Lawrence city commissioners unanimously approved a major annexation request Tuesday that is expected to be a key cog in a plan to build a regional recreation sports complex in northwest Lawrence.
But commissioners also said they understand the public wants more details about a possible public-private partnership for a recreation center, and said that such details would be coming soon.
“If this project happens, it will be because we talk to the neighbors, we talk to the public, and it is a benefit to everyone,” said City Commissioner Aron Cromwell. “If that is not the case, then this project won’t happen. I can promise you there has been no backroom deal here.”
Commissioners at their weekly meeting approved a request to annex 146 acres at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. The property’s ownership group, which is led by Lawrence businessmen Duane and Steve Schwada, has offered to donate 50 of the acres to the city to house a public-private regional recreation complex that would include indoor gym space and outdoor track and field facilities for Kansas University.
Several members of the public urged commissioners to delay action on the annexation until more details have been worked out about how much the recreation center may cost and who may operate the facility.
“I see a commission that isn’t protecting my interests,” Greg Robinson, a Lawrence resident told commissioners. “I see a commission that is running to a developer to get something done.”
But commissioners said the annexation does not commit the city to extend water and sewer service to the site if the idea for a recreation center falls through. Commissioners, however, were told the annexation does make the city more liable for improvements to portions of U.S. Highway 40 west of the South Lawrence Trafficway.
But City Manager David Corliss said the city likely would have to tackle such improvements at some point because the road is at a major gateway to the community. Ultimately commissioners sided with the city staff members who recommended the site be annexed regardless of whether the recreation center project moves forward. Staff members said that the site’s location at the intersection of two state highways made it a prime spot for future development, and annexation was the way to ensure that development occurs under the city’s regulations.
As for the recreation center project, commissioners said they likely would not take any more land-use actions on the site until they get firm details about the size, scope and costs of a public-private recreation complex.
“The business plan needs to be well-developed before I vote for the zoning on this property,” Mayor Bob Schumm said. “The zoning is what will really commit us.”
Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners are set to hear a commercial zoning request for the property at their Monday evening meeting.
Commissioners also announced they tentatively have set June 6 as the date to hold a public meeting to discuss a concept plan for the recreation complex. The meeting is set for the Free State High School commons area. A time for the event hasn’t been finalized yet.