The Lawrence City Commission is preparing to follow its own poor precedent by moving forward on annexing a plot of land before the use and zoning for that property has been finalized.
On tonight’s consent agenda — where it will get no discussion unless a commissioner or member of the public specifically requests it — is the annexation of approximately 90 acres just north of Sixth Street on the east side of the South Lawrence Trafficway. If that location sounds familiar, it is the plot on which Kansas University and the city are planning a major recreation development. At its Nov. 12 meeting, the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission supported both the annexation of the property and its rezoning from agricultural to general public and institutional uses. However, tonight, the City Commission is being asked to approve only the annexation and not the new zoning intended to accommodate the recreation development.
The city took similar action earlier this year when it thought it was going to work out a deal to put a new recreation center on the northwest corner of the SLT and Sixth Street intersection. A 146-acre plot owned by a development group led by Duane and Steve Schwada was annexed into the city but with no zoning designation. The city had indicated it planned to rezone the land for commercial use, including big-box retail. Then things changed. The recreation development shifted to the east and the Schwada property is sitting in the city but with no zoning designation. Despite their earlier commitment, planners now say the property may not be suitable for retail development. The Schwadas are understandably unhappy and the situation could well land the city in court.
One would think that if nothing else came out of this unpleasant situation, the City Commission would have learned a lesson about annexing land into the city before it was ready to give that land a zoning designation. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Despite the fact that many people still are wondering why the city or the KU Endowment Association are willing to enter into a deal that involves a no-bid contract with developer Thomas Fritzel to build the new recreation facilities, plans for the new recreation complex are moving quickly ahead. It seems unlikely at this point that they will fall apart, but it could happen, and then the city could find itself in a similar messy situation to the one across the highway with the Schwadas: land that has been annexed with the assumption that it will be zoned for a purpose that it may no longer serve.
It’s simply good practice for the city to zone land at the same time it is annexed. The city shouldn’t get the cart before the horse on this project or any other.
This whole project, from the beginning to tonight, has been a mess with many deals setting new precedents for the KU Endowment Association, Kansas Athletics and the city of Lawrence.