The Lawrence City Commission’s plan to consider on Tuesday whether to rezone 146 acres at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway seems like it’s putting the cart before the horse.
Commissioners are scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to rezone that property to allow commercial and retail uses at the site. About 50 acres of the site have been targeted for the development of a new complex that will include a large recreation center and new Kansas University track and field facilities. The rest of the site, city officials say, needs to be zoned commercial to accommodate other uses such as hotels, restaurants and retail stores that are expected to accompany the recreation complex development.
The plan is for a development group led by Duane Schwada to donate land for the sports complex and for another group led by Thomas Fritzel to build the recreation center and enter into a multimillion-dollar, 20-year lease-purchase agreement with the city. But none of the proposed contracts that would facilitate those plans has been made public, and, as of Friday, they were not part of the agenda for Tuesday’s commission meeting. The public also has received no details about the city’s agreement with KU related to the track and field facilities.
Rezoning this property before nailing down other details seems like the wrong order. There are a couple of ways commissioners could deal with this situation. They still could add contracts or other documents to this Tuesday’s agenda, but that would be a shame because it would give the public so little time to absorb the details before they are acted upon. If the rezoning is approved on Tuesday, it won’t become official until the ordinance gets a second reading, which might occur as early as next week. But commissioners could approve the rezoning on first reading but delay second-reading approval until the development agreements are ready for consideration.
In any event, it’s unwise to complete the rezoning on this property before final agreements on the recreation complex are in place. Even if those plans are on track and all the involved parties currently are on the same page, things happen. The city doesn’t want to rezone that property and then have the recreation complex fall through. That’s why the city’s normal procedure for such major projects is to have a full development plan in place before approving rezoning.
This is a big project with a lot of pieces. City officials need to make sure those pieces all work together before taking any major action on the complex.