Bill aims to block Lawrence from adopting ‘inclusionary’ zoning laws

Lawrence Assistant City Manager Casey Toomay testifies before the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee Thursday against a bill that would prohibit cities from enacting inclusionary

? Lawrence Assistant City Manager Casey Toomay told Kansas lawmakers Thursday that the city should be able to decide for itself what kind of zoning laws and affordable housing programs would best fit the city’s needs.

“If anyone knows anything about the city of Lawrence, we’re known for being a community that loves process,” Toomay said before the House Commerce Labor and Economic Development Committee. “We would not and do not adopt any local provision without a healthy public process which may include engaging various stakeholders throughout the community that have a stake or issue related to affordable housing.”

Toomay testified against passage of Senate Bill 366, which would prohibit cities from enacting price controls on the sale or purchase of residential or commercial property. That would include what are often called “inclusionary zoning” laws, which are aimed at promoting affordable housing and mixed-income neighborhoods.

Those laws typically require a certain percentage of new construction within a subdivision be affordable to people with low to moderate incomes.

Although no one in Lawrence has formally proposed such a measure, Toomay said it has been discussed.

And that was enough to prompt the Kansas Association of Realtors to request pre-emptive legislation to stop it from happening, in Lawrence or anywhere else in Kansas.

Luke Bell, who lobbies for the realtors group, cited a study on the impact of inclusionary zoning in Madison, Wis., which began using it in 2006. He said the study showed the number of new homes and apartments built in the city plummeted after the program began, which was during the peak of the housing market boom.

“So therefore it had the opposite effect, according to the study,” he said. “It actually made housing less affordable for purchasers. It raised the price and led to a decrease in supply, which is the exact opposite of what it intended.”

Bell said the legislation is similar to an existing law that has been on the books since 2001 that prohibits cities from enacting rent controls.

“This bill simply extends that same protection that has been on the books for 15 years to the sale of property as well,” he said.

The bill passed the Senate, 34-6, on Feb. 23. Douglas County Sens. Marci Francisco of Lawrence and Tom Holland of Baldwin City, both Democrats, voted against it.

Bell said passage of the bill would have no impact on voluntary programs in which developers can receive certain rewards or incentives from a city if they agree to set aside a certain number of units for affordable housing.

Lawrence Community Housing Trust, formerly known as Tenants to Homeowners, is one such voluntary program run by a local nonprofit corporation. It sells homes to low and moderate income buyers at subsidized prices, on the condition that when the buyers decide to sell the home, they will sell to another low or moderate income buyer at a price determined by a formula that may be lower than the home’s actual market value.

The committee is expected to act on the bill within the next several days. Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn the regular session on March 25, then return in late April for what’s known as the veto, or wrap-up session.