Lawrence leaders approve Plan 2040 amendment, another step in moving massive New Boston Crossing project forward

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Members of the Lawrence City Commission listen to a presentation from city staff at their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

The fate of a sprawling development project along the South Lawrence Trafficway could soon lie, in part, with the federal government after city leaders approved an amendment to the city and Douglas County’s joint comprehensive plan on Tuesday.

At Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission meeting, city leaders voted 4-1, with Commissioner Lisa Larsen opposed, to approve an amendment to Plan 2040 revising its land use map and its residential and open space uses within the area of the proposed New Boston Crossing project. The amendment also needs approval from the Douglas County Commission to be adopted; county leaders are considering it as part of their meeting on Wednesday.

The Wichita-based developers behind the project aim to modify the boundary of the Wakarusa River floodplain, which overlaps with a little less than half of the 177-acre project area, then through grading and fill on the site lift a portion of the project area out of the existing regulatory floodplain. Their ability to do so will be dependent on another approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency allowing for that work.

Ahead of the vote, Vice Mayor Mike Dever, who works as an environmental consultant, said he believes in FEMA’s process and felt that lent a sufficient comfort to developing in the area, and Mayor Bart Littlejohn cited a “dire” need for more housing as a key reason for supporting the amendment.

“… I hate to see this piece of land left alone just because it’s adjoining to the mighty Wakarusa River, but I also see the tremendous need of our community for housing, the tremendous need for growth and some sort of plan for where we’re going to put the people who want to live here,” Dever said.

As the Journal-World has reported, New Boston Crossing is one of Lawrence’s largest potential development projects in years, with early plans calling for adding hundreds of homes and tens of thousands of square feet of retail and hotel space across 177 acres of agricultural land just south of the SLT.

The issue of the project’s possible effects on the floodplain was front and center when the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission considered eight rezoning requests for the project area in late January. Six out of eight of them failed to earn a recommendation for approval, after planning commissioners and sustainability advocates alike voiced concern over building into the floodplain, the generally flat area of land next to the river that’s particularly susceptible to flooding as a result. That was also a concern Larsen cited Tuesday night.

But Phil Struble with Landplan Engineering told commissioners Tuesday night that the project team was well aware of the considerations it’d need to make regarding the floodplain coming into the project. In fact, Struble said the team even hired a consultant specifically to advise about protecting the floodplain.

Specifically, Struble said the amount of fill it’ll take to properly manage building around the floodplain will range from 0 to 5 feet, and the maximum amount in that range could take place across 5 or 6 acres.

The dozen members of the public who provided comments on the amendment at Tuesday’s meeting had split opinions on the project. Five of them — including Bonnie Lowe, the president and CEO of the Lawrence chamber of commerce, and LMH Health President and CEO Russ Johnson — touted the project’s economic development potential.

The other commenters, meanwhile, included some community members who are involved with sustainability initiatives and were critical of the project, with one commenter urging commissioners to protect the land “so it can protect us.”


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