Editorial: Planning vision

Setting a broad vision for the future of Lawrence could be a useful part of the long-range planning process.

April 28, 2013


“If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up some place else.”

The inimitable Yogi Berra probably wasn’t thinking about urban planning when he made that statement, but his words seem worth pondering as the Lawrence City Commission considers revising or replacing the city’s Horizon 2020 comprehensive plan.

At their Tuesday meeting, city commissioners acknowledged that the plan, drafted in the early 1990s, “has some age on it” and may no longer fill the city’s planning needs. They also agreed to create a task force, headed by Commissioner Mike Amyx, to examine whether it’s time to start working on a new comprehensive plan.

There’s little question that the city needs to update its approach, but before embarking on a grueling, multiyear process like the one that produced Horizon 2020, it seems that Lawrence needs to try to create a shared vision of where residents want the community to go.

Horizon 2020 is filled with excruciating detail about land use and city goals, but it’s impossible for such a document to accurately predict all of the changes that will occur in a community — or all of the opportunities that will arise. The plan needs to be flexible enough to allow the city to take advantage of opportunities but rigid enough to prevent developments that don’t suit particular locations or run counter to community priorities.

If city planners had a crystal ball, and could anticipate every proposed project and development the city would face in the next 20 years, it would make sense to draw up a plan that dealt with the specific details related to each of those requests. But that’s not the case. That’s why it seems that a community vision may be more important than — or perhaps a needed precursor to — a plan that guides future growth.

What are the community’s priorities when it comes to public transportation or recreation? What do residents see as the future of downtown Lawrence? Do we want parks and recreation facilities that residents of all ages can walk to? How about shopping areas? What kind of city layout addresses those values? Jobs are extremely important to the city’s future. How can we use city planning to attract more businesses and jobs? If people could look into that crystal ball, what would they want Lawrence to look like 20 or 30 years from now?

Not every proposal that comes before the city is going to fit neatly into one of the boxes detailed in a comprehensive plan. That’s when it might be helpful for city leaders to look beyond narrow regulations and consider a broader vision for the community. Too often, it seems Horizon 2020 is used as a reason to say “no.” The city needs to be able to say “no” to bad projects or even good projects in bad locations. But it also would be nice to have a long-range plan that offers a positive vision of what Lawrence wants to say “yes” to.


Richard Heckler 5 years, 1 month ago

"How can we use city planning to attract more businesses and jobs"

This was the question in 1987 that was never answered and has been in every city/county commission race since 1987. No matter that the the real estate industry and its' political action committee the Chamber of Commerce have been running local government.

When we located to Lawrence nearly 30 years ago downtown had no vacancies and a wide variety of retail most of which was locally owned. JC Penney was in downtown Lawrence.

Nearly 30 years later the issues are still the same in spite of the the so called "monster extending the tax base movement" aka our bedroom community. With increased numbers of new real-estate you have increased demand on services. Historically the funding of revenues generated by new real estate does not pay for the services they require from a municipality. Yet wild sorts of tax abatements are handed out like there is no tomorrow.

Horizon 2020 was such a document BUT the real estate industry and its' political action committee the Chamber of Commerce have rarely respected such. Consequently a lot of tax dollar increasing development has taken place. The City Commission and City Hall is NOT required to respond to the dictates of the real estate industry and its' political action committee the Chamber of Commerce but they do.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 1 month ago

Lawrence has too much retail space chasing too few vendors, which means that many stores go empty, especially in the older shopping centers like downtown. This known as over built aka saturated aka the key to economic displacement.

As communities grow out shopping centers shut down. A situation easily documented throughout the nation as well as Topeka and KCMO metro. Over extended growth is definitely business unfriendly. Why go there ever?

When we located to Lawrence nearly 30 years ago downtown had no vacancies and a wide variety of retail most of which was locally owned. Smaller tightly managed markets are healthier markets,attractive plus more able to withstand market fluctuations. After all the idea is to make money.

The New Urbanism project on west 6th failed due to lack of interest by new tenants, Riverfront Plaza failed and so did Tanger Mall. K-Mart died and Sears has basically gone down the tubes. All of which took place in Lawrence,Kansas. Several major chain retailers left downtown Lawrence,Kansas as well due to not enough retail customers and/or the over saturated Lawrence market. Can you believe it Old Navy left town.

The surplus development has stalled redevelopment plans downtown and has pushed the vacancy rates so high that disinvestment and blight now threaten. Investment, both public and private, is wasted.

The recession has contributed to the problem, but had we properly managed our growth we would be much better off.

Armstrong 5 years, 1 month ago

With the real money and jobs to the East, West and South, the planning commission may want to think about how best to serve a bedroom community / college town. As it stands now no one in their right mind would locate a business of any size in Larryville.

Scott Criqui 5 years, 1 month ago

I love Lawrence...and it is time for our city and citizens to do the hard work of putting together a comprehensive, strategic community (not just planning) vision with outcomes and matrixes. It is hard work, but our community is worth the investment. MANY communities have done this with great success. There are several effective models for doing community visioning. I hope elected officials understand the importance of visioning before doing.

cowboy 5 years, 1 month ago

The problem with "community planning" is typically the ones creating these documents have no skin in the game. They are not the ones writing the checks for property purchases , construction , years of start up operating costs. The ones writing the checks know what they want and where they want it to give their investment the best chance of succeeding.

Additionally the lawrence community is anti everything. Try to tear down a house in central Lawrence and see what happens. Three different community groups will cost you tens of thousands in legal fees and a years worth of headache.

I state the plans are faulty as soon as they are published , why bother.

seriouscat 5 years, 1 month ago

That's so insulting and ridiculous. People who live in a neighborhood or are raising children in the community have plenty of "skin in the game"...even if they don't have massive checkbooks. Good planning involves getting all stakeholders involved in the process. That's not "anti-everything", it's people actually wanting to be involved in shaping their communities. That's "why bother".

chootspa 5 years, 1 month ago

Why bother making regulations at all if rich property owners are they only ones with any say in the process?

seriouscat 5 years, 1 month ago

I would like to see Lawrence bring the neighborhoods and citizens to the table more progressively in the beginning part of planning processes instead of making big plans behind closed doors with the developers etc....and presenting them to the people of Lawrence as something to support or oppose.

cowboy 5 years, 1 month ago

Serious , we already have the planning dept , planning commission , county commission , city commission , neighborhood groups during public comment periods , individuals at public hearings , seems there is plenty of community i.e. busy body input.

countrygal 5 years, 1 month ago

Let's hope with the new plan a "real" focus will be on economic development in this city, bringing in revenue sales to the city. This last denial of Menard's location to the city was absurd. Denying a business that will bring in jobs and revenue from sales for preferring more apartments, which do not provide jobs or sales tax revenue, is a reason this city has the problems in growth it has. The planners of this city need to remember that Lawrence not only serves citizens in the city limits, but residents of the county and beyond. Lawrence sits on the northern portion of Douglas County and alot of residents come to Lawrence to shop, along with Franklin, Miami Counties. Having more apartments on the southern end of town just makes these out of city residents continue to drive to KC Metro areas & Topeka. FYI- There was a reason Scott McCollugh was let go in Miami County. If you want a new plan, you need to start in the Planning office.

chootspa 5 years, 1 month ago

You know, I'm tired of big box retail being argued as "jobs." All jobs are not created equal. According to Glassdoor, the pay at Menards is between $8.00-$10 an hour for what are mostly less than full time jobs. There are a few managers for up to $17 an hour, but not enough to justify the investments in infrastructure the city would have to make to make the Menards building happen, especially since the most likely scenario is that the jobs gained at Menards end up being lost by the employees of Home Depot.

You could make the expanding the sales tax revenue argument about Menards (if it doesn't just close Home Depot,) but you do have to look at just how much you want to expand the big boxes in that area. It's not that Menards isn't allowed to build in Lawrence. It's that they want to rezone a residential area to do it. There's enough commercially zoned real estate out by the Rock Chalk Bloat Complex. That's just not where they want to build.

LogicMan 5 years, 1 month ago

"Horizon 2020 was such a document"

So it is obsolete. Repeal it immediately to get past the current crisis, and then replace Horizon 1984 with common sense guidelines instead of specifics.

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