Sometimes politics is all about interpretation.
For opponents of the Lawrence school district's plans to build athletic fields at Lawrence High School, city planners' interpretation of the land development code means that the project, should it receive the go-ahead from the school board tonight, results in a dangerous, and perhaps illegal, situation.
The construction project, which includes similar football and other sports facilities at Free State High School, is designated under the development code as Active Recreation, which includes athletic fields, playgrounds, zoos and docks.
Architect Steve Padget, who lives in the University Place neighborhood, argues the project should fall under the more restrictive category of Entertainment & Spectator Sports, which includes under its designation buildings with capacity of 501 or more people, such as theaters, stadiums and sports complexes.
The football stadiums proposed for the two sites would seat 4,000 spectators.
"This one is so obvious," said Padget, a tenured professor of urban planning at Kansas University, who is on sabbatical. "Active Recreation could apply from anything to a tiny park with one swing to Memorial Stadium. It is very loosely defined."
Scott McCullough, the city's planning director, said planners debated about which category the projects fell under, but ultimately decided Active Recreation was the most appropriate designation.
"When we were approached with the site plan ... staff did an extensive code search on the issues," he said. "Our opinion is an accessory football field that (includes) spectators is not (Entertainment & Spectator Sports)."
The code was revised in 2006, and McCullough said this is the first time the planning staff has had to interpret it for a construction project involving a sports complex. The staff determined that buildings, such as concert arenas, fall under the Entertainment & Spectator Sports designation.
"I think (the code) is probably written to be flexible enough to be used in certain things, but it also says it's not limited in its examples," McCullough said.
Padget's problem with the plan, which he ultimately supports, is that the Active Recreation designation does not provide for enough parking. Padget believes this will lead spectators to park on side streets during and cross 19th Street, which has few crosswalks.
"That is a patently dangerous situation," he said.
The school district plan calls for 311 additional parking spots to be added to Lawrence High, a provision that falls short of Entertainment & Spectator Sports requirement that 1,333 parking spots exist to accommodate 4,000 spectators.
"The code specifies that you have to cumulatively add up all the parking requirements," Padget said.
C.L. Maurer, a landscape architect at Landplan Engineering, which is leading the development, said a parking study was done Oct. 2, and found that the average LHS attendance of 2,500 could be accommodated by the 829 parking spots that will exist when the project is complete. In the event of a sell-out, Maurer said plans are in the works to provide additional parking at South Junior High School and KU, while local law enforcement would provide traffic control.
"It's still within code. We can find other means of using parking lots in the area, as long as we come up with a plan to handle traffic," he said.
The school board will meet tonight to hear the district's revised plans, as well as financing recommendations from its financial advising firm.