Planning Commission approves rezoning requests that could pave the way for future affordable housing project in west Lawrence

photo by: City of Lawrence screenshot

Members of the public wait to give public comment during the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission's meeting on Monday, April 22, 2024.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission on Monday approved a pair of rezoning requests that could lead to a future affordable housing development from the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority in west Lawrence.

The subject properties at 5015 Legends Drive and 1311 Research Park Drive are located on roughly 6 acres combined in the west Lawrence neighborhood, not far from the intersection of Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. The Planning Commission voted 8-2, with commissioners Pedro Borroto and Jane Eldredge opposed, to rezone the properties from the “Industrial Business Park” category to “Multi-Dwelling Residential” designations. From here, the rezoning requests will move on to the Lawrence City Commission for final approval at a future meeting.

Ahead of their vote, multiple commissioners expressed support for spreading affordable housing development across all of Lawrence, not just to the east.

“I’m generally in favor of approving this rezoning, recognizing it as step one in a lot of steps between now and the date that something is actually going to be built there, recognizing that there’s going to be public process in a number of ways before dirt would be turned,” Planning Commission Chair Gary Rexroad said. “The question about where should this go if not here — golly, how many times have we had things come before us (and heard) ‘I’m all in favor of it, just not right here?’ I totally get that, I totally get it, but for me this makes sense.”

While it’s clear from Monday’s meeting that it’ll be a while before anything is actually built on the properties, the Housing Authority did have some early guesses for what it could look like. According to a concept plan required as part of the rezoning requests, the project could take the form of seven “four-plex” buildings and six “eight-plex” buildings intended to serve as permanently affordable housing for families and seniors. In total, the concept plan includes 76 housing units.

photo by: Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission screenshot

This concept plan shows the potential layout of a Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority project that earned a pair of rezoning approvals from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission Monday, April 22, 2024.

That’s an approach that Housing Authority Executive Director Shannon Oury said the agency is trying to be especially deliberate about.

“I’d just like to point out that affordable housing is a key issue in this city, and it has been,” Oury said. “And it’s something that all of us should care about, for people to have a safe and affordable place to live. We didn’t come in here and say ‘What is the top zoning we could possibly ask for and build 350 units in this space?’ We purposefully came in and said ‘We want to be part of the neighborhood.’ It’s the Housing Authority’s goal — always — to be a good neighbor.”

Eight neighbors to the properties urged the Planning Commission to deny the rezoning requests Monday night, and others shared similar sentiments in emailed comments ahead of the meeting.

One commenter said building a “huge” housing complex like the units tentatively proposed as part of the rezoning requests right across from new $500,000 homes is not a way to “thank them for living in this community and paying these heavy taxes.”

Other commenters expressed concern about the potential development’s proximity to Lawrence Montessori School, which would be surrounded on its back side by the new buildings, and about how much traffic it could add in the neighborhood.

A few neighbors expressed concerns that people who live in low-income housing are drug users and criminals.

“We all realize that everyone needs a home,” one comment submitted in advance of the meeting reads. “But we all know what happens when a low-income housing comes into a nicer, brand-new area. Property values go down, they don’t keep their homes clean, too many people live in the home that shouldn’t, drug, shootings, stabbings, rapes, robberies and on and on. You can go to any of the low-income housing and you will see all of this. The areas become unsafe.”

The owner of the properties in question — and also the former owner of the Montessori school — also spoke during the meeting’s public comment period and said he and his wife purchased the properties in order to prevent them from being developed for industrial use, or in another way that didn’t align with the nearby school.


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