A 67-acre patch of rural property at the northwestern edge of Lawrence someday could become the new home for a major warehouse, a manufacturing plant or some other industrial operation.
But not if Douglas County commissioners determine that such a future would be a barrier to proper development of the area.
Commissioners heard arguments on both sides of the issue Wednesday night during a public hearing regarding a proposal to annex the property into the city of Lawrence. The land is wedged between the Kansas Turnpike and the Farmer’s Turnpike, about a half-mile east of the Kansas Turnpike’s Lecompton interchange.
The property’s owners, members of the Rothwell family, say they want to market the land to developers who could bring jobs and tax revenues to the area. But first they need to bring the property into the city, and then have the land rezoned for industrial use.
That can’t happen unless county commissioners agree that such annexation wouldn’t hinder or prevent the area’s proper growth or development.
Commissioners already approved such a plan, last year, for an adjacent parcel of land: more than 50 acres of land directly to the east. That followed an identical finding two years earlier, for a 155-acre tract just northwest of the Rothwell property.
Lawrence city commissioners then followed up those determinations by annexing the properties and rezoning the sites for industrial use — the same path being sought by the Rothwells.
Beth Johnson, vice president for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said that building such land inventory remained essential for providing the choices necessary to attract employers — especially ones affiliated with bioscience operations, such as those just starting to sprout in the Lawrence community.
“What we’re developing here is an area, an area for industrial development that can handle the types of products, the types of development, that we want for this community,” Johnson said.
But several residents in the rural area argued that the county should reject the urban push, contending that the inevitable rezoning could lead to mining operations, storage of explosives or other potentially harmful developments — dragging down their property values, threatening their safety and otherwise disturbing their rural way of life.
“This is a shadow that is spreading across all property owners in this area,” said Darrel Ward, who lives along the north side of the Farmer’s Turnpike, on a farm where he grew up, directly across from the Rothwells’ land. “Unless we sell to a developer, we’re out of luck. … We’re really boxed into a corner on this.”
Matt Todd, attorney for the Rothwells, urged commissioners to follow the community’s needs and plans. The property is within Lawrence’s defined Urban Growth Area and is specifically identified for industrial uses in a sector plan that is included in Horizon 2020, the county’s own comprehensive land-use guide.
“In the name of progress, there are always going to be negative consequences, and obviously the goal is to minimize those negative consequences,” Todd said. “I don’t mean to downplay those concerns, but I think, certainly, the benefit to a large number of people in the community unfortunately sometimes has to outweigh a small detriment to a small number of people in the community. …
“It is what it is.”
Commissioners plan to decide the issue next week during their regular meeting at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday.
Last year, when commissioners considered the same issue for the land immediately to the east, it passed on a 2-1 vote. Approving it last time were Jim Flory, whose district includes the Rothwells’ property, and Mike Gaughan, whose entire district is inside the city of Lawrence; Nancy Thellman was opposed.