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LMH proposes to tear down several houses to make way for more hospital parking
I’ve long joked that everybody who enters Lawrence Memorial Hospital has high blood pressure not because they are ill but because they’ve tried to find a parking space. The hospital has filed plans at City Hall to help address the parking shortage at LMH, but it will involve tearing down a half-dozen homes in the surrounding neighborhood.
LMH leaders are seeking a variety of zoning and special use permits to convert a large portion of residential property along Michigan Street into a parking lot that will accommodate about 100 cars. The new parking lot would begin near the northeast corner of Fourth and Michigan streets and would stretch to the southeast corner of Third and Michigan streets. The new parking lot would be adjacent to an existing parking lot that runs along Arkansas Street between Fourth and Third streets.
The new parking lot, though, won’t take up the entire block along Michigan Street. There are two property owners along the east side of Michigan Street that evidently are not interested in selling to the hospital. As a result, those two homes will be surrounded on three sides by a parking lot. (Insert your own Joni Mitchell joke here.) One of the property owners is listed as the City of Lawrence. I confirmed it is a property managed by the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority and is part of its affordable housing rental program. The other house appears to just be a traditional single-family home owned by a couple.
If there is a sticking point on this LMH parking plan, it likely will be the demolition of the other six single-family homes on the block. Tearing down existing housing stock — especially as the city has a goal of promoting more affordable housing — can be tricky in Lawrence. I haven’t yet heard back from a hospital official, but it appears that five of the six houses are occupied. The hospital does own all the houses at this point, according to the plans filed at City Hall.
Affordable housing is an important goal, but so too is having a functional hospital. The current parking situation at LMH doesn’t grind functions at LMH to a halt, but it is an issue that I’ve heard hospital leaders express concern about for a number of years. It is not uncommon for hospital visitors to park on residential streets around the hospital.
I haven’t yet gotten a definitive number from LMH, but by reading through plans it appears the project will add about 190 new parking spaces to the area around the hospital. The new lot along Michigan Street would be the largest contributor with 97 new spaces. But the hospital also proposes to add some angled parking spaces along a couple of major roads near the hospital.
LMH plans to add angled parking stalls along the east side of Arkansas Street, on the portion of the street that is near the northern end of the hospital. Currently, 24 angled parking stalls are there, but the number would grow to 62 if the plan is approved. The hospital also plans to begin using angled parking stalls along Maine Street, which is the busy city street that runs along the eastern edge of the hospital. Plans call for 34 angled stalls to be built along the west side of Maine Street.
The hospital will need to win a variety of approvals from City Hall before it can go ahead with the project. The plans are scheduled to go before the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission on May 24. The hospital is seeking approval of a special use permit for the parking lot and is requesting that the property be rezoned from single-family to a special hospital zoning designation. If approved by the Planning Commission, the plans would need to win approval from the City Commission before work could begin.
We’ll see how the request goes. The larger question may be what the hospital’s long-range plans are for parking. It is not uncommon for hospitals to have a parking garage. LMH does not, but conceivably it could convert a surface parking lot into one. Understanding whether a parking garage is part of LMH’s future or whether expanding surface parking lots into the surrounding area is in the cards are issues that may interest planners.
I’ll let you know if I hear more from the hospital.