Committee working to revise Lawrence’s Land Development Code talks incentives, energy

photo by: John English

This aerial photo taken on June 12, 2022, shows Lawrence with the University of Kansas campus in the background.

While members of the Land Development Code Update Steering Committee didn’t take a look at any new sections of the revised rules for how Lawrence should grow on Thursday, they did participate in plenty of discussion about incentives and energy.

As the Journal-World has reported, the group is currently in the process of revising the Land Development Code for the first time since 2006, and they’ve gotten a look at first drafts of two of the three sections of revised code that consultants have completed thus far.

Thursday’s meeting, though, was intended to be an opportunity for that consulting team to generate more feedback from committee members about what’s missing so far.

“We were hoping in this December meeting to pick your brains a little bit,” Elizabeth Garvin, with the city-hired consulting firm Clarion Associates, told the group. “We spent a lot of time going through the whole prescribed list of things that we need to talk about, and we’re looking for some feedback from the group on a variety of subjects and looking to have kind of a broader conversation.”

Those topics, in part, included a discussion of what types of zoning incentives could work in Lawrence. That resulted in a decently-sized list, including ideas like providing more options for developers through less linear incentives, waiving system development charges for affordable housing projects and offsetting the costs for developers creating open spaces or other public amenities.

Lawrence City Commissioner Brad Finkeldei, who chairs the committee, gave one example for how zoning incentives might look — a developer who agrees to make a certain percentage of units permanently affordable might be in line for an incentive like reduced setbacks.

Finkeldei later added that it’s not possible to write the code in a way that details exactly how developers should navigate working on a particularly unique property, but it is more doable to shape some rules around trading incentives for especially creative projects.

“You get creative when you get forced to because you have a really interesting site, you have something that’s driving that,” Finkeldei said. “You’ll never be able to write a code that memorializes those. …I like the idea of having a more open code, but if we come up with something that we need to be creative about, one way is a variance but another way would be an incentive, and let’s see if we can trade something off there.”

The group also talked about what community or neighborhood energy generation ought to look like, whether it be community-scale electrical grids or “microgrids,” and how the city should develop with those issues in mind. There’s some nuance to navigate there, the group agreed, like coming up with a way to decide what sort of zoning use a neighborhood solar array might be best suited for or whether they should even be allowed in the first place.

There was also some conversation about the issue of “NIMBY,” or “Not In My Backyard,” attitudes. The committee didn’t necessarily come up with any ideas for how to circumvent the mentality, but it did hear some perspective from Gary Rexroad, the chair of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, about one ongoing energy-related topic where the mindset has been manifesting.

Rexroad was asked specifically about what groups locally tend to speak for and against large-scale renewable energy development. Rexroad and the Planning Commission most recently have been working to revise Douglas County’s regulations for wind energy projects in rural areas, and later this month the commission will consider a permit for a 1,100-acre solar energy facility proposed by Evergy and Kansas City energy company Savion to be developed just north of Lawrence.

Rexroad said he’s generally found that rural Douglas County residents tend to fall into a few camps. Some are generally in favor of renewable energy development if they don’t happen to live near a potential project, while others who live near an industrial-scale project like the Evergy facility or the West Gardner Solar project from Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources, which is seeking to develop in the southeastern portion of the county, want nothing to do with it.

“It begs a question about where responsibility lies for the production of that energy,” Rexroad said. “Do we as residents of Lawrence, the people that live inside the city, are we OK with just shoving that out to our rural neighbors to deal with, or should we be doing everything we can to contribute to producing and caring for the load that we are the ones, in fact, consuming. I think we ought to be doing everything that we can to participate. I’m not saying that the county can’t also, but we ought to be doing as much as we can, as well.”


Welcome to the new 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.