With two approvals already in its tool belt, home improvement retailer Menards will try to hammer out a deal with Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday for a 31st Street store just east of South Iowa Street.
Store officials likely will face a split commission.
“I am concerned that this development will put some stress on our neighborhood retail centers that are only marginally full right now,” said City Commissioner Bob Schumm. “There are only so many dollars to be spent in a community, and when you stretch it out too much, something has to give, and usually it is the older retail centers.”
But Menards’ plans for an approximately 160,000-square-foot home improvement center on property just east of Home Depot near 31st and Iowa streets, has some support on the commission.
Mayor Mike Dever said development needs to occur soon on the proposed site, the former Gaslight Mobile Home Village.
“We’re dealing with a piece of property that I think is blighted,” Dever said. “It really is kind of an eyesore right now, and it is the first thing you see if you are driving into the commercial area from the east.”
Dever said he’s not convinced the new development — which also would have spaces for about 65,000 square feet of smaller restaurants and shops — would damage the city’s existing retailers.
“I think the town is going to be positively impacted by the completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway,” Dever said of the bypass project that will start construction again later this year. “I think there is a good possibility that we can bring in more shoppers from outside the community if we have more variety.”
The project already has won a positive recommendation from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, and the Douglas County Commission approved a needed change in the joint city-county comprehensive plan to allow the project to move forward.
But the development won’t proceed unless city commissioners also give the necessary approvals to the project on Tuesday.
The project needs extensive approvals from City Hall because Menards officials want to build on a piece of ground that is zoned for apartment development. Menards officials have bypassed other locations in the city that are already zoned for big box retail development, most notably the property at Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway in northwest Lawrence. Site selectors for Menards said the location doesn’t have enough homes nearby to make it a viable location. Lowes, within the last two years, also made the same comments about the northwest Lawrence site.
Dever said the fact that Menards isn’t taking advantage of an area already zoned for retail development is the one part of the project that bothers him.
“But all of the conversations I’ve had about trying to steer companies to what we think are better locations out west have fallen on deaf ears,” Dever said. “They tell us that they’re not interested in being pioneers. I don’t think they’re going to be interested in that area until we have more development out there.”
Menards officials have said they are very interested in being a part of the South Iowa Street corridor. They note 31st Street just east of the proposed site will be widened and improved as part of the SLT project.
The new store would be next door to Home Depot, but Menards has pointed to several other communities where Menards, Home Depot and Lowes are all in close proximity and all do well.
Thus far, neighborhood opposition to the proposed store has been limited. Several neighbors said at previous Planning Commission meetings that they would rather have a home improvement center on the site than a large apartment complex, which is what’s allowed under the current zoning.
Schumm said he agrees that the community probably doesn’t need another apartment complex at the site, but he said he would like to explore other zoning options, such as a mix of office and residential uses.
“This whole retail area has been built up over the years by adding just one more and then just one more,” Schumm said of the South Iowa Street corridor. “I feel like it already has become a large commercial area that is somewhat complicated to move around in.”
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.