City to consider rezoning that would allow apartments on former Oldfather Studios property

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World File Photo

Oldfather Studios, at 1621 W. Ninth St., is pictured on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2010.

Updated at 2:32 p.m. Monday

City leaders will soon consider rezoning a University of Kansas property to allow for apartments to be built, a move some neighbors say is not appropriate.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider a request from KU to rezone the former Oldfather Studios property, 1621 West Ninth St., from university zoning to multidwelling residential. KU’s plan is to demolish the building and sell the property to a developer who plans to build an apartment building, according to a city staff memo to the commission.

The property is 1.8 acres and borders both single-family homes and apartment buildings. A report from the Planning Commission, which is included with the memo, notes that the area west of the property is primarily single-family homes and that West Ninth Street east of the property is composed entirely of apartment buildings.

City planning staff found that the proposed rezoning would accommodate development that matches the existing form and pattern of development found nearby and conformed to the goals for infill development included in Plan 2040, the community’s new comprehensive plan. City planners recommended approval of the request to the Planning Commission, which voted 6-4 to recommend the request for approval. The City Commission considers both the city staff and Planning Commission recommendation in making its decision.

A handful of neighbors sent letters opposing the rezoning, expressing concerns about the project increasing traffic and parking issues and diminishing the character and quality of life of the bordering single-family neighborhoods. One resident also noted that the property had been a gift to the university and questioned whether it was the best use.

Planning commissioners who voted against the request cited some of the concerns expressed by residents of the bordering single-family neighborhood, in particular the traffic concerns. Planning Commission Chair Jim Carpenter, who voted against the rezoning, said he hoped the split vote would cause the City Commission to examine the traffic issues and consider imposing some conditions should the commission approve the rezoning request.

“I know this complies with a lot of what we’re trying to accomplish, (but) I do have concerns about some of these issues and I am going to vote in opposition just to send that message,” Carpenter said.

Some planning commissioners also commented that even though the building wasn’t officially a historic property, it was designed by a local architect and had historic significance to Lawrence as the former home of a well-known film studio. Those commissioners said that instead of the demolition, they would prefer to see the old studio building incorporated into the plans for the new project.

Last year, the Kansas Board of Regents signed off on the university’s request to sell the property and the state subsequently authorized the sale, as the Journal-World previously reported. The building was constructed in 1953 and previously housed Centron Corp., a leading industrial and educational film studio. The company had dissolved by 1990, and KU Endowment purchased the building in 1991 with a gift from Charles and Hortense Oldfather. The KU Film and Media Studies Department used the facility until 2017, when it moved to Summerfield Hall, 1300 Sunnyside Ave.

The report notes that the university is selling the property, which means it must be rezoned from university zoning it currently carries and that the rezoning would accommodate redevelopment of the property. If the rezoning application is approved, additional steps are still needed prior to construction, including the approval of a site plan and major subdivision application, according to the planning report.

The City Commission will convene virtually at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, with limited staff members in place at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. The city has asked that residents participate in the meeting virtually, if they are able to do so, using temporary meeting procedures put in place to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Directions for submitting public comment and correspondence are included in the meeting agenda that is available on the city’s website,


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