New filings at Lawrence City Hall suggest that the area along the Farmers’ Turnpike is continuing to become more about the turnpike and less about the farmers.
City planners have received another request to annex and rezone property near the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike in an effort to convert the area into a site for new industrial development.
This latest request doesn’t come from one of the city’s traditional development groups, but rather a farming family that says the area northwest of Lawrence is bound to change.
“The area is destined to develop,” said Steve Rothwell, who filed annexation and rezoning requests that seek to have 69 acres brought into the city limits and rezoned for general industrial uses. “We had hoped that the development would be later rather than sooner, but the time is clearly now.”
Rothwell’s application is the fourth industrial-related project proposed for the area near the Lecompton interchange and along North 1800 Road, which has long been known as the Farmers’ Turnpike.
Rothwell’s property — in the 900 section of North 1800 Road — is between two sites that Lawrence city commissioners already have annexed and zoned for industrial development. Rothwell’s site is slightly east of a 155-acre tract that is immediately adjacent to the Lecompton interchange and is just west of a 55-acre site at North 1800 Road and Queens Road, extended. A site just west of the Lecompton interchange also has been approved for a new 675,000-square-foot distribution center for Berry Plastics.
The area has drawn the attention of economic development leaders because of its easy access to Interstate 70, which should be attractive to distribution centers and other businesses that rely on transportation. But Rothwell admits he’s not in the economic development business. His family has owned the property since the early 1960s. Two of his brothers still live on the property, and he said the family has mixed emotions about how the area is changing.
“We’re not in the development business,” Rothwell said. “We’re farmers. We just feel like if the city is headed in this direction, we need to go ahead and get it annexed so we can start marketing it.”
Several neighbors in the area have opposed the previous annexations and rezoning. That opposition grew recently as the Scenic Riverway Community Association filed another lawsuit against the city. The latest lawsuit challenges the city’s rezoning of the 55 acres near the Farmers’ Turnpike and Queens Road, extended, intersection.
Attorney Ronald Schneider said the suit alleges the rezoning is unreasonable and illegal.
“We’ve always said island annexations should be the exception rather than the rule, and now they seem to be standard operating procedure in this area,” Schneider said. “We just don’t think it is good planning.”
The neighbors previously indicated that a lawsuit was possible if city commissioners weren’t willing to compromise on the zoning in the area. Neighbors said they could live with the annexation if the property was zoned for lighter industrial uses. City commissioners, though, opted to allow the heavier zoning category.
The latest lawsuit is in addition to lawsuits related to the 155 acres just north of the Lecompton interchange. The neighbors have lost two rulings in Douglas County District Court, but the cases remain alive on appeal.
Rothwell said he’ll approach the annexations as the other developers have. He doesn’t plan on asking the city to immediately extend water and sewer service to the site. Instead, he would like the city to allow some types of development to occur using rural water and alternative sewage systems such as lagoons or holding tanks. The city hasn’t yet set a date to consider the annexation issue.