N. Lawrence development project needs design guidelines, city says

City commissioners have opened the door for a downtown-style development to be built in North Lawrence, but commissioners want more details about its look and uses.

Lawrence city commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting unanimously gave preliminary approval to a set of rezoning requests for the property behind Johnny’s Tavern at Second and Locust streets. But commissioners also stipulated the rezoning won’t become final until a set of design guidelines for the area are approved by the City Commission.

“The key to this project is in the design guidelines to make sure we have something that really looks great,” said City Commissioner Aron Cromwell. “We can have something here that really complements downtown and won’t look like some sort of knockoff.”

Commissioners directed staff members to create design guidelines that generally will limit the footprint of retail buildings to no more than 25,000 square feet, although commissioners said they want to allow a process that would give commissioners a chance to approve larger buildings on a case-by-case basis.

Commissioners heard from several downtown merchants who expressed concern about the project damaging downtown if it becomes a magnet for big box retailers.

But Paul Werner, an architect for the development group that includes the owners of Johnny’s and other area businessmen, said the project was not looking to attract big box retailers but wanted to have the ability to market the project to unique users, such as a movie theater, a grocery store or perhaps even a museum.

Werner said the project would have a heavy residential emphasis and also would include a boardwalk feature along the Kansas River levee that would allow access to shops and restaurants next to it.

Staff members indicated the design guidelines will come back to the City Commission in the next several months. The development group said it doesn’t yet have any tenants for the project and doesn’t have a time line for the development to get under way.