Lawrence leaders could move to make it easier to develop two detached dwelling units on the same lot

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on Jan. 31, 2023.

Lawrence leaders this week will decide whether to approve a change to the city’s code that could pave the way for more infill development without running afoul of current zoning requirements.

At this week’s Lawrence City Commission meeting, commissioners will consider approving a text amendment to the city’s Land Development Code that revises the standards for developing two detached dwelling units — which are structures not attached to other dwellings on the same parcel of land — on the same “nonconforming” lot, as long as they are designated as permanently affordable housing. According to a report from city planning staff, the current code prohibits the use of “nonconforming” lots for this purpose, which apparently was an unintended consequence.

Per the report, a “nonconforming” lot is defined as a tract of land that complied with all applicable dimensional standards for the zoning district in which it was located at the time it was created but does not comply with the minimum standards for the zoning districts of today. The city’s currently in the process of revising the Land Development Code, but zoning regulations have also been updated four other times since they were first adopted in Lawrence in 1927, most recently in 2006.

Lots that were legally created under one set of zoning regulations or development code standards often become nonconforming when revised regulations are adopted, according to the report. That means any lot divided prior to the city’s zoning regulations adopted in 1966 — before which there were no minimum lot frontage or width requirements until 1949 — using the minimum required lot width or area would be nonconforming with the current lot requirements unless it’s located in a specific zoning district.

The report provides one example: a set of lots located just west of Haskell Avenue and north of La Salle Street. The lots were platted in 1930 with 50 feet of lot width and were in compliance with requirements until the zoning regulations were revised in 1966 and the zoning designation for the area converted to a type with a minimum width requirement of 60 feet instead.

“This is a common situation throughout the older parts of town, where lots would have been platted prior to 1966,” the report reads.

To alleviate the issue, planning staff is proposing a standard that any lots with less than 7,000 square feet may be developed with two permanently affordable detached dwelling units with the approval of a special use permit. As it stands, the current regulations require a special use permit for this type of development only in certain zoning districts, so this change would instead tie the special use permit process to lots with less than a specific land area.

In other business, commissioners will:

• During a work session, receive the city’s annual comprehensive financial report and audit findings and hear a presentation about the city’s strategic plan goals related to transportation infrastructure. Commissioners don’t take any action on agenda items that take place during work sessions.

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


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