Lawrence is fortunate to have another chance to attract a Lowe’s home improvement store to the city.
The fact that developers for the project also indicate that Lowe’s doesn’t plan to seek any special taxing districts or other public incentives makes the project that much better.
In October, Lawrence city commissioners rejected a plan to build a Lowe’s store near Sixth Street and Folks Road, saying the property wasn’t an appropriate location for a big box store. They were concerned with how close the store would be to Free State High School and that the project was a major departure from the original pedestrian-friendly plans for the Bauer Farm development at that location.
At that time, commissioners suggested Lowe’s consider locating its store on property already zoned for retail development at Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. Lowe’s continues to contend that property is too far away from residential development and now is seeking approval of a compromise site near the intersection of Sixth Street and Congressional Drive.
Like the earlier site, the new location would need to be rezoned to accommodate the store. It currently is zoned for apartments and would need zoning for commercial retail. About five acres of the 17-acre site would be reserved for future apartment development.
The loss of apartment land isn’t significant for Lawrence, which many would argue already has more apartment developments than it can support. The new location isn’t as far west as city commissioners and planners might prefer, but it is adjacent to another big-box retailer, Walmart, and has existing streets and other infrastructure to support such a development.
It’s the city’s responsibility to carefully review the physical impacts of this project, but officials shouldn’t venture too far into a guessing game about what the Lawrence retail market will bear. During discussions last year, members of the city planning staff cited some figures that indicated retail space in Lawrence was growing faster than the city’s population and per capita incomes.
An attorney supporting the earlier Lowe’s proposal, however, also pointed out the decline in retail sales in Lawrence, presumably because local shoppers are traveling to Topeka or the Kansas City area to visit stores, perhaps including Lowe’s, that aren’t available here. Other local government and business leaders also have expressed concern about the loss of retail sales in Lawrence and how the city might attract new retailers.
The bottom line is that Lowe’s believes it can be successful in Lawrence or it wouldn’t be working this hard to locate here. It’s true that it will provide some added competition for similar stores, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for local consumers.
City officials shouldn’t rubber stamp the new Lowe’s proposal, but they should take reasonable steps to try to help this popular retailer bring its store, jobs and tax revenue to Lawrence.