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Plans filed to bring gas station, retail, offices along a portion of the South Lawrence Trafficway

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We’re soon going to have another test of how — or whether — city leaders want land along the South Lawrence Trafficway to develop. Plans have been filed for a new office, commercial and gas station development near the Haskell Avenue interchange of the SLT.

Specifically, the project is proposed for the northwest corner of 31st and Haskell Avenue. Some of you may remember the property from years ago as the former LRM concrete plant.

A group led by Lawrence businessman Scott Zaremba has filed plans at City Hall. The group is proposing that the property be rezoned from its current heavy industrial zoning category to a lighter industrial zoning category. That lighter industrial zoning category would allow for a variety of commercial uses, including fast-food restaurants with drive-thrus, smaller-scale retail stores, banks, office uses and other similar types of businesses.

The zoning also includes gas stations and convenience stores, and that is a business that Zaremba is in. He runs the Zarco fueling station businesses in Lawrence. A concept plan calls for a gas station to be built as part of the project. Any time a gas station project is mentioned in Lawrence — especially along a major highway — the question of a truck stop comes into play. Zaremba, though, indicated his current thinking is more of a traditional gasoline station/convenience store type of project.

“That is not in the plan today,” Zaremba told me when I asked about a truck stop.

Instead, Zaremba said he hopes to have a development that can serve as an eastern gateway to Lawrence. Haskell Avenue isn’t exactly the eastern edge of Lawrence, but the Haskell interchange and the 23rd Street interchange are the two most eastern interchanges along the South Lawrence Trafficway.

“I want to make it one of those places that highlights what the city has to offer,” Zaremba said.

Currently, a specific development plan hasn’t been filed for the project. Rather, the ownership group is asking for the rezoning and has provided a “concept plan” that has been developed by Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects.

That plan shows the gas station and seven other buildings on the property. Two of the other buildings are strip retail centers that could house multiple stores. One is next to the gas station along Haskell Avenue, and another is on the southern part of the site next to 31st Street. The two largest buildings are listed as office buildings, and three other buildings are the right size to be fast-food restaurants.

Courtesy: City of Lawrence and Paul Werner Architects

Courtesy: City of Lawrence and Paul Werner Architects by Chad Lawhorn

But concept plans are meant to change. If the zoning is approved, it is likely that the concept plan will be changed, perhaps significantly, depending on what businesses are interested in the property.

In total, the site is just under 9 acres. It includes what has become a kind of funky piece of ground after 31st Street and Haskell Avenue were rebuilt following the SLT project. If you have driven in the area, you’ve likely noticed there are now two roads named Haskell in the area. The new road is called Haskell Avenue, but there is a short section of the old Haskell Avenue that continues to exist just to the west of the new road. That is called Haskell Lane. In between Haskell Avenue and Haskell Lane is a triangular piece of ground that is covered by a stand of timber. The concept plan calls for Haskell Lane to be removed. That would allow for the timbered piece of ground to be connected to the old concrete plant property, providing about 9 acres of contiguous space for the new development.

It will be interesting to watch whether city leaders approve the plans. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will consider the rezoning issue at its Wednesday evening meeting. The rezoning, however, ultimately will have to win approval from the City Commission before it can move forward.

Other plans to redevelop property along the trafficway haven’t been moving too quickly through the approval process. The large shopping center proposed for south of the SLT and Iowa Street interchange is the primary example. Another example is a large apartment complex proposed for west of the Bob Billings and SLT interchange. (That project has been really quiet of late. I do hope to get an update.)

This 31st and Haskell project is slower than either one of those, but I’m sure many developers will be watching how it turns out. In developers’ file cabinets, there's no shortage of plans to develop along the bypass. (Granted, some of the plans are in Latin because that was the language of the day when the SLT first started construction. For newcomers to town, it took a really long time to build the SLT.)

It will be particularly interesting about whether this idea of creating an eastern gateway to Lawrence is embraced. If so, then you have to wonder whether that is a green light for some projects to be proposed near the 23rd Street interchange of the SLT. Probably not. I think most people believe the political winds at City Hall aren’t favoring developments that would be built on the edge of town.

Someday they may, though, and it is worth remembering who owns one of the premier sites near that interchange: the Lawrence public school district. The school district owns the site outlined in blue on the map below. It is immediately west of where 23rd Street and the SLT split. The city of Lawrence owns the large, vacant piece of property in the lower left corner of the map.

Combined, the two could create some really interesting prospects for a statement-making type of project in Lawrence.

Comments

Brett McCabe 1 month ago

Sprawl. Period.

The challenge in any community is being purely reactive to business interests and plans. Single-story retail means bad-paying jobs, parking lot run-off, city services, and on and on.

Just once, it would be interesting to see someone, other than the downtown developments (which are exactly what the community needs) come to the table with something with some imagination.

How about multi-level building with residential above? How about a list of potential tenants who pay livable wages? How about an environmentally friendly game-plan?

Same bad ideas, new location. It's like trying to decide whether to watch Storage Wars or Miami Tow. They are both epically awful, so there is the slightest amount of distinction with absolutely no difference.

Stacy Napier 4 weeks, 1 day ago

"How about multi-level building with residential above?" Well they are doing that downtown but everyone in east Lawrence fights them because now they have to live in the shade of a bigger building.

It is just how it works. Houses / buildings get old and it cost more and more to fix them up so the prices get cheaper / rent gets lower. No one wants to pay good money for a new place to live next to a block of run down houses or businesses. So they move to the "new part of town" to develop new buildings. I don't know why the rest of this town will just get used to it. I have money (sorry about that) and I am not going to build a new business somewhere where I am not going to make money.

Deborah Snyder 1 month ago

I completely agree that sprawl is a big issue here. Having an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) will also go far to alleviate industrial/commercial creep into the wetlands. And if anyone wants to see the complete failure of mitigation on drainage and pollution, look at any ditch behind commercial buildings on South Iowa and east on 31st Street behind the USPS building.

However, I take BIG issue with the downtown proposal for a food market at the old Border's building, precisely because of the ridiculous idea that TAXPAYERS would have to not only "trick out" the space, but PAY the food chain to move in for however many years that the tax breaks last to operate!!

Back to the SLT, trash blown from any kind of retail gas station/mini mart will eventually cause that area to deteriorate, let alone restaurants. Just look behind any strip mall in Lawrence to witness the run off of oil and grease.

Most importantly for me is this: City Commission sets Precedence along the greenspace betwwen Iowa (Hwy 59) and the East Lawrence Exchange will degrade the recovery of the Haskell/Baker Wetlands, and it cannot be emphasized enough how many more years will be taken up with lawsuits to prevent that pollution creep.

Ken Schmidt 1 month ago

Chad, I know it has been asked many times before. If you post a plan such as this to accompany your articles, can you please link to an image which is large and of better resolution? You can't even read the key. The image above is slightly more than nothing. Thanks and on an alternate note, I like seeing your writings on Lawrence developments.

Steve Hicks 4 weeks, 1 day ago

I'd heartily agree that this proposal seems like a very bad idea, especially on ecological (human and natural) considerations.

Nothing personal about the businessman in this article; but a gas-station, convenience-store, strip-mall and fast-food emporium seems an incredibly bankrupt vision of "what the city has to offer," except as a vision for making a dollar.

Just a general observation: maybe businesspeople should never be entrusted with civic "leadership," at any level. By definition, businesspeople are first of all motivated by personal profit: and that's the exact opposite of the mindset required for a civic leader.

Ken Easthouse 4 weeks, 1 day ago

Two years ago, I was against an indoor gun range at this intersection, not because of the guns, but because the intersection has not been integrated into the city planning process. The existing businesses operated under an old zoning code that hadn't been updated to align with the rest of the city. To my knowledge, nothing has changed in those two years.

Be it a gas station or gun range or the new Amazon headquarters, we need to integrate this intersection with the long term planning of the city BEFORE any development takes place.

Melanie Birge 4 weeks, 1 day ago

Please, I beg for a truck stop as well, no place to park my semi in this area! Than you.

Clark Coan 4 weeks ago

Deborah, Environment Impact Assessments and Statements are only done if there is federal money or land involved. Some cities require them for major projects, but Lawrence doesn't. It should.

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