City leaders approve plans for 23rd Street redevelopment that adds apartments, civic spaces
photo by: Courtesy: The Opus Group and city of Lawrence
City leaders have approved a plan to tear down a shopping center on 23rd Street and replace it with a multistory apartment and retail building.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission unanimously approved a plan to redevelop a 5.2-acre site at 1401 W. 23rd St., which stretches south one block to the entrance of Naismith Valley Park.
Mayor Lisa Larsen said she thought it was a good project and that it’s in line with the city’s goals.
“It meets a lot of what we’ve been talking about: infill, density, multimodal (transportation),” Larsen said. “It kind of hits all the nails, so to speak.”
Once the strip mall is demolished, a three-story building will be constructed in its place, consisting of 119 apartment units and about 8,800 square feet of retail space. The project is using a part of the city’s zoning code called Smart Code, which requires the development to have some civic spaces for public use.
The project’s Smart Code infill plan calls for dedicating four feet to the city’s right-of-way along 23rd Street for a future recreational path, new sidewalk connections and improvements to the bus stop. Also included is a walk/bike “Oasis Station” near the trailhead of the Naismith Valley path that would have public amenities such as a water fountain, benches and bike parking.
A Minneapolis-based developer, The Opus Group, filed plans for the project that call for tearing down the shopping center that includes Party America, Copy Co., UNI Computers and others. The 5.2-acre site also includes an open area south of the strip mall that has had about 20 abandoned boats on the property for decades, left over from a former business.
Patrick Watkins, an attorney representing Opus, told the commission that the group believes the project has been designed to embrace its setting and that it integrates the trail, bike and bus systems. He also said that the nearby Schwegler neighborhood has dozens of student rentals, and that adding the apartments could have a positive impact on the city’s supply of affordable single-family housing.
As part of their meeting, commissioners approved the project’s infill community plan, a required component if the project is to use the Smart Code, and the associated request to rezone the site from commercial strip and multi-dwelling residential to the Smart Code zoning. The project is the first to use the code, which the city adopted in 2009, according to a city staff memo to the commission.
Commissioner Stuart Boley, who lives in the Schwegler neighborhood, said he was happy to see the project, and that his concerns were related to figuring out the process for the Smart Code zoning. Commissioner Matthew Herbert said the development was a great project, and a vast improvement on what’s currently there.
“I’d love to see that area rebuilt,” Herbert said. “I think ‘underutilized’ was a polite way to put it.”
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo