The final nail hasn’t yet been hammered, but plans for a Menards home improvement store in south Lawrence took a large step forward Monday night.
The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission on a 6-3 vote recommended approval of the plan that calls for a nearly 190,000-square-foot Menards store just east of the Home Depot at 31st and Iowa streets. The Planning Commission decision clears the way for the Lawrence City Commission to give final consideration to the project in the coming weeks.
“I believe Menards will be good for the community,” Planning Commission Chairman Bruce Liese said. “It will provide inventory and options that we won’t have otherwise.”
Monday night’s decision comes one month after the Planning Commission deadlocked on the issue. Menards is proposed for the former Gaslight Mobile Home Village, a site that planners previously had said was best suited for future apartment development. The Planning Commission had to change its long range planning documents for the area in order to clear the way for the Menards store.
“This is a chance for us to take a blighted property and turn it into something better than more apartments,” said Planning Commissioner Richard Hird, who was serving his final meeting on the board. “I just can’t leave here approving more apartments.”
Planning commissioners were divided on the issue, though. Commissioners Lara Adams Burger, Chad Lamer and Jon Josserand voted against the proposal. Commissioner Amalia Graham abstained.
Commissioners cited concerns that the city was becoming overbuilt with retail space. A new City Hall report found the city’s retail vacancy rate was 7.2 percent at the end of 2012, which is near the national average. But the report also raised concerns that the amount of retail square footage in the city is growing faster than the city’s incomes. Plus, commissioners expressed traditional concerns about the impact big box stores have on existing businesses.
“How many big box stores can we have before we lose our community neighborhood hardware stores?” Josserand asked.
But members of the public didn’t express those concerns. Only two members of the public raised concerns about the project at Monday’s meeting. Six members of the public supported the project on Monday. Previously, several residents near the site also had said they preferred a retail store over more apartments for the area.
Planning commissioners are recommending a 200-foot buffer zone on the north edge of the property to alleviate potential drainage issues for the site.
The project will go before the Lawrence City Commission for final consideration, likely within the next two to four weeks.