Lowe’s advertising slogan of “Let’s build something together” may get put to the test Tuesday by Lawrence city commissioners.
A trio of city commissioners on Monday said they’re excited about the prospect of Lowe’s coming to Lawrence, but expressed significant concerns about the plan to build a 150,000 square foot store on property that essentially is in front of Free State High School.
At least one commissioner said he’ll suggest at Tuesday evening’s meeting that Lowe’s change the focus of its project and build on property near Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
“We’ve got a spot just down the road that is zoned for retail, it has sewer, it has infrastructure, and it is just sitting there,” City Commissioner Aron Cromwell said. “We’re ready for them there.”
Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner Rob Chestnut also expressed reservations about Lowe’s preferred plan to build on a site near Sixth Street and Folks Road. Previously approved plans call for the site to house residential uses and to be part of a new urbanism style development that puts a premium on walkability. Both commissioners said a big-box retailer would be much different from what neighbors or planners had anticipated for the area.
“I have some pretty significant concerns,” Chestnut said. “I’m concerned with this proposal you really do make a significant change to the whole look and feel of the area.”
But urging Lowe’s to change its plans may be a gamble. Lowe’s officials previously have said they are aware of the site near Sixth Street and the SLT — which is part of the Mercato development — but have said it doesn’t work for their needs. John Peterson, an attorney representing Lowe’s, told Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners last month that a lack of homes and other retailers near the Sixth and SLT site made the property unsuitable for Lowe’s. Attempts to reach Peterson Monday were unsuccessful.
The proposal to build the home improvement center at Sixth and Folks, which would place Lowe’s about a block away from the new Walmart, has drawn a mixed reaction from the public. Some neighbors near the site have expressed concerns about traffic, but some retailers near the area have expressed support for the project. The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce also has come out in strong support of Lowe’s plan.
The project has received negative recommendations from both the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and the city planning department. In addition to site concerns, the planning department also raised the issue of whether there is enough demand in the city to support the new retailer.
City commissioners on Monday said they weren’t concerned about that issue.
“They wouldn’t be making this sort of investment if their business wouldn’t support it,” Cromwell said. “We occasionally need to weigh in on some of those free market issues but I like to let the free market settle those disputes itself.”
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.