Figuring out how to get into a large shopping center is generally not a problem in my household. (A semi-truck and a desire to get discounted Halloween candy can smash a lot of obstacles.) But when it comes to plans for a large shopping center south of the SLT and Iowa street interchange, I have learned access issues are delaying that multimillion dollar project.
In case you have forgotten, a North Carolina development group has filed plans to build an approximately 585,000-square-foot shopping center that would include large retailers, restaurants and hotel space. The plans were filed in June, but have yet to have a hearing at City Hall. The proposed site is at the southeast corner of the interchange.
The project was tentatively scheduled to go before the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission at its Oct. 25 meeting. But the city announced Thursday that won’t happen. Instead, the project’s hearing has been indefinitely delayed.
Sandra Day, the city planner who is overseeing the project, said the city, the state and the development group are struggling to come up with a plan that allows motorists to safely turn into and out of the proposed shopping center. The project wants access along Iowa Street, which is also U.S. Highway 59.
A traditional traffic signal may not work for the project because the proposed entrance point is already near the traffic signals that control the SLT and Iowa Street interchange. Day said a roundabout had been proposed for the site, but that didn’t garner favor with transportation officials. Day said the presence of the entrance and exit ramps for the SLT/Iowa Street interchange also complicates the access issues for the property.
Thus far, though, I believe the issues are all engineering-related. I haven’t heard of the parties arguing about who is going to pay for transportation infrastructure. When I’ve talked with the development group in the past, it has said it isn’t asking the city for incentives to build this project. Sometimes communities will chip in to pay for costs related to traffic signals and other such improvements. But I think that would be a deal-killer with this City Commission.
The project will have enough of a challenge getting a majority of city commissioners to approve the development under any conditions. The development group — Collett development — had a previous shopping center plan for the project rejected. It filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming the commission improperly rejected the project. That lawsuit is still pending, but in the meantime the group filed a new plan, likely because it received some encouragement to do so from some City Hall officials.
Thus far, the idea of whether the site is appropriate for a large shopping center hasn’t been a sticking point, I’ve been told. That may change once the project gets to the City Commission level, though. There have been opponents who argue the city already has enough retail space, and others who argue the city should be trying to steer new retail development to the area near Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence.
But there are supporters for the project too. They note that large retailers don’t really get steered in particular directions. They instead just shift their focus to another community. Others in town simply want the new stores that the development group have been touting. Collett previously said Academy Sports, Old Navy, Designer Shoe Warehouse, a speciality grocer and others had expressed strong interest in the project.
Day said a date has not been set for the project to come before the Planning Commission for a hearing. But Day said she’s heard nothing from developers to indicate that they’ve lost interest in the project.
“They have not withdrawn the project by any means,” she said.