Archive for Saturday, May 5, 2012

City, public need time to evaluate northwest plans

May 5, 2012


Earlier this week, Lawrence city commissioners were presented a set of rezoning requests to allow the development of a boardwalk area behind Johnny’s Tavern along the north side of the Kansas River levee.

Promoters of the project tell of their dream to have shops, restaurants, possibly a movie theater and even a museum along with a heavy emphasis on residential development. Sounds good, a project that would take advantage of the riverfront to create an attractive development.

As might be expected, however, several downtown merchants almost immediately voiced concerns that such a development might hurt downtown businesses. Commissioners directed city staff members to limit the footprint of retail building to no more than 25,000 square feet.

The same day the Journal-World published the story about the proposed riverfront development and the concerns of some downtown merchants, there was a story in the paper about a proposed “recreation center” on the northwest edge of Lawrence, which would offer “huge” opportunities.

This center would be located on land just northwest of the intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.

This general area has been in the news for some time as various developers have filed commercial zoning requests. In March, developers asked for 80 acres northwest of the intersection to be zoned for heavy commercial. This got their foot in the door. Now, two months after filing for the 80 acres, heavy commercial zoning is being sought for the entire 146-acre site.

This is where the proposed massive recreation complex would be located. This might include 300,000 square feet of enclosed space, an outdoor track and stadium, numerous other recreation/athletic facilities and maybe even an ice rink.

With heavy commercial zoning, this would allow several “big box” stores, like those that raised concerns in the North Lawrence project, along with restaurants, hotels or motels, supermarkets, bars and perhaps a bank and other retail outlets.

This site, along with 50 acres northeast of the intersection, would provide 1.5 million square feet of commercial space, making this area the third largest retail area in Lawrence, behind the area on South Iowa Street and downtown Lawrence.

Talk about the potential to suck the life out of downtown Lawrence.

The northwest project is moving far faster than any other recent or much smaller proposal. The North Lawrence levee project is a drop in the bucket compared with the rec center complex.

Granted, the project is exciting, and the sports facilities proposed for the development would be a major addition and asset for the city and Kansas University. However, the manner in which this has been finessed and the speed with which it has been presented and placed before the city offers a fairly good example of how so many projects suddenly have evolved from an initial proposal into something else requiring many city-approved variances.

There are too many cases of individuals or companies asking for forgiveness rather than permission!

Developers have invested millions of dollars and want to spend even more to provide additional living and hotel facilities in the downtown area, which would benefit retail merchants, but they are stalled time and time again because a building might block some sunlight or require removal of a trash Dumpster.

Developers have tried to work with city officials and neighbors about the height of a building and have redesigned their plans to try to please all parties.

In other cases elsewhere, buildings have been built and landscaped in a manner different from what was shown in the originally approved plans and the city has granted retroactive variances.

Consider the fight that lasted for years about the so-called “cornfield mall” development south of Lawrence. Downtown merchants fought this project, as well as compromise plans to shift the development to the downtown area.

Now, a huge commercial development is sought on the northwest edge of Lawrence, and city officials and developers are rushing to get everything greased for quick approval.

The athletic part of the proposed project is great. KU basketball coach Bill Self and his foundation have been generous in many ways, offering to provide substantial fiscal support for the project. Likewise, KU officials, although they have not made their plans public, apparently want to remove the track from Memorial Stadium and place it and other athletic venues at the site.

The project, however, will turn out to be far different if the KU sports facilities and a large city rec center are being used as a means to slip in zoning that would allow a massive retail development. This possibility deserves far more attention and study than it is receiving.

When the location of a city Dumpster can stall the development of a hotel, residential and retail building in the city’s downtown area and a riverfront development can be stalled or possibly rejected unless a 25,000-square-foot limit is place on retail businesses, and yet, a fast-track effort can place a 1.5 million-square-foot project that could have a huge impact on a highly prized and protected downtown business district, something is out of balance or something is wrong.

Again the athletic component of the northwest project is great. It would be tremendous for Lawrence and KU. But the OK for heavy commercial zoning for this 1.5 million-square-foot area deserves far more serious study.


Kristine Bailey 5 years, 11 months ago

Dolph, Thanks for bringing this to our attention! Have you had headlines about this? I knew about the sports proposal but but not the zoning. Now I will have to start reading the Commission Agenda again. The dumpster thing is too funny, I thought you were being witty the first time you mentioned it, but apparently you are reporting it as true by the end of the piece. Now that would have been a great headline!

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 11 months ago

Lawrence is amazing in its protectionism of downtown, which in turn hurts downtown more than it helps. Change in downtown is a good thing, and unless we get more people and stores downtown, it will remain a place where you only go to get food, drinks, and ice cream.

Would you rather have a 50,000 square foot retail store at the Riverfront development or 8 miles away from downtown at the Sporting complex? Would you rather have a hotel at the Sporting Complex or next to downtown? Would you rather have apartments and condo's downtown, or out west by the Sporting complex?

All actions by the city officals and Downtown Lawrence Retailers give the indication that they would rather have all this by the Sporting Complex. Until we build up our downtown with more residents, visitors and destination shops, all the shops downtown will suffer.

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

well said squirrel. The city should have greater goals than protecting Mass Street. Manhattan is going to leave Lawrence in the dust.

repaste 5 years, 11 months ago

Doug's downtown interest emerging in a different story line? Why do one set of merchants get preference over another set? Where was the concern when another intersection was being urged to allow more commercial than zoned, along with the scary code words "Big Box Store", at 6'th and Wak? We all like to support our friends. Big Box Stores are zoned for intersections like K-10/US40, not 6'th/Wak

JackMcKee 5 years, 11 months ago

"protection of downtown retail" was the rallying cry in the 80s and 90s. Lawrence obstructed all kinds of development to protect it. Where is it now? Well, they succeeded so well that rent prices skyrocketed along with property values so now retail can't afford to operate on Mass.

Lawrence just needs to admit that Mass is an entertainment district and make appropriate planning decisions. It's not small town USA in the 1950s anymore. Personally, protecting bars, restaurants and the property values of a few fat cats shouldn't hold a lot of importance. We should be doing what's best for the future of the ENTIRE city, not just a few blocks downtown.

JayhawkFan1985 5 years, 11 months ago

The problem is that Horizon 2020 is not much help as a citywide comprehensive plan. Now is the time for the city to prepare a new comprehensive plan that actually makes decisions about where things should be. One of the hallmarks about Horizon 2020 is that there was a desire to maintain spacial flexibility. This experiment just hasn't worked. That is why every major development entails controversy. We really need to decide as a community together what type of city we want. Do we want to be a city with a healthy and vibrant downtown that has a lot of energy? Do we want to be a city with suburban big box stores on the urban periphery? Do we want to be car dependent? Do we want an effective public transit system with supporting bike/ped connections? Do we want to take advantage of the Kansas River as a vehicle to support economic development? Do we want to continue to turn our backs on the River as we have for almost 100 years? The reason we can't answer these questions is Horizon 2020 is over 20 years and it was intended to be a 20 year plan

whitecho 5 years, 11 months ago

A house is nothing more than a place to eat, sleep and potty.

Well spoken. Not.

pizzapete 5 years, 11 months ago

The downtown highrise apartment/disco/deli/hotel/health club is not being held up because of a dumpster. It is being held up because the building does not fit the area. Compton is trying to get us to believe he should be able to park his stretch Hummer in a parking spot clearly labeled "compact" cars only. He has a lawyer arguing that the stretch Hummer is in fact a compact car when compared with an 18 wheel semi truck. And Compton is basically saying if you don't allow me to park my oversized Hummer in a "compact" car space I'll just park a semi truck there and take up 15 spaces and I have plenty of money to pay the $2 a day fine, so either way I win, na,na, na.

Ward 5 years, 11 months ago

What's with the new parking lot on the 9th/NH spot?

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