City Commission candidate Sands wants a comprehensive fix for affordable housing
photo by: contributed photo
As a planning commissioner, Rob Sands understands that there will be disagreements at City Hall and that sometimes emotions will run high. Sands said what makes those situations easier was reminding himself what everyone agreed on.
“We all love Lawrence and we want it to stay the way it was when we fell in love with it, and we want to improve where we can,” Sands said. “And so sometimes we just have disagreements on how we improve.”
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Sands, one of six candidates running for City Commission, said he wanted to use his experience and educational background to help make those improvements. Sands, 38, has served on the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Commission since 2015 and earned his master’s degree in public administration from the University of Kansas in 2017. He said his experience could help bridge the gaps among city staff, policy and people.
Sands said one of his top priorities was broadly addressing the city’s affordable housing shortage by providing multiple types of affordable housing for various income levels. He said that includes addressing the “missing middle” of the housing market, or homes costing between $100,000 and $250,000. He said that although the city should continue efforts to provide low-income housing, the middle-range homes were key to improving affordability of both the housing and rental market.
“Obviously, voters passed the sales tax increase in order to fund the affordable housing fund, and we’ve got the land trust and those things are great and those affect a certain population of people that we should always seek to help,” Sands said. “But what’s coming out in the urban planning circles is the effect of the missing middle of housing.”
Sands said city policies should not price people out of the market artificially or limit housing types. He said as the city worked to implement the new comprehensive plan, Plan 2040, it would be important to develop zoning regulations that encourage all housing types, not just single-family homes, and to ensure the city’s application process operates smoothly for builders.
Sands also said he did not support a merger between the city and county governments, as has previously been discussed by the commission. He supports ongoing efforts to discuss city and county funding agreements, but said there needed to be better interactions and understanding among the city and county, as well as the school district.
“There has been a ton of tension, and I think the only way to really address that is by doing the hard work, not just during the public meetings, to build the relationships with those people,” Sands said.
Sands also wants the city to adopt policies that strengthen the downtown. He said downtown was the city’s cultural and economic center but that it would take effort from the city to keep it that way. He said that included providing the right mix of parking, encouraging some small development and supporting more community events.
“Not every festival downtown needs to be a for-profit venture in order to cover the city operating costs to support it,” Sands said. “So really, a more cooperative and permissive environment to encourage and increase cultural events downtown. South Park has been utilized quite a lot and that’s great, but there are other things we can do.”
Regarding downtown parking, Sands noted that the city has various surface level parking lots. He said the city’s downtown parking could be more efficient if it had an additional parking garage, and that would allow the city to use some of the surface lots for small developments. As owners of the property, Sands said the city would decide what it wants to bring downtown, be it an art space, tech space, maker space, or whatever it deems a priority.
Sands, a native of Kansas City, Kan., has lived in Lawrence since 2001. He is an active-duty lieutenant colonel in the Kansas Army National Guard and has been deployed overseas three times. He has served in several roles throughout his career, including as a tank platoon leader, tank company commander, Afghan Army unit adviser, battalion operations officer and battalion executive officer.
The seats of Commissioners Stuart Boley, Leslie Soden and Matthew Herbert are up for election this year, and both Soden and Herbert have announced they will not seek reelection. The general election will be Tuesday, Nov. 5.