News and notes from around town:
• A major issue impacting the Oread neighborhood will be up for discussion — again — by Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners Monday. The commission will consider changing the regulations that govern boarding houses. A trend in the Oread neighborhood has been to convert large, old homes — which are zoned multi-family — into boarding houses or congregate living facilities. This allows the homes to house more people. But it also creates other issues, especially with parking.
The proposed regulations would change the standards for parking, in some cases requiring only 0.5 parking spaces per one-bedroom. The issue has been a hotly debated one by residents of the Oread neighborhood, which has the largest amount of old, large homes that are zoned multi-family and could be converted into boarding houses. Some neighbors have expressed concerns about the added pressure greater density may place on the neighborhood. Other property owners have said the boarding house option is one of the few ways to rehabilitate old homes in the neighborhood in a financially feasible manner. Planning commissioners meet at 6:30 p.m. tonight at City Hall.
• Another trend in the apartment business is sparking discussion at the Planning Commission. Commissioners tonight will consider changing standards for the amount of density allowed in apartment zoning. The city’s most dense apartment zoning category currently allows 32 living units per acre. But the zoning code doesn’t do much to differentiate between a four-bedroom apartment and a one-bedroom apartment. In other words, a four-bedroom apartment counts as one living unit just like a one-bedroom apartment counts as one living unit. That, in essence, provides an incentive for developers to build four-bedroom units.
Renters, however, have become more interested in one and two-bedroom units. Thus members of the development community have proposed a change that would remove the cap of 32 units per acre, as long as all other code requirements such as parking, building set backs, building height and other factors could be met.
This issue has sparked debate. Developers have argued the code promotes an overall goal of the city to encourage infill development and to limit sprawl. But others have argued that the change could produce significantly more people living in the same amount of space since the city’s code limiting the number of unrelated people who can live in an apartment is tied to the idea of a unit instead of the number of bedrooms in an apartment. The city’s existing code allows four unrelated people to live together in an apartment (its three in a single-family home). In a building with five, four-bedroom apartments that would be 20 people. If the same building instead had 10 one-bedroom apartments, that technically would allow 40 unrelated people to live in the building (although you might be a bit cramped.)
This issue also will be heard by planning commissioners at their meeting tonight. Ultimately, both the boarding house and zoning issues will be sent to the City Commission for final consideration.
• A project by the Ballard Community Center to open a new early childhood education center at 345 Florida St. is moving ahead. The project is seeking a special use permit at tonight’s planning commission meeting.