It’s good to see some creative and ambitious plans being formulated for downtown Lawrence, but city commissioners are right to be cautious about moving forward on plans that would drastically change the face of downtown business and parking facilities.
City commissioners had a number of questions this week for developers proposing two large projects on the east side of Vermont Street and ordered the developers to get feedback from neighboring business owners before the city discussed the plans further.
The larger of the projects would gobble up the municipal parking lot in the 800 block of Vermont, which currently serves Massachusetts Street businesses in that block as well as businesses and the newly remodeled Carnegie Library building across the street. The developer envisions a five-story building that would include either 48 or 86 apartments along with office space.
One of the carrots being dangled by the developer is his hope to attract a grocery store to a 15,000-square-foot space near Ninth and Vermont. Having a grocery store to serve the increasing residential development in downtown is a great idea, but it’s anything but a done deal. If the plan moves forward, city commissioners should consider making it contingent on securing a grocery store tenant.
The plan includes multi-story parking facilities that would have at least 159 public spaces (the same as the current lot) along with about 200 spaces reserved for offices and other users. That’s a lot of parking, but it may not be enough to serve the increased demand created by the development. It also may not be the kind of parking that best serves the retail stores that depend on the current lot. These lots were built to benefit the businesses on Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire streets, and city commissioners must carefully consider the precedent of allowing such a development on a city-owned parking lot.
The second, smaller proposal is for a former office supply store in the 1000 block of Vermont. The attractive plan calls for a building that would house about 70 employees but provides no additional parking facilities. Developers say they will need at least 50 parking spaces in the public parking lot just north of the project and want the city to allow people with long-term parking permits to park there. Committing 50 spaces in a lot that has only has 61 spaces would significantly impact the availability of parking in that block.
Again, it’s good to see that developers want to bring their projects to Lawrence’s restricted downtown footprint. Bringing more jobs and more residential units downtown will help support the businesses in that area and keep Lawrence’s downtown active and interesting. However, new developments also will place additional pressures on parking and other city services. City commissioners need to be careful about what projects they approve and how they will change downtown — for better and for worse.