Douglas County commissioners gave their approval Wednesday night to expanding a retail commercial zone east of 31st and Iowa streets.
That means if the Lawrence City Commission goes along, that change in the joint city-county comprehensive plan known as Horizon 2020 will open that area to more large-scale retail development, including a proposed Menards home improvement store.
“Even if this weren’t applicant-driven, I think it makes good sense,” said County Commissioner Jim Flory. “This proposal, if it came just from Planning, is something we would want to consider.”
Flory noted, however, that the county was only giving its consent to a change in the comprehensive plan. The specific proposal by Menards, including the site plan and zoning change, will have to be approved separately by the city of Lawrence.
The comprehensive plan is a tool used by the city and county to guide development, and it is often used as a basis for approving or denying specific zoning requests. The goal is to identify current land use patterns and to set out general guidelines for future development.
Michelle Leininger, a planner in the city-county planning department, noted that the comprehensive plan currently identifies 31st and Iowa as a “retail node,” but does not allow for expansion of that node along 31st Street.
But that’s likely to change with the imminent extension of the South Lawrence Trafficway, which will run just south of 31st Street and link up with Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence.
Tyler Edwards, a real estate representative for the Eau Claire, Wis.-based Menards Inc., said that highway, along with other improvements that will go along with it, make the 31st Street location ideal for the company.
He said Menards had long sought to expand into Lawrence, and that the company looked at other retail areas in the area but decided on the 31st Street property, in part so it can be near other big-box retailers such as Home Depot, Wal-Mart and Target.
“Like businesses coexist well when they are near each other,” he said.
Lawrence resident and Kansas University professor of urban planning Kirk McClure urged commissioners to reject the plan, arguing that the city and county should strictly control the expansion of retail development to prevent the market from becoming saturated.
But county commissioners did not indicate that they felt it was their role to set limits on the amount of space available for development. The proposal before them was only to identify an area where future development could be allowed to occur, and all three commissioners agreed that the area along West 31st Street was reasonable.
“On the whole, the location you’ve pursued, I think this makes sense,” said Commission Chairman Mike Gaughan.
In other business, commissioners:
• Awarded a contract to Bettis Asphalt for $173,048 to resurface East 1750 Road from the Baldwin City limits north to County Road 12, with the cost being split evenly between the county and Baldwin City.
• Authorized the refinancing of existing bonds to produce cost savings that will finance construction of the proposed new Public Works facility and communications systems improvements.
• Approved an agreement to work with Treanor Architects to develop a master plan for the Douglas County Fairground at a cost not to exceed $20,000.
• Met in executive session with County Counselor Evan Ice for about 45 minutes to discuss the status of litigation in several matters.