The Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission voted Wednesday night to recommend the design development document for the proposed East Ninth Street arts corridor.
The recommendation comes with the request that the commission “continue to review the public artwork through the technical phase as we would any other public art,” said commissioner Patrick Kelly.
Components for the project include light displays, sound signals, native grasses used as storm water management systems and large rocks arranged to create “intimate gathering areas,” explained Josh Shelton, of the Kansas City-based design firm el dorado inc.
The plan, approved last month at the 12th and final meeting of the East Ninth Citizen Advisory Committee, would also create a three-lane roadway from Massachusetts Street before paring down to two lanes at Rhode Island Street. Between Rhode Island and Delaware streets, the road would contain two lanes, with sidewalks on each side and an 8-foot shared-use path for both pedestrians and cyclists. There would also be parallel parking on the south side of Ninth Street.
Shelton pointed out that the design team was only contracted to meet with the Citizen Advisory Committee six times. Instead, East Ninth became more and more about meeting the “diverse set of conditions” in the “emerging set of economies and dwellers” in East Lawrence.
Throughout the process, “we started to realize (that) balancing amenities really meant balancing perspectives, balancing values,” Shelton said, referring to residents’ and stakeholders’ concerns about parking, bike lanes and ADA accessibility. “It was a very delicate balance.”
Although commission chair Katherine Simmons prefaced the voting by explaining the group’s responsibility to judge the artistic and cultural aspects of the plan, input from the audience echoed that of many past East Ninth-related meetings. Parking, it seemed, was still a concern.
Phil Collison, a member of the Citizen Advisory Committee and the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association, didn’t mince words in his analysis.
“We’re heading toward a parking nightmare,” he warned, suggesting that bike lanes be moved to Eighth and 10th streets to free up parking space on Ninth Street. “This plan doesn’t speak to me as the greatest solution, and I feel like I’m being asked to settle for less.”
John Hachmeister, the only commissioner to vote against the recommendation (not including Kate Dineen, who recused herself on the grounds of her role as associate artist in the East Ninth project), advised caution.
“The thing we should be cautious about is, if not just the artwork but if the entire concept creates problems, it imperils future public art in Lawrence. It makes public art unpalatable for the community,” said Hachmeister, an associate professor in Kansas University's visual art department. “If businesses are forced out of business because of traffic flow, they’re not going to blame the city. They’re going to blame the art, so we have to very seriously consider that whatever takes place is something that works in all parts of the community.”
The design will go next to the city’s Historic Resources Commission on April 21, followed by the City Commission next month.