Lowe’s is back.
After having one plan rejected in October, Lowe’s has filed a new set of plans to build a northwest Lawrence store, this one on vacant property just west of Walmart at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.
The company has filed a plan to build a 145,551-square-foot store at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Congressional Drive.
“It is just a great site,” said Paul Werner, a Lawrence architect who is developing the plans for Lowe’s. “It has all the existing infrastructure it needs. The streets, the traffic lights, the stormwater systems are already in place. You could grade the site and start building on it tomorrow.”
You could, but Lowe’s won’t. The company will be required to rezone the property from its current apartment zoning to commercial retail zoning. In addition to the Lowe’s store, the plans also call for two smaller stores or restaurants — totaling about 7,500 square feet — near the corner of Sixth and Congressional. About five acres of the 17-acre site will be reserved for future apartment development. Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners are scheduled to hear the plan in September. The soonest city commissioners could consider the plan would be in October.
Last October city commissioners balked at a plan to build a Lowe’s store east of the most recent proposed site — in the Bauer Farm development near Sixth Street and Folks Road. Commissioners expressed concern that the store would have been too close to Free State High School and that previous plans for the property did not call for a big box development.
The new site is farther from Free State High. But the property was not planned for retail development, and city commissioners in the past have pointed to vacant property that already is zoned for retail development just one mile west at Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. Lowe’s officials, though, have repeatedly said that site does not have enough residential development near it to make it feasible for a Lowe’s at this time.
The new site was not available on the real estate market last year when Lowe’s came forward with the Bauer Farm proposal. At that point, the project was still owned by a company seeking to build a retirement community. But in recent months, an area bank foreclosed on the property.
Werner also said there is another change to the plan. The previous plan for Bauer Farm had contemplated the store would be part of a special taxing district to help pay for infrastructure and other costs. Werner said there are no current plans to ask for any such incentives.
“There are no incentives being requested that I’m aware of, and we have talked about that subject,” Werner said.
Many neighbors in the area fiercely opposed plans for the Walmart at Sixth and Wakarusa and also expressed concerns about Lowe’s previous proposal. Gwen Klingenberg, president of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods and a resident of a neighborhood near the site, said it was too early to tell how neighbors would react.
She said there are residents who definitely want a Lowe’s in the area, but she said concerns remain that the city is allowing too much retail development near the Sixth and Wakarusa intersection.
“I think the neighborhood would love to have a Lowe’s out here, but it needs to go farther west where the city has planned for it,” Klingenberg said. “To put it at this site will add to traffic concerns.”
Developers, though, will argue that the road system in the area has been designed to accommodate retail development. A study by a private engineer hired by the development group found that the Sixth and Wakarusa intersection is operating at 33 percent of its capacity, and the Sixth and Congressional intersection is operating at 18 percent of its capacity. The engineer estimates that Lowe’s would increase traffic volumes at the intersections by 25 percent.