Historic preservation and affordability key issues for attendees of downtown master plan workshop
photo by: Rochelle Valverde
A group of Lawrence residents said Wednesday evening that three key things downtown needs are affordable commercial rents, affordable housing and historic preservation.
The residents identified those issues at a community meeting to gather input for the city’s new Downtown Master Plan, which has not been updated in 20 years. The new plan will cover downtown development for the next 15 to 20 years and address issues such as land use, development, building heights, parking, transportation, infrastructure and streetscapes.
About 75 people attended the meeting, which took place at the Carnegie Building. Attendees chose the three issues of commercial rents, housing and preservation as most important after first coming up with a list of 55 issues facing downtown Lawrence. Consultants from Houseal Lavigne Associates, which the city hired in August to help complete the Downtown Master Plan, hosted the meeting.
Attendees said historic preservation of downtown buildings, structures and streetscapes needs to be a high priority as the city creates the new plan. Lawrence resident KT Walsh said that the fight for historic preservation has gone on for a long time and needs to continue.
“I think what that means is remembering that all the people who fought for historic preservation downtown through all these years have helped create the downtown that we have now, that tourists want to come to and we want to hang out in,” Walsh said.
Regarding affordability, residents said there was a need for more affordable rental rates for commercial uses and affordable downtown housing options for low-income residents and families. Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods Chair Courtney Shipley, who is also a City Commission candidate, said she thinks downtown has already gentrified and that the city needs to address that.
“When we talk about how expensive rent is downtown and who has access, that’s related to that,” Shipley said.
There were also a few other topics that received at least 10 votes from the crowd. Those included the lack of inviting and safe spaces in the downtown for marginalized and underrepresented people; insufficient parking to accommodate significant residential development; and a lack of access to groceries.
Another workshop geared toward downtown business and property owners, which is also open to the general public, will be from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Thursday. This week’s meetings are in addition to similar workshops held in February. Attendees of those meetings identified similar issues, namely the need to protect downtown’s historic resources; the lack of diverse and affordable housing options; and the lack of affordable retail space, the Journal-World previously reported.
Houseal Lavigne Principal Nik Davis told attendees that the feedback collected would be reviewed and posted on the project website for the master plan. Davis said residents can also submit feedback via surveys that are available on the website, and that those surveys would be available for about another month.
The next steps in the master planning process include an economic and demographic analysis, an assessment of existing conditions, and the development of a downtown vision, goals and objectives. A draft plan will then be created and presented to the community before being considered by the City Commission. The city aims to have the master plan completed and adopted in the spring of 2020.
• Feb. 9, 2018 — New downtown master plan to consider future of local businesses