New Boston Crossing rezoning requests up for consideration this week; plus, a new sister city for Lawrence?

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

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

Eight rezoning requests for a sprawling development project along the South Lawrence Trafficway are up for consideration at this week’s Lawrence City Commission meeting, but they’ll need more affirmative votes than usual to earn approval.

On Tuesday, Lawrence leaders will consider the requests, which are all related to the New Boston Crossing project looking to add hundreds of homes and tens of thousands of square feet of retail and hotel space across 177 acres of agricultural land at the southeast corner of the U.S. Highway 59 and SLT interchange.

The bulk of those requests face a tougher path to approval Tuesday night, though, and that’s because six out of the eight rezoning requests failed to earn approval from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission in late January. The majority of the land for the project is located in the floodplain of the Wakarusa River, which was the principal concern of planning commissioners who voted against recommending approval.

To be approved Tuesday night, those six requests will need to earn a supermajority of four votes from the five-member City Commission. The other two chunks of land that earned Planning Commission approval on 7-1 votes, one that isn’t located in the floodplain and the other designed for open space use rather than any development, will only need the typical three-vote majority to be approved.

The Wichita-based developers behind the project did take one step to try to rectify concerns about the floodplain in the immediate aftermath of the Planning Commission’s rejections — requesting an amendment to Plan 2040 that would revise its land use map and the residential and open space uses within the project area, which would have paved the way for modifying the boundary of the Wakarusa River floodplain. That amendment earned a narrow 5-4 approval from the Planning Commission.

While the City Commission later approved that amendment request on a 4-1 vote in early February, it also needed approval from the Douglas County Commission. County leaders rejected the amendment a day later, meaning that the amendment failed.

It’s not clear from Tuesday’s agenda materials what the fate of the project will be if any of the rezoning requests aren’t approved. However, besides approving them all outright, city leaders could elect to return the applications to the Planning Commission for further consideration.

In other business, commissioners will:

* As part of the meeting’s consent agenda, consider approving a proposal from Sister Cities Lawrence to formally partner with Tocopilla, Chile, as a new sister city.

Lawrence has standing sister city relationships with Hiratsuka, Japan; Eutin, Germany; and Iniades, Greece, with the Germany and Japan connections dating back decades. Those relationships include an exchange program where Lawrence students spend time abroad living with host families. The exchange also works both ways; students from Eutin and Hiratsuka are able to stay with host families here in Lawrence.

The partnership with Tocopilla, according to Tuesday’s meeting agenda, would focus on environmental issues. Chile’s Ministry of Energy designated the town of approximately 25,000 inhabitants, which is in northern Chile, as the first community in the country to participate in a sister city relationship as part of the Net Zero World initiative supporting countries as they transition to clean energy. Tocopilla is historically a mining town home to 73% of the workers who staff coal-fired power plants in the region.

* As part of the meeting’s consent agenda, consider authorizing an agreement between the City of Lawrence and the Lawrence Humane Society for animal sheltering services.

The city and humane society have been operating under their current agreement since 2018, and a new five-year agreement is up for approval this week. The new agreement reflects the current scope of services provided by the Lawrence Humane Society and allows for a 7.5% increase in city funding each year, starting with $440,000 in compensation in 2024 and escalating to $587,606 by 2028.

* Receive an update on the Farmland Remediation Project and consider authorizing City Manager Craig Owens to execute a supplemental agreement with GHD Services Inc. for $87,409.

Those actions are related to the city’s contamination cleanup program at the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant, which the city took over in 2010. The city is legally responsible for handling remediation of environmental contaminants on the site, and commissioners in 2018 executed a consulting contract with GHD Services to recommend new remedial actions.

According to Tuesday’s meeting agenda, that includes actions like designing and constructing supplemental off-site treatment processes at the Kansas River Wastewater Treatment Plant, converting selected containment wells to monitoring wells, and modifying existing Farmland containment ponds and stormwater infrastructure to improve on-site water management.

* As part of a work session, receive an update from city staff about changes to the way outside agencies can request funding during the 2025 budget process.

According to Tuesday’s meeting agenda, the city has traditionally used the same budget development guidelines and templates for such requests that it does for departmental budget submissions. But the city has struggled to reach potential outside requesters, especially for departments that heavily rely on services from outside agencies, since the city stopped announcing requests for funding from outside agencies as part of the budget development process.

For the 2025 budget process, the city’s economic development staff plans to conduct a gap analysis of a few primary areas of focus — economic development marketing and business attraction, entrepreneurship and small business development, and business retention and workforce development — and use its findings to prioritize funding toward addressing the needs identified in the city’s strategic plan. The city will release a request for information application to collect proposals from organizations capable of completing that work, which will be evaluated for inclusion in the 2025 budget recommendation typically released in July.

The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., then immediately recess for a 30-minute closed executive session. A live stream of the meeting can also be viewed via Zoom or the city’s YouTube channel.


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