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Planning commission recommends approval of permit for sports complex/rec center, which now contemplates hosting non-athletic events
They didn’t exactly break out in the Rock Chalk chant, but the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission on Monday night did recommend approval of a key special use permit for the proposed Rock Chalk Sports Park near the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Planning commissioners voted 6-3 to recommend approval for the proposed sports complex, which would combine Kansas University facilities with a city-owned mega recreation center.
The special use permit spells out the general uses at the site, and they are much as we have reported them over the past several months: A 10,000-seat track and field stadium, a 2,500-seat soccer field, a 1,000-seat softball stadium and a 28,000-square-foot indoor training center plus a 14,000-square-foot area for an indoor softball field. All those facilities would be university-owned.
The city-owned facilities would include a 181,000-square-foot recreation center/youth field house and eight, outdoor lighted tennis courts.
The plan also shows a host of other future improvements that could be contemplated by the university at some point. They include: A 3,800-seat indoor arena that could accommodate sporting events and concerts; a 4,000-seat outdoor amphitheater; eight tennis courts and an indoor tennis facility; and a lacrosse field.
All the items are still subject to tweaking, but the general outline of the project is starting to become more solid. The SUP application does make one thing clear: Rock Chalk Park will need a major variance from the city’s parking standards.
According to the city staff report reviewing the project, the various uses of Rock Chalk Park would require 5,244 parking spaces under the city’s current code. The plan proposes to provide 1,454 paved parking spaces plus another 700 unpaved spaces for overflow parking.
The city’s planning director, though, said the project makes a good case for receiving an exemption from the code. It is unlikely uses will be occurring simultaneously at all facilities in the park. A parking study estimates that 520 spaces would be needed to handle a typical day at the recreation center plus accommodate a soccer match at the facility. About 1,000 spaces would be need to accommodate a large basketball or volleyball tournament plus either a softball or soccer event.
The city’s review of the project, however, acknowledges there likely will be some events that the proposed parking won’t be able to accommodate. The proposed parking is estimated to accommodate an event of about 6,400 people. The track and field stadium, however, is designed to seat 10,000 people.
The city’s planning staff is recommending the project be allowed to proceed with the proposed parking because the large events won’t be frequent, and a plan can be developed to provide shuttles to the event. The city mentioned deals might be reached to run shuttles from Free State High School or from the KU Park and Ride Lot.
Who knows whether the Kansas Relays or perhaps a Kansas high school state track meet will ever fill the stadium, but the special use permit also brings up the possibility of the site hosting non-athletic events. The city and KU haven’t laid out any specific plans for what type of non-athletic events they might be interested in, but the staff report provides a few examples: Music concerts; festivals; BBQ cook-offs; farmers markets; racing and vehicle exhibitions, including BMX and Motocross racing and truck and tractor pulls. The idea of non-sports related events seemed to be part of the reason why the SUP drew three negative votes on Monday. The city is proposing that any non-athletic event receive a special events permit from the city. Each such a permit would have to be approved by the City Commission. But some planners argued that there should be a more rigorous notification process to let neighbors of the sports complex know an event permit application has been filed.
Commissioners Deron Belt, Jon Josserand and Bryan Culver voted against the SUP on Monday.
The Planning Commission’s recommendation now goes to the Lawrence City Commission, which will consider giving final approval to the SUP. A date for that hearing hasn’t yet been set.
City commissioners, though, will be taking action tonight on the proposed zoning of the property. Commissioners are scheduled to approve rezoning for 90 acres from Agricultural to General Public and Institutional Uses. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today at City Hall.