Plans filed for big storage business to locate in west Lawrence research park

Courtesy: City of Lawrence/Landplan Engineering

Plans for a ministorage business in west Lawrence’s premier research park may sound a bit odd at first, but I know research and storage go hand in hand at my house. I’m still researching where my wife stored my collection of Kansas City Chiefs foam fingers. (I won’t tell you which finger is highlighted.) Regardless, plans have been filed for a pretty large ministorage business near Wakarusa Drive.

The folks with Professional Moving and Storage, which has a location near East 23rd Street and Franklin Road, have filed plans for a potential 370-unit ministorage facility in the 1300 block of Research Park Drive.

In case you are having a hard time picturing the location, Research Park Drive is the short street that is one block west of Wakarusa Drive. It runs by the Golf Course Superintendent’s Association of America building.

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Bobby Jones, the leader of Professional Moving and Storage, didn’t want to talk much about the plans right now. However, he has filed a rezoning request with City Hall, and it provides a few details, including that the west Lawrence location is designed to be in addition to the company’s eastern Lawrence location.

“This rezoning request will permit the expansion of an existing locally owned business (Professional Moving and Storage) and allow that business to open a new location capable of serving a growing customer base living in west Lawrence,” the rezoning application states.

A concept plan was filed with the rezoning request. It shows a different type of development than what Professional Moving and Storage has in eastern Lawrence. Instead of the row after row of ministorage units, the concept plan shows one large three-story building that would have 61,000 square feet. The storage units would be inside that building. However, keep in mind, this is a concept plan and subject to change, which is why I think Jones didn’t want to chat much about it.

The project will have to go through a few more City Hall hoops than most. That’s because the property along Research Park Drive currently doesn’t have the proper zoning to allow a ministorage business. The property has a little-used business park zoning designation, which was put on the property decades ago when famed Lawrence developer Bob Billings envisioned the area becoming a center for research and development type of firms.

Jones is seeking to have the property rezoned to a traditional light industrial zoning, which would allow for all types of uses, including several types of manufacturing and production facilities. However, he’s volunteering to strike several of those types uses from the list of allowable uses on this property.

We’ll see how planning commissioners react to the idea of industrial zoning in that west Lawrence area. However, the area long ago started developing in ways that really didn’t evoke the research park image. For example, the businesses closest to the proposed site include the Lawrence Montessori School, Rainbow International Restoration, Neu Physical Therapy and Therapy Works. There certainly are some research firms in the area, such as the University of Kansas Center for Research, which is southeast of the site.

The area is an interesting one that once was talked about a lot as part of Lawrence’s economic development efforts. At one point it looked like it was going to be a major center for high-tech jobs for years to come when the environmental firm Hall-Kimbrell and the medical firm Oread Labs had their headquarters in the area. But both of those firms faced unexpected troubles, and the area has been more successful at landing smaller companies — many times not involving research at all — ever since.

One other side note on the property. The spot proposed for the ministorage facilities long ago was home to one of Lawrence’s more unique businesses. It housed the Lawrence drag strip until west Lawrence caused it to close down in 1986. Several years ago I wrote an article about the old drag strip, which would run about 300 cars on a busy Saturday night.

At one point, it was about the only thing in the area that is now known as busy Wakaursa Drive. In fact, the road that became Wakarusa Drive was named Drag Strip Road. I’ve long thought it would have been neat if the city would have at least kept the name as a homage to the gearheads. But, I suppose a major city street named Drag Strip Road may have encouraged even wilder driving than what we see on Wakarusa today.

But that would have been OK. It would have given me another use for my foam fingers.