City’s historic preservation board calls for changes to design of 4-story apartment building on New Hampshire

photo by: H2B Architects

Architectural renderings show the design proposed for the New Hampshire Lofts project.

A committee of the city’s historic preservation board has begun working with a developer who is seeking to build apartments on a long-vacant lot on the south end of New Hampshire Street in downtown Lawrence.

The Historic Resources Commission’s architectural review committee met Thursday to discuss plans to develop the vacant lot in the 1000 block of New Hampshire with a four-story building that would have 54 living units. The HRC referred the project to the committee last week to work with the developer on design options that would meet the city’s historic preservation requirements and downtown design guidelines.

The property is located near three historic buildings: the English Lutheran Church, the Douglas County Courthouse and the Parnham House at 1028 Rhode Island St. The property is also subject to the city’s Downtown Design Guidelines and included in the city’s Downtown Master Plan.

A city review found that the project as proposed would damage the historic environs of the adjacent church and does not meet or does not fully meet some of the design guidelines. The review recommended the referral to the committee, stating that design refinement could mitigate impact on the church and help the project meet more of the intent of the city standards and design guidelines.

As the Journal-World reported, plans were filed at Lawrence City Hall in January to develop the vacant lot. In addition to the apartments on the upper floors, the project will have seven units on its ground floor designated as work-live units, meaning a business owner could operate a shop in the front half of the space and live in the back half. The plans call for 47 of the living units to qualify for federal affordable housing programs, which would mean those units would be rent-controlled.

Tony Krsnich, the businessman who has developed much of the Warehouse Arts District in East Lawrence, filed the plans for the New Hampshire Street project. Krsnich, who participated in Thursday’s meeting via Zoom, at times expressed frustration with the various guidelines that applied to the project, but said he was willing to make changes.

“Just tell us what you want and we’ll do it,” Krsnich said at the opening of the meeting. “The reason I say that is these are affordable housing applications, and to make it work it’s just a math problem, at which point we have to ask for more or less money.”

Krsnich said the project was a finalist for housing tax credits through the state of Kansas, and that he needed to know what was acceptable for the building’s design because the final application was due in four or five weeks. He also plans to seek financial incentives from the city, and he said design changes that increased the project’s cost could affect how much he requested from the city.

Some of the topics discussed Thursday included the size of the building in relation to the adjacent church and the monolithic nature of the design. The review states the physical size of the proposed structure compromises the character of the church and that the building should be broken up into smaller, varied masses like those common on most historic buildings. Some of the design guidelines that were not fully met include requirements to have street-level storefronts distinctive from upper levels and the inclusion of architectural diversity in the overall design.

The committee, which includes Historic Resources Administrator Lynne Zollner, said that one way to help mitigate the negative impact on the church could be to increase the space between the building and the church, and to have the height of the building “step down” as it approached the church. The committee discussed the building stepping down the three stories on the south side, where it is adjacent to the church. The possibility of having more green space, as opposed to pavement, between the building and the church was also discussed, as was the possibility of regaining some of that lost space on the other side of the building.

Another thing the committee asked for was more detail and variation on the exterior of the building. The design submitted is similar to that of Krsnich’s most recent project in the Warehouse Arts District, and Zollner said that while that was acceptable in that area, the downtown guidelines call for more architecturally detailed buildings. The use and arrangement of different building materials, such as brick and stone, and other details such as balconies or awnings were mentioned as potential ways to give the design more character.

Once changes are finalized, the HRC will ultimately review the designs and make a recommendation to the Lawrence City Commission.


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