Upcoming survey to ask Lawrence residents how their neighborhood can accommodate new homes, businesses

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

The Land Development Code Update Steering Committee discusses the draft of survey as part of its meeting March 30, 2023.

How can Lawrence neighborhoods accommodate more homes and businesses and also maintain the characteristics that make people want to live there?

That’s the question that those working to update Lawrence’s land development code — which determines where and how the city grows — will soon be asking neighborhood groups and residents.

As part of its meeting Thursday, the Land Development Code Update Steering Committee and city-hired consultants with Clarion Associates went over a draft of a survey that aims to get at that and other questions. The draft survey can be filled out by neighborhood associations, other community groups, or individuals and will inform the update of the land development code

Elizabeth Garvin, of Clarion Associates, said the intent of the survey is to find out what characteristics residents prioritize about their neighborhoods, and how the new code can reflect that in a broad sense.

“Our goal is not to draft a mini set of regulations for each neighborhood, but it is to see if there are similar trends in priorities across different swaths of the city,” Garvin said. “And if we see some aspect as consistently important, to make sure we are reflecting that in the regulations.”

The survey will be in a “meeting in a box format” that can be taken to group gatherings, such as neighborhood association meetings, but will also be available in hardcopy and online for residents to fill out individually. The draft survey discussed Thursday included a series of open-ended questions and a list of neighborhood characteristics and qualities for consideration. The committee went through the questions and suggested edits to the phrasing to make the intent of the questions clearer or to better ensure they elicit the needed responses. A suggestion was also made for the city to seek input from both University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University students.

The land development code is the set of regulations that guide how development should occur in the city. The code update will implement Plan 2040, the comprehensive plan for the city and Douglas County, which prioritizes denser mixed-use development, affordable housing and sustainability, among other goals.

The draft survey began by asking residents to discuss what makes their neighborhood unique or a great place to live. Further questions aimed to get residents to respond regarding how new residential and commercial development can be accommodated in their neighborhoods and what characteristics are important to maintain with those additions.

For instance, with the question about how new residential development could be accommodated, Garvin said options could include increasing the height of homes or buildings; decreasing setbacks, or the distance required between homes and the required distance a home must be from the street; or allowing different lot sizes and housings types, such as row houses or accessory dwelling units.

“We are thinking of how structures go in and how neighborhoods are designed,” Garvin said.

The city hired Clarion Associates, a national land-use consulting firm, to assist with the code update, a process that involves city planning staff as well as the committee. The process began last summer, and Clarion previously completed a four-month review of the city’s existing development code and drafted 80 recommended changes. Goals of the update include creating simpler and more consistent development procedures; making the code more user-friendly; creating more predictable development outcomes; and identifying opportunities to achieve city goals related to climate change, sustainability, housing, economic development and other community priorities.

Garvin said that after making changes to the draft survey, she anticipates it could be ready for distribution in a couple of weeks. The committee discussed leaving the survey open for a period of six weeks, with the ability to offer some flexibility to ensure student groups can participate.

The committee’s next meeting will take place in late April, where Garvin said the discussion would center on zoning districts and uses. A schedule for the code update anticipates the draft code changes will be ready in the fall, with adoption of the update estimated to occur in summer 2024.


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