Archive for Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Editorial: Flex plan?

The role of the city’s comprehensive plan once again is up for debate.

April 23, 2013

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Lawrence’s new city commission tonight will get a taste of an old dish that seems never to go off the local menu: Development and the comprehensive plan.

On the agenda is an innocuous looking item labeled “Consider Text Amendments, TA-12-00206, to the City of Lawrence Land Development Code, Chapter 20, various articles, to change the requirement that development projects be required to comply with Horizon 2020.”

This is a situation left behind by the previous commission, which, back in August, sent to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission certain code amendments intended “to ensure business-friendly, responsive and efficient processes for development.”

The staff report to the planning commission pretty much summed up the pros and cons related to this issue:

“The proposed text change to remove the requirement to be consistent with the comprehensive plan could save time and money for applicants and developers by removing a potential process of initiating and completing a comprehensive plan amendment if the proposed project is not in conformance with the comprehensive plan. If proposals are not required to be consistent with the comprehensive plan and are approved, the annual review could be used to update the plan to reflect the approved changes. This could be seen as development friendly by streamlining the development process in the community.”

On the other hand, the staff memo sets out another perspective: “The proposed text change could also be seen as a decision to downgrade the community vision and fabric of the plan, and discount the time and effort the community has put into the development of Horizon 2020, adopted future land use plans and other documents based on the comprehensive plan. Removing the requirement could also reduce the certainty and predictability the plan provides to citizens and property owners making improvements in the community.”

Horizon 2020 and its predecessor, Plan 95, have been sources of contention surrounding a variety of developments, including recently the Lowe’s proposal at the Bauer Farm location on West Sixth Street. Nevertheless, the plans have been shown to be flexible while providing a degree of protection for property owners and advance guidance to developers. A common complaint from local developers is that the city’s planning process isn’t predictable. Making the provisions of Horizon 2020 optional would lessen, not enhance, that predictability.

The planning commission recommended denial, in effect sending the hot potato back to the city commission for discussion and to provide direction to the city staff.

Either way the City Commission responds to this issue of conforming to Horizon 2020 is sure to provide indigestion for some parties.

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