The stage is set for new environmental regulations in Lawrence and Douglas County.
City commissioners on a 3-2 vote approved the Environmental Chapter of Horizon 2020 despite a deeply divided crowd that filled City Hall on Tuesday.
“The sky is not falling here,” Mayor Aron Cromwell told the crowd. “This isn’t going to be the end of business in Lawrence, Kansas.”
But the new chapter sparked multiple concerns from members of the Chamber of Commerce, the Lawrence Board of Realtors, the Lawrence-Douglas County Home Builders Association and several area farmers.
“This chapter is perilously close to telling us what plants we have to plant,” said Mary Ross, who is part of a farming family in the Kansas River Valley north of Lawrence. “There are some real property rights issues here, and the agriculture community was left out of the planning process of this chapter.”
But city commissioners sought to calm fears that the chapter would create a multitude of new environmental regulations that would be stricter than existing federal and state laws. In fact, they said, the chapter doesn’t create any new regulations but rather lays out the specific areas where new regulations should be drafted in the future. All of those new regulations will have to receive approval either by city commissioners, county commissioners or both, depending on the regulations.
“I believe this whole chapter is just a goal and it sets out our aspirations for the future,” City Commissioner Bob Schumm said. “But it is important for the city to get on with this.”
Cromwell, Schumm and Commissioner Mike Dever voted to approve the chapter. Commissioners Mike Amyx and Hugh Carter voted against approval, saying they supported the idea of an Environmental Chapter but wanted to give stakeholders more time to comment on the proposal.
County commissioners previously approved the chapter on a 2-1 vote. Now the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department will begin creating a work list of new regulations that need to be developed as called for in the chapter. No timeline for the new regulations to be drafted and brought to commissioners was set. Instead, the regulations will be developed as funding and staff time allows.
Among some of the major new regulations expected to be drafted as a result of the new chapter are:
• 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.
• 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.