Planning Commission to consider rezoning request for Walmart expansion, pair of city code amendments streamlining administrative process

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

The Walmart location at 550 Congressional Drive in west Lawrence is pictured Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

The smaller of Lawrence’s two Walmart locations could take a step toward expanding next week.

At Monday’s Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission meeting, commissioners will consider approving a request to rezone approximately 13.126 acres at 550 Congressional Drive from a “Planned Commercial Development District” to a “Community Commercial District.” That’s the location of the west Lawrence Walmart at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive, which as the Journal-World has reported is looking to add a 4,500-square-foot addition on the east end of the store to accommodate its online grocery business.

If the rezoning request is approved, it would remove the restrictions on the property related to its maximum building footprint. According to a report from planning staff included with Monday’s meeting agenda, a single commercial retail use can’t occupy more than 99,990 gross square feet of space under its current zoning, and it comes in at just 60 square feet under that maximum.

The next step for the request following Monday’s meeting will be a stop at the Lawrence City Commission, where city leaders will determine whether to grant final approval based on the Planning Commission’s recommendation.

As a reminder, the new addition wouldn’t be open to the general public. Instead, it would be equipped with coolers, freezers and other storage areas used as Walmart staff fill online grocery orders.

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On Monday, the Planning Commission will also consider making a pair of amendments to the city’s code, both intended to remove extraneous administrative process steps, expand staff capacity and reduce unnecessary process and review time for certain projects.

According to a staff report with Monday’s agenda, one of those amendments would affect the minor site planning process, which is used to verify that a proposed use is permitted by zoning, whether adequate parking is available on a site, or to review minor site modifications on sites with an existing approved site plan. The process generally takes two to three weeks to complete.

The other amendment would affect projects undergoing a facade alteration or renovation, which currently require a standard site plan application be submitted to complete a “community design manual” review under the current code. That manual lays out design standards for commercial and industrial properties.

The second type of review takes even longer to complete — approximately four to six weeks, and 20 days at a minimum according to code requirements. According to the staff report, this in most instances adds unnecessary review time to projects.

The report notes that text amendments have been suspended, for the most part, while the city works to update its Land Development Code, which lays out the rules for how Lawrence should grow. However, staff is proposing that the amendments would allow them to test a new procedural approach ahead of the full adoption of a new code.

Monday’s Planning Commission meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the City Commission meeting room at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The meeting is also available to view online via Zoom or the city’s YouTube channel.


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