Don’t tell Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence — not if it is artificial grass, anyway.
Developers of a new West Lawrence apartment complex were one step closer Thursday to being required to tear out thousands of dollars of artificial turf that they installed as landscaping at the Tuckaway Apartments at Frontier. Planning commissioners on Wednesday evening balked at changing city rules to allow the use of artificial turf as a replacement for traditional grass.
“It is just a lesser alternative in our view,” said Planning Director Scott McCullough, who recommended against the use of artificial turf. “There are other methods out there that have the same benefit of low maintenance but are more beneficial to the environment.”
Paul Werner, a Lawrence architect for the apartment complex, said he anticipates having further discussions with the city to see if a compromise on the product can be reached. The rule change before planning commissioners would have allowed the widespread use of artificial turf in both commercial and residential lawns. Werner said he doesn’t think that is feasible because the product costs more than three times as much as traditional sod. But Werner said he thinks the product can be used in some limited situations. He also thinks the community would like the look of the product, if it were given a chance.
“We would agree that it shouldn’t be used everywhere,” Werner said. “I kind of think this is like when fake stone started being used on buildings several years ago. It looked really good, but then when you found out it was fake, you didn’t like it.”
Planning commissioners rejected the rule change on a 6-2 vote. City commissioners ultimately will make a final ruling on the issue, unless the development group — which is led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel — withdraws the request in an effort to come up with a new compromise.
Werner didn’t provide an estimate on how much the development group spent on installing the turf, but it was used as lawn material around all of the buildings of the 96-unit apartment complex at 546 Frontier Road. Developers began installing the artificial turf, believing that it was allowed in the city’s code. When city inspectors notified them that artificial turf wasn’t allowed, developers continued installing the turf — which they had already purchased — with the hope regulations could be changed.
“The developer and the owner of the complex are just absolutely sold on the product,” Werner said. “From a no-maintenance standpoint, no fertilizer, no pesticides. There are a ton of advantages to the stuff.”
But McCullough said the planning department believes there are plenty of natural plants and landscaping that can be used by people who want a low-maintenance alternative. Plus, McCullough said there is significant research that says the artificial turf degrades the underlying soil by keeping it covered for long periods of time.
“The soil essentially begins to die,” McCullough said. “If you wanted to use the soil again, it would take some rehabilitation.”
None of the proposed changes under discussion impact the ability to use artificial turf at various sports fields around town. That use is covered under a different set of regulations.
In other planning news, planning commissioners approved a preliminary development plan for a new apartment complex in the Oread neighborhood.
Commissioners unanimously approved plans for a new complex at 1043 Ind., which is the site of the old Varsity House property. The project will move the Varsity House about 200 feet to the north, which will make room for a new development that will include five one-bedroom apartments, 41 two-bedroom apartments, and four three-bedroom apartments. The old Varsity House would be converted into a boarding house with six bedrooms. The whole project would have two levels of underground parking, which would be a new feature for apartments in the crowded Oread Neighborhood. The project’s design, though, still must be approved by the Historic Resources Commission, which is tentatively scheduled to discuss it on Sept. 15. Historic preservationists have expressed concerns about moving the Varsity House, a 1908 home that got its name by serving as a boarding house for the KU football team in the 1950s.