First there was sidewalk dining in downtown Lawrence.
Then it was sidewalk drinking.
Anybody up for sidewalk shopping?
City commissioners on Tuesday night found themselves debating that question as they considered making yet another change in how downtown businesses can use the public sidewalks.
At their weekly meeting, commissioners originally were asked to remove a city regulation that prohibits downtown bars that have a deck or patio from also having a sidewalk hospitality area.
But as commissioners were debating that issue, a representative from Downtown Lawrence Inc. threw in a twist.
“If every bar and restaurant can have an outside area on the sidewalk, I think you’re soon going to have merchants asking why stores can’t have outside retailing,” Peter Zacharias, a board member for Downtown Lawrence Inc., told commissioners. “It is a tricky issue, but I think it is one you will have to deal with.”
Commissioners ended up taking no action on any of the sidewalk issues, but three commissioners did say the idea of sidewalk retailing was intriguing.
“Personally, I think if a retailer wants to roll out some stock and get a permit for that, I don’t have a problem with it as long as it is controlled,” Commissioner Mike Dever said. “It is a way to invite people into a store.”
Commissioners Aron Cromwell and Lance Johnson also were interested.
“For downtown to create vibrancy, it is about people,” Johnson said. “Part of that is having people outside and being seen by other people. If there are people out there who want to come forward, I would like the ability to explore it.”
Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner Rob Chestnut, though, expressed concerns. Amyx said he’s concerned about businesses of any kind taking up space that should be available for pedestrians.
“We want downtown to be successful and vibrant and to attract a lot of people, but you have to have places for people to park and places for people to walk,” Amyx said.
Commissioners said they would like to have discussions with downtown leaders and business owners about sidewalk issues before taking any action.
In other City Hall news, commissioners:
• Unanimously approved the Oread Neighborhood Plan after more than a year’s worth of debate. The plan provides general guidelines on how the neighborhood — which is between KU and downtown — should develop in the future.
Among the major recommendations is that the neighborhood be broken into at least five zones and that each zone be given a different density designation and design guidelines. The details for each zone still must be developed and presented to city commissioners for future approval.
But Planning Director Scott McCullough said the new regulations likely wouldn’t require existing properties to change, but rather would apply to redevelopment projects.
• Approved a new mixed-use zoning designation for the area immediately surrounding The Hawk and The Wheel, two college bars near 14th and Ohio streets. The mixed-use zoning would allow for a large variety of retail and residential uses. But owners of the two bars said they have no immediate plans to redevelop the property. The zoning change gives the two bars the legal right to rebuild the businesses if they were destroyed. The previous multi-family zoning on the site made the businesses legal, nonconforming uses that were not eligible to be rebuilt.
• Confirmed the appointment of former City Manager Mike Wildgen to an unpaid position on the Lawrence Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees.