neighborhoods are built and how much the public learns about proposed projects.
During a Tuesday afternoon study session, commissioners were briefed on the long-proposed Smart Code, which would be an optional development code that builders in the city could use to create developments that mimic older-style neighborhoods that mix uses and have more density.
“We’re excited because this is typically the type of code that builds neighborhoods instead of more automobile-oriented subdivisions,” said Scott McCullough, the city’s director of planning.
But the proposed code also would put large parts of the approval process in the hands of city staff members.
“This code is wrong in both substance and process,” said Kirk McClure, an associate professor in urban planning at Kansas University. “If anything, this will exacerbate the problem of overbuilding.”
The major change that neighbors may notice is that they would have less idea about what some developments will look like before the property is rezoned. That’s because under the proposed Smart Code, the zoning does not place limits on the number of buildings or homes that can be built on a piece of property. The zoning also allows for everything from retail space to single family homes to apartments all on the same piece of property.
The city’s traditional zoning code does place maximum densities on pieces of property, and it places much greater limits on the type of uses allowed.
Under the Smart Code, the issues of density and specific uses would be determined through a design approval process. But for new projects on the edge of the city, much of that design approval process is handled by city staff members instead of city commissioners.
Adjacent landowners or nearby neighborhood associations, though, could appeal the administrative decision to the City Commission for a public hearing. Projects within the existing city limits automatically would go before the City Commission.
The biggest question with the code, though, may be whether developers will use it. Developers will still have the option of using the city’s existing code, which promotes more suburban style development.
“Like anything that is wholly new, it is being viewed with a lot of skepticism but some optimism,” said Tim Herndon, principal of Landplan Engineering who works with the development community.
Herndon said developers were intrigued by the ability to create walkable neighborhoods that may have a mix of retail, single-family and apartment uses in the same area.
The Smart Code will be up for approval at the Dec. 16 City Commission meeting.
In other news from the commission’s weekly meeting, commissioners:
• approved a pair of speed cushions for Ninth Street near Sunset Hill School and a pedestrian-activated crossing signal for Peterson Road near Arrowhead Drive. Commissioners, though, did not identify a funding source for the projects, which will cost a total of about $60,000. There’s no word on when they may be built.
• approved a host of ordinances that will allow the city to start charging three new sales taxes approved by voters as part of the Nov. 4 elections. The three taxes — totaling 0.55 percent — will go on the books April 1.
• reapproved a change in zoning for 155 acres near the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. The industrial zoning is being challenged in court by neighbors. Commissioners reapproved the rezoning with slightly different wording to take away a legal argument from the group. Commissioners approved it on a 4-1 vote with Commissioner Boog Highberger voting against it.