Lawrence City Commission to consider development plan for mixed-use apartment and boardwalk project along Kansas River

photo by: Paul Werner Architects

This rendering shows how the area near the Kansas River levee could look if future phases of a major development near Johnny's Tavern are approved.

City leaders will soon consider a proposal for an apartment, retail and hotel project that would transform a portion of the riverfront near downtown Lawrence.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider approving the preliminary development plan for the North Lawrence Riverfront Development. If approved, the multiphase project would ultimately add several multistory buildings along the Kansas River in North Lawrence.

The Riverfront project is proposed for a 16-acre site along North Second Street that surrounds the Johnny’s Tavern building and is across the street from the historic Union Pacific Depot. The first phase of the project calls for an addition onto Johnny’s, an addition to the top of the stone retail building south of Johnny’s, and a five-story building along North Second Street. The buildings will include multiple uses, including office, commercial, hotel and multidwelling residential, according to a city staff memo to the commission.

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As part of its meeting Tuesday, the commission will also approve rezoning the 16-acre property to the Downtown Commercial zoning district, which would allow for all the proposed uses. Planning Manager Jeff Crick said that, while platting and historic approvals are still required, the approval of the preliminary development plan and the rezoning requests would represent key steps in the process.

“This is carrying that zoning across (the river) and getting that preliminary development plan in place to start setting that expectation of what development would look like and the form it would take on the ground,” Crick said.

The Planning Commission voted to recommend the proposed preliminary development plan and the rezoning in December. The plan provides a framework for assessing the project with respect to land use, adequacy of public infrastructure, phasing and general building arrangement, according to a city staff memo to the commission.

Because the project is in the environs of the historic depot, the Historic Resources Commission must also approve the design, aesthetic elements and height of the buildings, according to Crick. The height of the buildings have been an issue with the HRC and neighbors. Modifications to building height or design required by the HRC would be incorporated into the preliminary development plan, according to the memo.

Historic Resources Administrator Lynne Braddock Zollner said in an email to the Journal-World that the last version of the project that the HRC’s Architectural Review Committee considered called for a five-story building and a three-story building that steps up to five stories. There has been discussion about decreasing the height of the buildings, but she said the final design has not yet come before the ARC or HRC.

The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.


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