By mid-summer, Lawrence will have a new set of development rules that will allow for old-style neighborhoods that will be designed more like what was in vogue in 1939 than 2009.
City commissioners at their meeting Tuesday gave preliminary approval to the Lawrence SmartCode, a new optional development code that has been talked about for the last three years.
“One of the reasons I ran for City Commission in 2003 is that I looked at my older neighborhood and looked at downtown, and thought, why aren’t people building neighborhoods like that anymore,” Commissioner Boog Highberger said. “Then I realized it was because they would be illegal.”
The city’s current development code prohibits such things as the narrow streets of older neighborhoods, the small lots, the back alleys, and the mixing of single-family, multi-family, and commercial development in close proximity.
The SmartCode will allow that, but won’t mandate it for any area of the city. Instead, developers will be allowed to choose between the current code and the new SmartCode.
But the SmartCode was met with opposition from some neighborhood leaders who were concerned that the new code would allow too many approvals to be given by city staff members rather than made by city commissioners or planning commissioners.
But commissioners Tuesday unanimously agreed to take away some of the staff’s ability to grant development approvals under the new code. Staff had been proposing that development plans for projects on the edge of town be allowed to receive staff approval only, with an appeal process to the City Commission. Commissioners, though, struck that provision from the code and said development plans for all projects under the code would be required to be heard by the City Commission.
The new code will eliminate the step of development plans going before the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission. Rezoning plans, however, will continue to be heard by both the Planning Commission and City Commission.
Commissioners gave preliminary approval to the SmartCode on a 5-0 vote. The new code would take effect July 1.