Downtown area residents identify dozens of issues facing downtown as part of master plan workshop

photo by: Mike Yoder

The 800 block of Massachusetts Street is pictured on Nov. 17, 2015.

Update: Wednesday, Feb. 6

A youth focus group, a communitywide workshop and a workshop for downtown businesses owners and developers that were previously scheduled to take place Wednesday, Feb. 6, and Thursday, Feb. 7, were canceled Wednesday afternoon because of weather.

The list of challenges facing downtown compiled by a group of Lawrence residents was long and varied, but from it emerged some consensus.

A firm hired by the city is hosting a series of community workshops this week to gather input for the city’s new Downtown Master Plan, which will shape the future of downtown Lawrence for the next 15 to 20 years. As part of a workshop Monday evening for downtown and adjacent neighborhoods, attendees came up with a list of 45 issues facing downtown Lawrence.

Nik Davis, principal of the community planning firm Houseal Lavigne Associates, then asked the workshop’s approximately 75 attendees to vote on the three most important issues. Davis said that Houseal Lavigne would look at all the issues, but that the voting was meant to help prioritize certain aspects of the plan.

“We just want to get a sense for, now that you’ve heard all these different issues, what are rising to the top as key issues that everybody in this room agrees on,” Davis said.

The three issues that received the most votes were the need to protect downtown’s historic resources; the lack of diverse and affordable housing options; and the lack of affordable retail space. Three issues related to the impact of development also each received at least a handful of votes, namely ensuring that growth and development is sustainable; the impact of a proposed mixed use apartment complex at 11th and Massachusetts streets; and ensuring that new development is not compromising the historic functions of downtown.

In August, the City of Lawrence hired Houseal Lavigne Associates to help complete the Downtown Master Plan. The new master plan will replace guidelines that have not been updated in 20 years and will cover topics such as land use, development, parking, transportation, infrastructure and streetscapes. Davis said it would also cover issues such as building heights, potentially setting different acceptable heights for different areas of downtown.

A steering committee representing various groups and interests — neighborhoods, developers, small businesses — is also providing input on the master plan, and had its first of three meetings in December. At that meeting, committee members also seemed to hone in on historic preservation and the impacts of development. Specifically, 10 of the 17 steering committee members agreed that one of the top issues facing downtown was balancing preservation and progress.

There were also a few other topics that received at least a dozen votes from the crowd at Monday’s workshop, which took place at the Lawrence Public Library. Those included access to food, empty storefronts, appropriate building heights, availability of social services, and improving transportation options for public transit, bicycles, pedestrians and cars.

Davis told workshop attendees that Houseal Lavigne will summarize all the issues discussed at the workshops and post that summary on the Downtown Master Plan project website, hlplanning.com/portals/lawrence/.

Monday’s workshop was the first of three workshops scheduled for this week. A communitywide workshop will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St. A workshop for downtown business owners and developers will be from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Thursday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. A youth focus group will also be held from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the library.

Related stories

Nov. 1, 2018 — New Downtown Master Plan must balance preservation and progress, steering committee says

Feb. 9, 2018 — New downtown master plan to consider future of local businesses

Dec. 17, 2017 — How tall is too tall? City contemplating downtown skyline, other big issues

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