Lawrence City Commission approves rezoning that allows apartments on former Oldfather Studios property
photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World File Photo
City leaders have approved a request to rezone a University of Kansas property to allow for apartments to be built, but they want neighbors’ concerns about traffic to be addressed as the project moves forward.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted 4-1, with Commissioner Courtney Shipley opposed, to approve a request from KU to rezone the former Oldfather Studios property, 1621 W. Ninth St., from university zoning to multidwelling residential. KU’s plan is to demolish the building, which is located at the intersection of Ninth Street and Avalon Road, and sell the property to a developer that plans to build an apartment building, according to a city staff memo to the commission.
Commissioner Lisa Larsen, who noted that she lives in the adjoining neighborhood, said that traffic and parking are already issues on Avalon Road and that neighborhoods downhill from the property and from KU in general experience issues with storm water drainage. Larsen said she supported the rezoning but that those issues would need to be addressed in the upcoming process, which includes the approval of a site plan and major subdivision application.
“I think the battle here is going to be down the road in making sure (the plans are) protective of the neighborhood, as far as access onto Avalon (Road),” Larsen said. “That’s something I’m going to look at really, really closely, and also the storm water issue is something I’m very much worried about.”
The property is 1.8 acres and borders both apartment buildings and single-family homes. Several neighbors sent letters opposing the rezoning and one also spoke during public comment Tuesday. The neighbors expressed concerns about the project increasing traffic and parking issues in the area and diminishing the quality of life of the neighborhood.
Still, Larsen said the commission could not forget that the rezoning was in line with infill development goals included in Plan 2040, the community’s new comprehensive plan. Other commissioners agreed, with Commissioner Stuart Boley also emphasizing the need to make sure infill development accounted for neighborhood concerns.
“Plan 2040 does call for us to utilize infill development and I think for us to be successful in utilizing infill development we’ll need to balance the interests of the development and the existing neighbors,” Boley said. “It’s important for us to provide guidance and direction — I think that’s what we’re doing tonight.”
Some commissioners also expressed interest in the history of the building itself. It once housed a well-known film studio and subsequently was part of the university’s film school. Larsen asked about whether some aspect of the building or items from the building could be preserved and perhaps go to the Watkins Museum of History. Architect Paul Werner, who is involved in the project, responded that there was not a plan to adapt the entire building into the new project, but that there was interest in finding some elements of the building that could be incorporated or otherwise preserved for other locations.
Shipley, who voted against the rezoning, was not opposed to rezoning the property to allow for infill development or increased density, but said she thought one way to address the neighbors’ concerns would be to zone the property for a lower density than requested. The university is requesting the city’s densest zoning district, RM32.
Interim Planning Director Amy Miller said RM32 allows a maximum of 32 dwelling units per acre, but that density would also be determined by the availability of parking on the site. Miller said many of the details of the project would be addressed in the upcoming site plan, which neighbors could appeal should they find the plan inappropriate. She said a letter appealing the plan from one neighbor would be enough to send the plan to the commission for consideration.