Lowe’s says it’s not bluffing.
Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday set the community on a path to find out.
On a 4-1 vote, city commissioners rejected a plan that would have allowed a Lowe’s home improvement store to move forward on a site near Sixth Street and Folks Road, citing the proposal did not fit with previously approved plans.
Commissioners rejected the $14 million store — which was estimated to create 125 new retail jobs and about $700,000 in annual sales and property taxes — after Lowe’s officials said this was the only site in Lawrence that would work for the company.
“We’ve heard that the community wants Lowe’s but we don’t want them at this site,” said John Petersen, an attorney representing Lowe’s. “But the bottom line is this: There is one opportunity for Lowe’s, and it is at this 11-acre site.”
Previously several city commissioners had expressed optimism that Lowe’s could be persuaded to locate at an already zoned location near Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. But a senior site development manager for Lowe’s told commissioners that site was evaluated but “was never an option” because it was too far away from housing and other retailers.
Commissioners, though, did not blink. A majority pointed to previously approved plans that showed the area near Sixth and Folks developing with a mix of housing types that would be part of a new urbanism development that features walkability and an old-style neighborhood feel.
“I wish it were a different answer,” said Commissioner Rob Chestnut. “I wish Lowe’s criteria matched up more closely with the land-use regulations and expectations we have created for this site. But this is just too far of a departure.”
Neighbors put an even finer point on the matter. Several said that approving Lowe’s would be breaking a political promise dating back to 2008 when a compromise was struck to allow Walmart to build a store at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. Neighbors were told then that the area east of Walmart would not be allowed to have big box stores.
“Lowe’s is a fine company,” said Charlie Crabtree, who lives in the area. “But there is no urgent need for them that means we have to throw out all of our plans.”
But the Lowe’s project drew significant support from the business community with everybody from the leader of Lawrence’s Amarr Garage Door plant — which has its product sold by Lowe’s — to the Chamber of Commerce speaking in favor of it.
City Commissioner Lance Johnson was the lone commissioner who supported giving the project more time by sending it back to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, which previously had recommended against the project on an 8-2 vote.
“I’m OK with changing a plan if it makes sense to do so,” Johnson said. “You can find yourself in a time where the decisions made back then don’t make sense now because the world has changed.”
In other news:
• Commissioners agreed to keep the city-appointed Community Commission on Homelessness. The group currently has three unfilled positions, and questions had been raised whether the committee was still needed. Commissioners said the advisory board has a role to play, but does want to see the size of the group reduced from 11 members to nine.