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Plans filed to build new neighborhood north of Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence
Living next to a recreation center would be great. I could exercise by osmosis. I don’t know if that is what is driving it, but plans for a major new housing development north of Rock Chalk Park have been filed.
Lawrence businessman Michael Garber has filed plans to build an approximately 230-home single-family neighborhood just north of Rock Chalk Park, which houses the city’s Sports Pavilion recreation center and the University of Kansas’ track and field, softball, soccer and tennis facilities.
Currently, most of the property Garber is seeking to develop is not in the Lawrence city limits. He’s filed a request to annex about 97 acres into the city limits. If some of this sounds familiar it is because Garber, who owns a property management business in Lawrence, has made similar annexation requests to the city before. But the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission has balked at expanding the city limits northward.
The property does have an interesting element: It is in the Perry-Lecompton school district. That means you could possibly have a home there, see Free State High or Langston Hughes Elementary from your porch, but your kids wouldn’t be able to attend those schools. Instead, they would go to schools in Lecompton or Perry, which are about 15 minutes or 10 miles northwest of the site.
Parents in the neighborhood could ask the Lawrence district to accept their students as transfers. But past administrators have said that is unlikely because it creates a tough financial situation for the district. The Lawrence district doesn't get to collect taxes on development that occurs in the Perry-Lecompton district.
The plan now is to design the neighborhood to appeal to “empty nesters and retirees who are looking to downsize,” according to documents filed with City Hall. That means homes likely would be about 1,400 square feet and would be below a price of $200,000, in today’s dollars.
Below is a conceptual layout of the neighborhood.
The project will require some significant infrastructure improvements. A city sewer line already goes through the area, but East 902 Road, largely a gravel road today, would need to be converted into a city street. A city waterline would be added at the same time. Those infrastructure improvements are expected to cost $4.5 million to $5.5 million, according to the plans. The developers propose forming a benefit district, which is a system where the city finances the project but property owners in the area pay for it through special assessments on their property tax bills. Sometimes the city at large chips in to pay a portion of the expenses, but not always. Whether the city at large would pay for any of the road could be a sticking point with this City Commission.
As I noted, the city previously has balked at annexing this property and opening the door for major development in the area. David Hamby, and engineer with BG Consultants who is working on the project, said a couple of things have changed since that time. Lawrence Memorial Hospital has announced plans to build a $93 million outpatient medial building on property adjacent to Rock Chalk Park. Hamby said the facility — which will have multiple doctors offices, therapy services and other medical providers — would be an attractive amenity, especially for folks in the retiree market.
The other factor at play, Hamby said, is the city’s affordable housing issue. He contends that part of what is driving up housing prices in Lawrence is a lack of available housing lots in new subdivisions. While those new subdivisions aren’t always the place where affordable housing gets built, a lack of building lots in the city ultimately drives up housing prices across all sectors of the market.
Certainly, the project may face some pushback with that argument. Opponents of “greenfield development” on the edge of town often point to available lots within the city limits. Hamby acknowledged there are undeveloped lots in the city, but often they aren’t available in the quantity that allows builders to take advantage of economies of scale. Plus, he said getting the approvals for infill residential development has proved to be difficult too.
“Neighbors don’t like to have something they see as green space be developed,” Hamby said. “And there are very few large places in town left to develop.”
One other argument that could come into play: If city commissioners want to see more retail development in the already-approved Mercato development south of Rock Chalk Park, more houses in the area likely would help.
The project ultimately will need approvals from both the Planning Commission and the City Commission before it can move forward. Hamby also said, if the project does proceed, it will move ahead in phases. He said it could take a decade for the entire 230 homes to be built and occupied.
“It would develop regularly and consistently, but it won’t be like ‘boom,’ everything is there,” he said.
One part of the project that could get started sooner is a self storage unit facility that is slated for about 11 acres of property. That part of the project previously received a conditional use permit to be developed as a county project. However, Garber is seeking to have that development site also annexed into the city limits and zoned for light industrial uses, which would accommodate a self-storage business.
Motorists on the adjacent South Lawrence Trafficway likely have noticed the construction of a retaining wall north of Rock Chalk Park. That is part of the self-storage project, Hamby said. I don’t have a lot of other details about how large the self-storage business would be, but Hamby said it would be geared toward residential users rather than small warehouse space for businesses.