It will be the natural environment versus the business environment at Lawrence City Hall today.
City commissioners at their weekly meeting are expected to debate a proposed addition to the city and county’s comprehensive plan that would allow for local environmental regulations that are more strict than federal and state rules.
Members of the city and county planning department are recommending approval of the new Environmental Chapter of Horizon 2020 as a way to “strive for the sustainability of our physical environment.” But two of the city’s largest business groups are urging commissioners to send the plan back for more study.
“If this gets approved, we think you’ll see a large amount of red tape and a large amount of restrictions on what and where you can build in this community,” said Luke Bell, director of governmental relations for the Lawrence Board of Realtors.
The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce also is asking the city to send the plan back to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission for more study and more input from stakeholders.
The Environmental Chapter would not technically create new regulations, but instead would direct staff members to begin working on creating new codes for a variety of areas. Planning Director Scott McCullough said the chapter calls for entirely new policies to be created for 35 different environmental topics and for new rules to be added to 89 existing regulations.
McCullough listed six entirely new regulations that would be significant:
• Codes that would limit what type of development could occur near streams.
• Local protections for wetlands that would be in addition to the state and federal protections for wetlands.
• Regulations aimed to protect woodlands and urban forests.
• Ordinances that would protect undisturbed and undeveloped pieces of plant and wildlife habitat.
• Codes that would protect prime, agricultural soils from development.
• Regulations that would reduce the amount of mercury emitted by industrial producers.
“If you are a developer or someone looking to expand a business here, I think some of these things could throw up a red flag,” Bell said. “Certainly, when you look at communities that basically are our competitors, this is something much, much stronger than what they have on their books.”
But the chapter, which already has been approved by the Douglas County Commission on a 2-1 vote, has won support from environmental groups and the Lawrence-Douglas County League of Women Voters, who called the chapter an “invaluable” addition to the community’s planning efforts.
City commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today at City Hall.