What’s in the revised Land Development Code? A look at the draft and what happens next

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Members of the public learn more about the consolidated draft of Lawrence's Land Development Code during a community meeting at Holcom Park Recreation Center, 2700 W. 27th St., on Thursday, May 16, 2024.

After almost two years of work, a consolidated draft of the revised rules for how Lawrence should grow is finally available.

The City of Lawrence and an associated steering committee have been working to update the Land Development Code for the first time since 2006, a process that started in August 2022. Though there have been plenty of amendments to the code in the time since then, the rewrite that’s currently underway will overhaul the code in a much more comprehensive way.

That includes establishing a simpler and more consistent set of development procedures, making the code more user-friendly and easy to understand, and creating more predictable development outcomes, according to the consulting team behind the rewrite. It’s also intended to create regulations that implement the city’s comprehensive plan, Plan 2040.

On Thursday, the Journal-World spoke with Jeff Crick, the city’s Planning & Development Services director, to learn more about the noteworthy changes reflected in the consolidated draft — and how community members who wish to give their feedback on the massive 553-page document might go about navigating it.

For those who are engaging with the revised draft for the first time, Crick said it might be helpful to start with understanding the values that “set the tone” for the revision process as a whole: to find avenues to increase affordable housing, make sure the code is designed with sustainability in mind and make the regulations equitable.

“This has been the touchstone for the steering committee,” Crick told the Journal-World. “… This is what we’ve heard — not just through the comment that we’re getting right now, but throughout the entire process — about ‘What do you want this to look like?’ This is a code that’s going to be with us for a while, so what would you like to see? What are you not happy with (in) our current code? What are you happy with (in) our current code and you hope stays with us?”

Highlights in the revised draft

Finding the key points in such a lengthy document is made easier thanks to a “guided tour” tool that Crick showed the Journal-World.

The tour takes readers first to a series of tables summarizing new mixed and commercial zoning districts for areas like small and large neighborhoods and commercial centers. Some of those new districts consolidate two or more current zoning categories. The draft code notes that a mix of nonresidential and residential uses is “strongly encouraged” to expand housing options and access to services.

“In the current Land Development Code, you have residential, commercial and industrial (districts), and they’re very segmented,” Crick said. “In the new code, you have a lot more of mixing uses. So you have a commercial district that allows more residential (development), that has that flexibility. You have a little bit more overlap between the industrial and commercial, so if something’s kind of in one but not in the other, you have some of this transitional ability. The current code is very regimented in how it wants to work.”

From there, the tour moves to another series of tables showing where specific land uses can go based on the new zoning categories. Crick said those use tables eliminate a split between residential and nonresidential districts that’s reflected in the current code.

Further steps on the guided tour show the reader what options are available and the design requirements for infill residential development — construction on previously unused or underutilized land located within an existing urban or developed area.

That’s an area where the draft specifically is requesting feedback from the public, thanks to the inclusion of one specific type of infill work that’s not currently allowed in the city: cluster development, the grouping of residential properties on a development site that allows for the extra land on that site to be used for open space. The draft notes that cluster development is currently allowed in Douglas County but not in Lawrence unless the property is annexed.

photo by: City of Lawrence

These images included in the consolidated draft of Lawrence’s revised Land Development Code show the difference between cluster development and traditional residential development.

“One of the things we’ve heard a lot about over the years is Plan 2040 asked for a lot of infill development, so making that work in context with other properties that are already there — and there may be reasons why those lots haven’t developed because they have some quirks about them,” Crick said. “So this code allows some of that to give a bit of flex so they can be put to use and not just feel like they’re locked out of potential.”

The last big step on the tour takes the reader to a section on parking, with the main shift being a standard for parking maximums, rather than the city’s current approach of requiring all development outside the downtown area to provide a minimum amount of parking. That’s been a particular focus for the Land Development Code Update Steering Committee, Crick said.

photo by: City of Lawrence

This diagram shows the components of a parking area as reflected in the consolidated draft of Lawrence’s revised Land Development Code.

Outside of the guided tour, Crick noted a few more areas of the code that he views as highlights.

One of them isn’t just a single topic but actually a large chunk of the code. The revision has involved splitting it into three draft “modules,” one of which covers processes for project reviews. Those explanations are now streamlined and easier to follow, Crick said.

“You don’t have to be an expert in code to hopefully understand what the process will be, where the public meetings will be, what (are) the noticing requirements,” Crick said. “We’re trying to make sure it’s more accessible to somebody that doesn’t always work with the code.”

Another user-friendly change Crick touted is a heavier reliance on visual explanations in the revised draft, rather than walls of text. On a quick scroll through the document, a reader will find graphics explaining dimensional standards for different types of development and showing samples of development layout types.

photo by: City of Lawrence

This graphic included in the consolidated draft of Lawrence’s revised Land Development Code shows a visual example for where to measure the setbacks reflected in an accompanying table for a low-density residential development project.

The city hosted six community meetings this week, where attendees were able to learn more about some of the topics Crick talked about with the Journal-World, as well as other noteworthy changes. Here are a few of them included in the revised draft:

• An affordable housing bonus, allowing adjustments to minimum lot and building standards in exchange for constructing residential units that are provided at income-restricted sale or rent prices.

• The ability to add a second, permanently affordable detached dwelling on a lot with a home and another existing detached dwelling when there’s enough lot area.

• Allowances for small lot development, a type of residential development that allows for detached units to be built on lots smaller than typically permitted within low-density residential neighborhoods.

At the same time, there are plenty of standards — for things like landscaping, setbacks and rezoning processes — that haven’t changed as much. But Crick said that doesn’t mean they haven’t been refined and streamlined in the same way that other areas of the document have been.

“I always think of it more as it’s there, but it may just be in a little bit of a different packaging, or it may just be a little bit of a different phrasing which hopefully is in language that every day you would use, not that people would look at and go ‘That’s planning language, that’s not something I know,'” Crick said.

‘The community’s code’

The Land Development Code is by no means a finished product. At a steering committee meeting Thursday afternoon, committee members engaged in plenty of discussion about more potentially significant adjustments to what’s in the consolidated draft currently available for review — like how the code should approach minimum density standards for residential development, for example.

Much in the same way, Crick said the team fully expects to hear plenty more from the public about the draft.

“It’s really the community’s code — that’s the key,” Crick said. “I think a lot of people think it’s Planning’s code, or it’s the (Lawrence-Douglas County) Planning Commission, but really this is the community’s code. We want to make sure it’s doing what the community needs it to do and we hope that it’s giving the community the product that they’re hopeful for.”

That emphasis on continued public feedback showed at the informational meetings hosted in the past week, where community members were invited to cover poster boards with sticky notes sharing their ideas.

The public is also being invited to comment directly on the code itself. That can be done by clicking on the document; Crick said it’s possible to see comments from others and leave replies.

A search tool is another resource for finding specific topics to leave feedback about, Crick said, and clicking on any line in the document’s table of contents will take readers directly to the page they’re looking for.

“We want those ideas,” Crick said. “If there’s something in there that people like or they don’t like, we want to know. Or ‘Hey, have you thought of this?’ Just anything like that, we want to get it in these comments and questions.”

Leaving comments on the document itself isn’t the only way for community members to share feedback. They can also submit them to developmentcodeupdate@lawrenceks.org. And there will be further opportunities to engage with the process moving forward.

From here, the revised code could be up for approval in a matter of months — or, based on the issues the steering committee discussed earlier this week, it could take slightly more time before a final draft is ready for consideration. Steering committee members were told they’d have a new version of the draft to look at with those changes reflected by May 28.

For now, a cleaned-up version of the document that community members are currently able to view and provide feedback on will be the one presented to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission during a listening session at its May 29 meeting.

After that, the steering committee will meet again in June to discuss the feedback gathered from the public and the Planning Commission, then return the revised code to the Planning Commission for a public hearing and potential vote. The Lawrence City Commission will have the final say in adopting the new code later this summer.

“The conversation I always have with people is this isn’t done,” Crick said. “We definitely would love comments, we’d love feedback, we’d love suggestions. That’s something I always stress, because this isn’t at a point where it’s done. The more we get, the better we can help make sure it reflects the community’s expectation, so let us know what that is.”


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