Lawrence City Commission gives initial approval to new comprehensive plan, including controversial new growth policy

photo by: Journal-World File Photo

This file photo from July 2015 shows a westward look across Lawrence; at right, Ninth Street stretches toward downtown.

City leaders gave initial approval Tuesday to a new growth plan that would prioritize infill development and add requirements for developers who want to expand the city’s boundaries.

As part of its regular meeting, the Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously in favor of the new comprehensive plan, Plan 2040, which lays out policies that will shape how the city grows for the next 20 years. Plan 2040 prioritizes development within the city’s boundaries and spells out several criteria that developers must meet for the city to annex land to expand those boundaries.

Before the plan can go into effect, the commission must approve it on a second reading at a later meeting, and the Douglas County Commission must also consider and approve the plan.

As currently proposed, Plan 2040 prioritizes infill development by requiring that annexations of new land into the city limits only occur if demand for the proposed development is established and the developers provide a community benefit beyond just the development itself. Annexations are further limited to areas that are reachable by current fire and medical services and readily serviceable with utilities. Land that is not readily serviceable by emergency services and utilities would only be annexed if the development proposal were found to be the only way to address an identified community need.

The community benefit requirement is a major point of contention in Plan 2040. Several local groups have said that requirement will only increase housing costs. The City Commission did discuss that provision on Tuesday, but the discussion focused on the wording of the provision and not the underlying issues brought up by those groups.

The plan lists several community benefits that developments could provide, including affordable housing; employment; preservation or provision of land; or the construction of amenities or facilities for a public purpose. The plan notes that developers may request incentives to offset the cost of providing a community benefit, but that the city would not be required to grant those incentives.

City planners said there would likely be more discussion regarding the details of the plan when it comes back to the commission on second reading. Commissioners indicated they would like to further discuss issues such as whether the requirements should apply to annexations under 10 acres, which currently do not have to be reviewed by the Planning Commission. Another issue discussed was whether the required community benefit should be proportional to the size of the development or any incentives requested.

Proponents of Plan 2040 have maintained that the city cannot afford to grow in any and all directions, and that growth needs to be focused in certain areas to manage city infrastructure costs. However, as the Journal-World previously reported, the Lawrence Board of Realtors, Lawrence Home Builders Association and the local chamber of commerce have all expressed concerns about the annexation restrictions, saying that by limiting the supply of land for development and adding costs, they could make both new and existing housing more expensive.

Planning and Development Director Scott McCullough said the plan will go in front of the commission for a second reading in September. Following adoption, it will move to the County Commission for review. Changes made by both bodies will then go back to the Planning Commission.

City Commission Meeting 08/20/19


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