Lisa Larsen and Jennifer Ananda elected as mayor and vice mayor
photo by: Mike Yoder
As Lawrence continues to grow by about 1,000 residents per year, newly elected Mayor Lisa Larsen said the city must realize that, in order to be sustainable, it must change how it grows.
Following tradition, the commission elected top vote-winners Larsen as mayor and Jennifer Ananda as vice mayor at its meeting Monday.
In her remarks following the election, Larsen emphasized that the discussion is not about growth versus no growth, but rather how the city will grow. As part of that discussion, she said the city must consider the impacts of climate change, the city’s energy systems and city policies related to growth.
“Our challenge is to have the courage to make changes in our community and accept that the historical way of growing is not compatible with the goal of building a community that can sustain itself, not only for today, but for future generations,” Larsen said.
Larsen made her comments in reference to the upcoming discussion of the Lawrence-Douglas County comprehensive plan, called Plan 2040. As currently proposed, the plan will prioritize infill development and place more scrutiny on expansions of the city’s boundaries with the goal of using city infrastructure more efficiently. The commission will begin considering the plan this year.
Larsen said the city can no longer afford to expand its boundaries without fully understanding the true short-term and long-term financial, social and environmental costs.
In addition to Plan 2040, Larsen highlighted the year’s upcoming development of affordable housing policies, the hiring of a new city manager, creation of a downtown master plan and discussion with Douglas County regarding partnerships and other agreements.
Regarding affordable housing, Larsen noted that a recent study of the city’s housing needs, conducted last year by BBC Research and Consulting Inc., found that about 5,200 households are cost-burdened, defined as those who spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities. She said affordable housing remains a critical need for the community.
This year will see the start of a new voter-approved sales tax to benefit the city’s affordable housing trust fund, and Larsen said ongoing development of policies for that program will be vital. Larsen said the city cannot build its way out of the affordable housing shortage, and that, instead, it will take multiple solutions.
“It will require an innovative combination of the use of existing housing stock, supportive services, new construction and reviews of our existing code and zoning,” Larsen said.
As part of Monday’s meeting, the commission also elected Ananda as vice mayor, which several city staff members said they believed would be the first time in the city’s history that women have held both the mayor and vice mayor seats. Ananda, who was newly elected to the commission in 2017, said that she had appreciated guidance from both outgoing Mayor Stuart Boley and Larsen over the past year.
photo by: City of Lawrence
Regarding the year to come, Ananda said she looked forward to continuing to develop her leadership through Larsen’s example. Ananda, who is an attorney and social worker, also said that serving her community in such a way hadn’t seemed possible to her, but she is committed to her role.
“I am a first-generate college student, I am a single parent who works full time, I am a queer woman and I sit in front of you all as a representative of this city,” Ananda said. “Because I am Lawrence, and I come from a place where the privilege of doing this wasn’t even on my radar.”
Ananda added that she was truly confident that the city will continue to move forward under the current commission, which she said is committed to the social, economic and sustainable success of the community.
In other business, the commission:
• As part of the consent agenda, voted unanimously to approve a special use permit for the residential components of the Douglas County mental health center, which will be located at 1000 W. 2nd St. Plans for the center call for a mental health services facility, a 12-bedroom group home and 10 one-bedroom apartments.
• Voted unanimously to approve a three-year extension of the Catalyst Program. The program, which the commission created in 2017, provides a simplified application process for industrial projects that want to build or expand facilities in VenturePark, East Hills Business Park or other industrially zoned land in the city.