Lawrence City Commission denies infill duplex development for Fall Creek Farms, citing concerns about impact on creek

photo by: City of Lawrence screen shot

The Lawrence City Commission convenes for its meeting on April 11, 2023.

Citing concerns about the impact on a nearby creek, city leaders have denied plans to develop duplexes on an approximately 8-acre site between the Fall Creek Farms subdivision and the western edge of the Deerfield neighborhood.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted 3-2, with Vice Mayor Bart Littlejohn and Commissioner Brad Finkeldei opposed, to deny the preliminary development plan for Fall Creek Villas, which was proposed for a parcel of undeveloped land east of Fall Creek Road and west of North Kasold Drive.

Mayor Lisa Larsen, whose background is in environmental geology, said that her biggest concern had to do with proposed alterations to nearby Deerfield Creek and particularly the reduction in the buffer area along the creek.

“The buffer is extremely important and what I see with this stream is you’re removing the buffer,” Larsen said. “… So I’m very concerned about that.”

Neighbors from both adjacent areas, particularly those directly bordering the property, have expressed opposition to the development. Concerns include a desire to preserve the woods and green space that border their property and the potential for flooding related to Deerfield Creek and erosion of the stream bank. Several neighbors said past flooding events have already brought creek waters near their homes, and that they thought alterations to the stream proposed by the development would make the issues worse.

The commission evaluated several factors related to the development. Commissioner Amber Sellers expressed concern that the proposal could potentially result in various forms of detriment, including to the current homeowners, the future homeowners and city infrastructure. Commissioner Courtney Shipley also worried about the impact on Deerfield Creek, and said that, in addition to infill and density, the city’s comprehensive plan had priorities regarding managing water resources, habitat and sustainability.

“We look around the country and we don’t have to look far to see where climate change, particularly with respect to flooding, is a fact,” Shipley said. “My concern is this is ignoring all the parts of this plan that refer to sustainability.”

Finkeldei said that the question of sustainability in the plan was for the county overall, and that one of the ways that the city protects that land around the city is by having density within the city.

“So I think there’s a balancing act there of not just looking at this one proposal,” Finkeldei said.

Regarding some of the concerns about storm water management, Finkeldei said Tuesday’s approval was the beginning of the process, and that there were additional reviews that would have to take place regarding the development. Those included reviews by the Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We’ll have an answer to it, but you have to trust the process and you have to trust the staff,” he said.

photo by: City of Lawrence

A city map shows the parcel, outlined in blue, where a developer has proposed building 14 duplexes.

photo by: City of Lawrence

A map from Landplan Engineering shows the parcel where a developer has proposed building 14 duplexes.

Professional planners with the planning office recommended approval of the development plan. The planning office completed a traffic study, a downstream sewer analysis and a drainage study. The Planning Commission voted to recommend the plan for denial, also citing concerns about Deerfield Creek. As a result, a supermajority of the City Commission, or four of the five members, would have been required to approve the plan.

Littlejohn said there were elements of the proposal that gave him pause, but he noted that the city’s professional planning staff recommended the approval, and, as Finkeldei said, it required trust in the process and the studies being done.

The 8.39-acre property is part of Fall Creek Farms and was included in the original preliminary plats for the property, according to a staff report from the Lawrence-Douglas County planning office. The developer was proposing to build 14 two-story duplex buildings on about 4 acres of the property, resulting in 28 units. The plan would have designated 2 acres as sensitive lands, which includes a drainage easement, and 2.37 acres as open space, the latter comprising an area where overhead utility lines for Evergy are located.

The proposal is the second infill development project for duplexes that neighbors have opposed in recent months. Infill development and higher-density housing are both stated goals in Plan 2040, the area’s comprehensive plan. In October, the commission denied a request to rezone approximately 3.4 acres located at 1100 Kasold Drive from a single-dwelling residential zoning district to a multi-dwelling residential district for the purpose of building 12 or 13 duplexes. Sellers and then-Mayor Shipley were the only two commissioners to vote against the request, but because neighbors filed a protest petition, a supermajority vote, or four of five commissioners, would have been required to approve it. Sellers later asked for the request to be reconsidered, but the developer has not brought it forward again.


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