New comprehensive plan gives framework for denser Lawrence neighborhoods

This file photo from July 2015 shows a westward look across Lawrence, including the University of Kansas on Mount Oread, at left, and Ninth Street stretching toward downtown Lawrence, at right.

What it could look like when Lawrence residents live closer together is becoming clearer. Along with taller buildings, there might be row houses, accessory dwelling units, cluster housing and smaller single-family homes.

The steering committee that has been revising the Lawrence-Douglas County comprehensive plan recently completed its final draft, which lays out policies that will shape how the city grows for the next 20 years. As proposed, Plan 2040 prioritizes infill development and establishes a framework for interior growth. The draft will go next to local governing bodies for review, and in coming weeks neighborhood representatives say they plan to go over the plan as well.

Planning Manager Jeff Crick said concentrating the city’s growth has been a key issue for the Plan 2040 steering committee, which has been meeting for the last several years.

“People wanted to grow the city, not necessarily pushing it out farther west, or south or east, but to kind of grow it up and stay within its bounds,” Crick said. “And that was one of the policies that the steering committee spent some time on and it was also included in their issue action report as something to look at.”

Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen, a member of the Plan 2040 steering committee, said that to be sustainable, the city needs to not only encourage infill development but also incorporate it into the comprehensive plan. She said resources are limited, not just in Lawrence but worldwide, and the city needs to use resources and infrastructure to the fullest extent possible.

“The sooner we realize that and actually incorporate that into not only our short-term plans but our long-term plans, it’s just going to bode better for the entire community,” Larsen said. “It goes back to sustainability.”

Plan 2040 states that areas already within Lawrence’s city limits are prioritized for growth and redevelopment because infrastructure and services exist within the area, “making it the most economical and sustainable way to serve a growing population.” Among the approximately 20 polices for interior growth, the plan calls for increasing height and density of certain zoning districts, allowing accessory dwelling units in more residential areas and providing options for smaller residential lots throughout Lawrence. In addition, the plan calls for “encouraging a variety of housing types,” some of which have not been built in Lawrence before.

The plan does not provide specifics when it comes to which zoning districts would be considered for increased height and density. Crick said that is yet to be determined, and that those broader conversations would come later and involve the whole community.

“(That conversation) would be one of the next big things to occur once the plan is adopted,” Crick said. He said decisions about how tall and how dense buildings could be would be at the heart of those discussions.

The plan also calls for designing higher-density residential developments in such a way that they are integrated and compatible with neighborhoods. Policies call for site design that strategically places trash, loading and parking areas; transition areas between housing types; and community facilities such as schools within developments instead of on the edges.

Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods Chair Courtney Shipley said that LAN does not have an official position on the proposed infill policies yet, but that the organization will be discussing them in the next few weeks. Generally speaking, though, Shipley said that LAN supports infill development, but wants to see development that is appropriate for its surroundings.

“We feel that it should be conditioned somewhat upon its appropriateness to the neighborhood in question and whether the neighborhood feels that it’s in keeping with its character,” Shipley said. “That’s complicated and difficult to identify, because every neighborhood is different (and) we’re seeing infill going in all over the place.”

When it comes to putting more people into neighborhoods, Shipley said traffic flow must also be a key consideration. As an example, she noted restrictions that were placed on Ousdahl Road near the University of Kansas’ new Central District that prevent motorists from exiting the district directly into the adjacent Schwegler neighborhood. Shipley said if another 200 people, for example, were to be added to the middle of a neighborhood, there would need to be a traffic plan.

“Generally, traffic problems are the first thing that a neighborhood becomes concerned about,” Shipley said. “It definitely would be important for there to be a sense that they identify the traffic problems in advance of building.”

As far as encouraging additional housing options, such as accessory dwelling units, zero-lot line homes and smaller lots, Larsen said she thinks it also could help the city’s ongoing efforts to create more affordable housing. Larsen said such housing options are where the conversation is heading with affordable housing.

“If we can make the housing more affordable by building smaller homes on a smaller footprint, that I think is going to be very positive for the affordable housing situation,” Larsen said.

For her part, Larsen said the city wants to make sure that sprawl is minimized. She said she doesn’t think any areas within the city should be off the table when it comes to increasing height and density, but that deciding on how the city should grow will take a lot of conversations.

“We’ve still got a lot of room for discussion on this with the citizens of Lawrence, as well as many organizations that have a strong (stake) in what’s happening with our development,” Larsen said.

However, Larsen said she thinks denser development and housing types need to work well within neighborhoods and align with neighborhood plans. She said that she doesn’t think the city should force denser housing on neighborhoods.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, the Lawrence City Commission and the Douglas County Commission will all be required to review the Plan 2040 draft. The first public discussion of the plan is scheduled for October.

Housing types in Plan 2040

See below for more explanation regarding proposed changes to residential lots and structures in Plan 2040, provided by Planning Manager Jeff Crick.

Accessory Dwelling Units: ADUs, or smaller living quarters built on the same lot as a primary residence, are currently allowed in larger residential single-family lots. Plan 2040 would allow ADUs in all single-family residential zoning districts. Under the current development code, ADUs can be one-third the size of the primary residence or 960 square feet, whichever is less.

Smaller single-family lots/homes: Though the city’s development code currently allows for residential lots as small as 3,000 square feet, no such lots exist in Lawrence. Plan 2040 calls for providing options throughout Lawrence for smaller residential development lots. Crick said the idea is to look at the issue and make changes that would make smaller lots a more viable development option.

High-density housing types: Plan 2040 calls for encouraging a variety of housing types, including single-family residences, townhouses, zero-lot line homes, ADUs, cluster housing, work/live housing, apartments, retirement and supportive housing. Zero-lot line homes would allow for developments such as row houses and townhomes, where structures are built side-by-side. In addition, these types of homes would not have to meet setback requirements, which require residences to be built a certain number of feet from property lines. Cluster housing allows for more flexibility in lot sizes and orientation, allowing homes to be grouped together.

Tier 1 policies draft plan 2040



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