Lawrence City Commission to consider 85-acre annexation that would add 300-plus homes

photo by: City of Lawrence

A city map shows 85 acres on the northwestern edge of the city, outlined in blue boxes, that a developer is requesting be added to the city for the purpose of constructing more than 300 single-family homes.

City leaders will once again decide whether to expand the city’s boundaries to accommodate additional housing — this time toward the northwest with a development that plans to build more than 300 homes.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider whether to annex 85 acres located east of Kansas Highway 10 and south of North 1750 Road, which is directly north of Rock Chalk Park on the northwestern edge of the city. The annexation request is accompanied by a request to rezone the property for medium-density housing.

Conceptual plans for the project, which is being proposed by Garber Enterprises, call for more than 300 RS5 lots, which have a minimum size of 5,000 square feet. Because of its location, the development would fall within the Lecompton school district rather than the Lawrence district.

Professional planning staff with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department are recommending the annexation and rezoning. Staff notes in its recommendation that the property is located within the city’s designated growth area, known as Tier 2, as laid out in Plan 2040, the comprehensive plan for Lawrence and Douglas County.

The staff recommendation states that the city’s residential lot inventory report shows a critical need for additional single-family residential lots, and that staff recommends taking steps, such as annexing land where appropriate, to increase the inventory and keep up with housing demand. Ahead of its discussion, Planner Sandy Day told the Planning Commission, which reviewed the request on Feb. 22, that in 2019, 2020 and 2021 the city saw more than 100 building permits for single-family homes, but that number has since dropped off. Day said there were only 79 in 2022 and there has been only one so far in 2023.

Plan 2040 requires developers to identify community benefits for annexations, and the developer identified three such benefits. That includes the provision of more than 300 market-rate, single-family homes; 10 acres of green space that abuts the Lawrence Loop trail system; and the provision of shared-use paths throughout the development that would link into the trail system.

A couple of members of the public called for the development to be denser than RS5 due to the city’s need for more housing, including a suggestion that the project provide a mix of single-family and more dense multifamily options, such as triplexes. Several rural neighbors expressed concern about the effects on traffic and storm water drainage, including increasing traffic on North 1750 Road, which they said is used frequently by runners and cyclists.

photo by: City of Lawrence

A conceptual plan shows the possible layout of the RS5 lots for a 300-plus home development proposed for northwest Lawrence.

The homes are laid out in a grid pattern, which David Hamby, a representative of the developer, told the Planning Commission was the most efficient layout to get the lots as small as possible while still meeting the RS5 requirements. Hamby said later steps in the process would look at the other issues.

The Planning Commission voted 5-4 to recommend the annexation for denial. Those in support of the annexation cited the city’s critical need for housing and expressed support for the plan to add more than 300 homes through the use of RS5 zoning.

Commissioner Gary Rexroad said that currently, RS5 lots represent only 4% of the lots in the city, and that he thought the project represented an opportunity to see denser development than the city has seen in the past. Though the homes will be market-rate, he said the supply of housing and the number of new houses being built also affects affordability.

“It’s a part of the equation,” he said. “It’s something that’s in front of us tonight that we can do.”

A couple of those who voted against the annexation spoke to concerns about the development potentially increasing traffic on nearby North 1750 Road. Commissioner David Carttar said that the road is one of the oldest in the county, and that he’d seen it on historical maps from the late 1800s. He said he thought there should be a clear idea of how to mitigate negative impacts.

“This is an old, old road,” Carttar said. “And what that means is it has a kind of cultural ecosystem that has grown up around it, which I think for us to stumble into this without a clear sense of what the impact is going to be causes me a lot of concern.”

One of the commissioners who voted against the annexation, Jim Carpenter, said that while he thought the land would be annexed, he wanted to see a better plan to ensure the lots would indeed be RS5, since that designation only sets a minimum lot size. Carpenter also said he wanted more specifics about the designated green space for the community benefit.

“I know this is going to be annexed eventually,” Carpenter said. “I just wish we had a better plan, and a way to make sure we had an annexation agreement in place that could make sure we get what we’re voting on.”

This will be the second annexation request in as many weeks to go to the Lawrence City Commission with a recommendation from planning staff and a split vote from planning commissioners. On Tuesday, the City Commission voted 3-2, with Mayor Lisa Larsen and Commissioner Courtney Shipley opposed, to approve an annexation request for 143.41 acres located at the southeast corner of the South Lawrence Trafficway and Iowa Street (U.S. 59). Larsen and Shipley both said they would prefer the city to grow west and east, rather than south, and also cited concerns about the proximity of that property to the Wakarusa River and wetlands.

The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.


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