It will be a tall order for Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday night.
Commissioners at their weekly meeting will consider plans for a six-story hotel/apartment building at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
Commissioners are expected to get pushed from both sides on the issue.
Neighbors who live in an adjacent historic district along Rhode Island Street have expressed concerns about the building’s design, and particularly its proposed height and the shadows it will create. But developers are arguing that they’re bringing forward a project that does what city planners long have called for: increase the number of people living in downtown.
“I think what we’re dealing with is there are two different visions for downtown,” said Mayor Aron Cromwell. “One is more urban than the other.”
The project, proposed by a group led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor, previously has been rejected by the city’s Historic Resources Commission. But the project can continue to move forward if city commissioners give it a positive vote on Tuesday night.
On Friday, commissioners said they still were wading through several issues on the project, but a trio of commissioners expressed openness to the idea.
City Commissioner Mike Dever said he can see how the project — which would include an 81-room TownePlace by Marriott hotel, 36 apartments, and 120 underground parking spaces — could benefit downtown.
“But the big question is whether we will be setting a precedent for this type of development to occur on the edge of residential development,” Dever said. “That is pretty common in more urban areas, but it is less common in smaller towns and cities.
“It basically boils down to how much impact do we want to have on adjacent landowners when we create urban development downtown? Once we do this, I think others will want to do it too. It is important that we create a positive trend.”
The project is proposed for a vacant lot just north of the Lawrence Arts Center. Developers have argued that the lot’s location near the center of downtown dictates that it is going to house a fairly urban and dense development.
Neighbors have said they aren’t opposed to the lot developing, but instead think the site is more appropriate for a three- or four-story building. Developers have said making the building shorter ruins its financial feasibility.
Cromwell said he still needs more information before he can reach a decision on this project, but he said he thinks increasing the density of downtown and adding living units to the area is important for downtown’s future. He also said adding density will be difficult to do on Massachusetts Street.
“We have a plan of leaving Massachusetts Street as historic and intact — and that is absolutely the right plan,” Cromwell said. “But I think ultimately it will lead to New Hampshire and Vermont streets having taller and more dense structures along them.”
City Commissioner Hugh Carter said he also supports the idea of more density in downtown, but wants to hear more information about why this particular site is the right location for a major project.
“It is going to be a challenge,” Carter said. “It probably won’t produce a win-win situation. But the bottomline is that I do think that the historic area of downtown is better preserved by ensuring that it will be healthy and vibrant in the future.
“Sometimes we try to make things a win-win, and we still don’t make either side happy, and we end up with a project that doesn’t have the impact we’re hoping for. I don’t want to do that here.”
In addition to neighbors, the project is expected to draw concern from historic preservationists. Preservationists are expected to remind commissioners that they are required to judge the project using different criteria from that used for many development projects.
Technically, the city will be conducting a quasi-judicial appeal hearing of the Historic Resources Commission’s rejection of the project. The appeal standards call for commissioners to uphold the HRC’s decision, unless there is not a “feasible and prudent” alternative to the project.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.