Douglas County Commission to consider proposal to bar more housing near Lawrence unless the city expands

photo by: Douglas County

A map shows the three growth tiers, or land in the city's current and future growth area, included in the city and county's comprehensive plan, Plan 2040. Newly proposed regulations for subdividing land for Lawrence and the unincorporated areas of Douglas County would prohibit new residential subdivisions in land in the city's growth area unless the land is annexed into the city.

County leaders will soon consider approving regulations that would prohibit new neighborhoods in rural areas near the City of Lawrence unless that land is ready to be added to the city.

As part of its meeting Wednesday, the Douglas County Commission will consider an amendment to subdivision regulations for Lawrence and the unincorporated areas of Douglas County. The proposed changes represent a turnaround from the relative ease of subdividing rural or agricultural land into residential lots in recent decades, and would prohibit subdivisions for rural residential developments going forward unless the city approves expanding its boundaries to incorporate the land.

If approved by city and county leaders, new neighborhoods in the current and future growth area of the City of Lawrence — known as tier two and tier three — would be allowed only when the development is eligible to be annexed into the city. As a result, property owners wishing to develop land outside the city’s immediate growth area into residential neighborhoods may have to wait years before they are eligible to do so. Some members of the public have criticized the regulations for restricting how property owners can develop land, while others said the changes were needed to prevent further suburban sprawl.

Local planners have said the new regulations are in response to a boom of rural neighborhoods in recent decades and to work to implement the density standards and other goals related to growth management that are laid out in the community’s most recent comprehensive plan, Plan 2040. The Planning Commission voted unanimously in June to recommend the amendment for approval.

The County Commission discussed the proposed subdivision regulations last month and directed county staff to bring a code change forward for the commission’s consideration at a future meeting. Though commissioners heard some opposition, they agreed that continuing to allow more widely spaced rural homes to be built around the outside of the city was not an affordable or efficient way to add housing to the community.

The Lawrence City Commission also previously expressed interest in the proposal, saying that the city should be ready to expand its boundaries to accommodate needed housing. The City Commission must also approve the amendment, and it will consider it at an upcoming meeting.

Rural property owners can use the county’s online mapping tool, available at gis.douglascountyks.org/propertyviewer, to see whether their land has been designated as tier two or tier three.

The Douglas County Commission will convene at 4 p.m. Wednesday for a study session and at 5:30 p.m. for its regular agenda at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. Residents can participate in the meeting in person, virtually or via phone, and more information about those options is available at douglascountyks.org/commission/meetings.

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