City seeking resident input on issues facing downtown as part of expanded master plan process

photo by: Nick Gerik

The 700 through 900 blocks of downtown Lawrence are pictured along with the surrounding tree-covered neighborhoods, April 3, 2019.

The city will soon hold two community meetings on the future of downtown Lawrence and is providing resources for neighborhoods and other local groups to hold their own meetings to gather additional input.

The city is asking what priorities and concerns residents have for downtown, and the input will help inform the development of the city’s 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.

“We hope people are interested and willing to come and give their input,” said Planning and Development Director Scott McCullough.

Lawrence city commissioners criticized some “secretive” aspects of the process earlier this year and voted in April to increase the amount of community input gathered for the development of the master plan. The changes, including additional community input and public reviews of the draft plan, added $37,070 to the $110,000 contract for Houseal Lavigne Associates, the consultant helping the city to draft the plan, according to a city staff memo to the commission.

Among the additional elements of the consultant’s contract are “Do it Yourself” workshop kits, which provide questionnaires and other materials for local groups to hold their own meetings to gather input. McCullough said the DIY workshops were available to any group willing to facilitate them.

The 17-page workshop packet has the same questions and follows the same prompts as the community workshops, which ask participants to identify issues and opportunities for the downtown. Consultants previously told the commission that part of the additional contract cost was for the time needed to review and analyze that feedback. The workshop materials recently became available and must be completed and returned to the Planning and Development Department by 5 p.m. June 28 to be included in the analysis of community input, according to the website.

The upcoming community workshop will be from 6:30 to 8 p.m. June 5 at the Carnegie Building, 200 W. Ninth St. Another workshop for downtown business and property owners will be from 7:30 to 9 a.m. June 6. McCullough said the June 6 workshop would also be open to the general public to observe or participate in, though the questions would be more geared toward downtown business and property owners.

Online surveys for residents, businesses and youth are also available. An online map feature also allows residents to attach issues or other topics to particular downtown locations. Both the survey and map are available on the Downtown Master Plan project website.

The expansion of the input and review process came after commissioners objected to what they said were “secretive” focus groups held for city staff, developers, arts and events leaders and a “behaviors” group, which included police department staff and social service agencies. Details about the invitation-only focus groups were not announced and the meetings were not open to public observers. The city subsequently issued an apology for the format of the focus groups and, at the request of the commission, the consultants later posted the focus group topics, invitees and brief summaries of what was discussed.

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.

McCullough said feedback would continue to be collected until mid-July and that there was no set time frame for the next steps other than the goal of having the master plan completed and adopted in the spring of 2020.

“We value the input and the process versus trying to get it done in a quick time frame,” McCullough said. “We want to get it done in a fully informed, complete, comprehensive way, versus just quick.”

The new input will be in addition to input already gathered. At a public meeting in February, downtown area residents identified three main issues facing downtown: the need to protect downtown’s historic resources; the lack of diverse and affordable housing options; and the lack of affordable retail space. The plan also has a steering committee — made up of neighborhoods, developers, small businesses and others — that indicated at a meeting in November that one of the top issues was balancing preservation and progress. The committee is scheduled to have three meetings total, and the next meeting date has not yet been announced.

Related stories

April 2, 2019 — Lawrence City Commission votes to increase community input for downtown master plan following ‘secretive’ focus groups

Feb. 6, 2019 — City issues apology after city commissioners express concern about ‘secretive’ focus groups for downtown master plan

Feb. 4, 2019 — Downtown area residents identify dozens of issues facing downtown as part of master plan workshop

Nov. 1, 2018 — New Downtown Master Plan must balance preservation and progress, steering committee says

Feb. 9, 2018 — New downtown master plan to consider future of local businesses

Dec. 17, 2017 — How tall is too tall? City contemplating downtown skyline, other big issues


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