Douglas County Commission to get a first look at proposed maps for newly expanded commission

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

The west side of the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., is pictured on Sept. 23, 2021.

After voting earlier this month to expand the Douglas County Commission from three members to five, residents will get their first look Wednesday at some options for new commission district maps.

Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew is set to present four possible map options to the Douglas County Commission at its meeting on Wednesday. The commission is tasked with passing a new district map by Jan. 1, 2023, to be sent to Gov. Laura Kelly for approval.

Every option but one, titled “County,” has a portion of Lawrence included in all five proposed districts. Two of the other three maps — titled “Cities,” “Spokes” and “Wakarusa” — both include a pair of districts located entirely within Lawrence’s city limits.

photo by: Douglas County screenshot

The “County” map is one of four options the Douglas County Commission will take a first look at during Wednesday’s commission meeting. The commission will need to approve a new map reflecting an expansion from three to five members before the start of 2023.

photo by: Douglas County screenshot

The “Cities” map is one of four options the Douglas County Commission will take a first look at during Wednesday’s commission meeting. The commission will need to approve a new map reflecting an expansion from three to five members before the start of 2023.

photo by: Douglas County screenshot

The “Spokes” map is one of four options the Douglas County Commission will take a first look at during Wednesday’s commission meeting. The commission will need to approve a new map reflecting an expansion from three to five members before the start of 2023.

photo by: Douglas County screenshot

The “Wakarusa” map is one of four options the Douglas County Commission will take a first look at during Wednesday’s commission meeting. The commission will need to approve a new map reflecting an expansion from three to five members before the start of 2023.

The “County” map, on the contrary, has three of the five districts entirely located within Lawrence’s city limits, ensuring that there will always be a majority of members hailing from the county’s most populous city. One district covers the entirety of west Lawrence, one covers central Lawrence up to U.S. Highway 40 as it runs through Lawrence as Iowa Street, and the third encompasses the southern portion of the city along Kansas Highway 10 into southeast Lawrence.

The key difference between this map and the other three is that it has one district that takes in nearly everything in the county outside Lawrence, ensuring that one seat on the commission will be filled by a resident from elsewhere in the county. The fifth district includes the rest of eastern Lawrence, essentially the downtown area, plus North Lawrence and the remainder of the county outside Lawrence city limits in Grant Township.

As proponents of the ballot question predicted, expanding from three to five districts does bring the number of constituents in each district down from roughly 42,000 people to around 25,000. In fact, 25,060 is the high mark for constituents in any one district across all four maps, and a number above 25,000 only appears once. Otherwise, the other 19 proposed districts range in size from 22,501 to 24,500 constituents.

As Shew previously explained to the Journal-World, one requirement of the new districts is that they have equivalent populations, as is the case with the proposed maps. The county’s basing those numbers on Douglas County’s population of 118,785 as of the 2020 United States Census. Shew also noted the districts need to be contiguous, a requirement achieved for all four maps.

The look at the maps comes just a day before the county will host a town hall meeting intended to provide a chance for the public to weigh in on what the new districts should look like. That event is slated for 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Flory Meeting Hall on the Douglas County Fairgrounds, 2120 Harper St.

In other business, the commission will:

• Consider approving a temporary business use permit allowing for a meteorological evaluation tower to be located on property in Marion Township, about 17 miles west of Baldwin City, for a one-year period.

The request has been submitted by John Felitto, an associate project manager with Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources, on behalf of Tower Associates. As the Journal-World previously reported, NextEra for more than a year has been exploring the feasibility of building a large wind turbine farm in southwest Douglas County. More recently, landowners in the area have confirmed that they — or their neighbors — have signed preliminary easement agreements with the firm.

The tower would be just more than 60 meters tall. According to the report included with this week’s agenda, this type of tower is used to collect data on the weather patterns at a specific site to gauge the viability of wind energy projects, and installing one is one of the first steps toward a wind energy project being developed.

A memorandum from Douglas County’s Zoning and Codes Department does note, however, that the county hasn’t received any application for a specific wind energy project yet, though the department is aware of at least one other meteorological evaluation tower application that may be submitted for a separate location in southwestern Douglas County.

That memo also notes that a draft of new proposed wind energy regulations is set to come before the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Commission in the coming weeks, on the heels of inquiries from landowners in that area of the county who themselves have been contacted by renewable energy developers seeking land for future projects. According to a calendar of upcoming City of Lawrence meetings on the city’s website, the next planning commission meeting is set for Monday, Dec. 19.

Because of water damage in the courthouse’s commission meeting room, Wednesday’s business meeting will instead take place in the Division 2 courtroom at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St., at 5:30 p.m. Normal Judicial and Law Enforcement Center security protocols will be followed, and members of the public will be screened at a checkpoint upon entry to the building. The meeting will also be available by Zoom. For meeting information, visit the county’s website: dgcoks.org/commissionmeetings.

COMMENTS

Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.