Lawrence city commissioners certainly have had no shortage of discussion about the Oread neighborhood east of the Kansas University campus.
High levels of acrimony between a group of landlords and a group of resident homeowners in the neighborhood have resulted in many contentious items on Lawrence City Commission agendas.
Now, however, it is time for city commissioners to put a broader focus on setting a sensible course for Oread’s future. The city recently has adopted an Oread neighborhood plan, but that document leaves much of the nitty-gritty detail to the formation of overlay districts, which will create special planning rules for different segments of the neighborhood. City planners will begin drafting those regulations this year.
As that process begins, city commissioners should insist on raising another issue: parking. During a recent City Hall discussion about boarding houses and the appropriate parking standards for such developments, City Commissioner Mike Dever brought up an interesting idea.
Why doesn’t the city require motorists to have a permit to park on the city streets in Oread? Many of the people who park in Oread on a daily basis don’t live there, Dever said. Clearly, many either work at or attend KU and want to avoid university parking fees. Simply put, the Oread neighborhood serves as a KU parking lot. Is that good planning for the future?
The idea isn’t entirely new. It likely has been brought up at City Hall in past decades, but there is a new twist. Unlike in past decades, KU now has a robust public transit system. It includes a large park-and-ride lot on West Campus that makes it convenient to park and catch a bus to the main campus. Never has the university been in a better position to encourage its students and staff to stop parking in the Oread neighborhood. Legitimate and feasible alternatives, including the city’s own bus system, exist to get students and staff to campus.
Reducing parking congestion won’t be a cure-all for the Oread neighborhood. Improving the behavior of students who live in the neighborhood also is a critical component. Greater acceptance from everyone involved that the neighborhood is destined to have dense development and be dominated by student rentals also would be helpful. But parking has been a source of frustration for years, and city commissioners should at least seriously attempt to address the problem.
A permit system might even help fund greater enforcement of city codes in the neighborhood. Even if the city provides permits at no charge to neighborhood residents, additional permits may be available for purchase. The money from those sales could help fund additional enforcement activity in the neighborhood. The same principle could apply for parking fines levied in the neighborhood, and maybe the parking attendants could be cross-trained to spot obvious code violations, such as littered lawns.
There may be a multitude of reasons why a permit system won’t work in the Oread neighborhood, but the city should seriously explore the idea before dismissing it. Examining such new ideas is the job of a good City Commission.
And, if nothing else, city commissioners need to send the message that the time for bickering in the Oread neighborhood is over. The time for planning has arrived.