As East Lawrence sees increase in development, historic conservation board urges city leaders to create guidelines
photo by: Nick Krug
The city board in charge of historic conservation thinks the East Lawrence neighborhood — home to modest shotgun houses, bungalows and limestone cottages and just steps from downtown Lawrence — could be in trouble.
The city’s Historic Resources Commission recently sent a letter to the Lawrence City Commission stating that it has seen an increase in development projects in East Lawrence over the past few years, and that the HRC recommends that design guidelines be developed for the neighborhood.
“The letter was intended to let the City Commission know that this is something that they might want to look at, because as our city grows, East Lawrence is obviously very important to that growth,” HRC Chair Aaron Bailey said. “And it’s definitely something that you don’t want to get away from you too fast, because development can occur quickly.”
If the process of developing design guidelines were to go forward, Bailey said defining characteristics and architecture of the neighborhood would be identified to inform the design guidelines. Property owners, developers and the city would then use the guidelines when determining if a project was appropriate. Bailey said the idea would be for the guidelines to help streamline projects by providing guidance, and that each project would still be evaluated on its own merits.
The HRC’s letter goes on to state that design guidelines would help protect the city’s valuable cultural and historic resources, establish a common understanding of expectations for new development, and increase consistency during the review process by city staff, the HRC and other review boards.
KT Walsh has lived in East Lawrence more than 40 years, and said that she absolutely agrees that the number of projects in the neighborhood has increased in recent years. She said that includes larger redevelopments, homes being torn down completely, and homes being rehabbed and added to in a way that doesn’t preserve the character of the home or match the scale of the neighborhood.
“There is nothing wrong with modernizing homes, but if you move into a historic neighborhood, you’re going to get blowback if you come in and destroy the historic character,” Walsh said.
Walsh, who is vice president of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood has been pushing city planning staff to devote time to develop guidelines for years, and that she is so grateful for the HRC’s letter to the commission in support of the process going forward. Walsh said the neighborhood would ultimately like a conservation overlay to be put in place so that some design rules would be incorporated into building code for the neighborhood.
“I think all this came about during the development of the so-called warehouse arts district and the rapid development that is happening in the neighborhood, some of it not in keeping with the historic character,” Walsh said.
Historic Resources Administrator Lynne Braddock Zollner, who is also the city staff liaison to the HRC, said that there are currently three design guidelines in Lawrence: in the downtown, Oread neighborhood and for the warehouse arts district. She said the first step in developing design guidelines for East Lawrence would be for the City Commission to give permission for city staff to apply for Kansas Historical Society grants for that purpose, which could help pay for a consultant to lead the process.
Mayor Lisa Larsen said that she agrees there needs to be design guidelines or a conservation overlay for East Lawrence, and said she would be supportive of the city seeking grant funds to support that process. Larsen said she thinks guidelines are definitely needed to provide some consistency for development in East Lawrence and allow the neighborhood to weigh in.
“I think we need to look at the whole neighborhood and get some good guidelines set out that both the neighborhood and any development that comes in can work with,” Larsen said.
When asked whether she saw any potential negatives for those who want to redevelop properties in East Lawrence, Larsen said she expected there to be a “very healthy discussion” about potential impacts. She said those issues would be worked out between the Planning Commission, the East Lawrence neighborhood and those who potentially want to develop in the neighborhood.
“I think that it’s always a good thing when we make sure all the parties have a potential to say their piece, so to speak,” Larsen said.