Lawrence City Commission to consider permit required for water tower replacement; neighbors have filed protest petition
photo by: Rochelle Valverde
City leaders will soon consider approving a permit that will allow for the city to replace a water tower in a city park, a project that some neighbors oppose.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission will consider approving a special use permit for an approximately $3.8 million project to demolish the existing Stratford water tower and construct a new tower. The water tower is in Water Tower Park, 1225 Sunset Drive, and residents of the adjacent West Hills neighborhood have filed a protest petition against the permit.
The city has received dozens of pages of correspondence with various concerns about how the project will affect the neighborhood and the approximately two-acre park, which also includes trees, a backstop and playground equipment. A letter from the West Hills Homes Association states that the park is a key feature of the neighborhood in terms of recreation, aesthetics and community identity, and urges the city to proceed in the most considerate manner and include detailed plans for the park features as part of the permitting process.
“Specifically, we hope that every reasonable effort will be made to extend usage of the existing tower and, if that is not possible, that any new tower will be constructed within the footprint of the existing tower,” WHHA Board president Regina Kraus writes. The letter asks that the city provide a detailed plan for park and recreational accommodations before approving the permit.
The Municipal Services and Operations Department has assessed the existing water tower and the options for reconstruction, and is not recommending rehabilitation due in part to budgetary considerations and that the life of the structure would only be extended another 10-20 years, according to a city staff memo. The memo states that the proposed location of the new water tower, which is approximately in the north-central portion of the park, is intended to preserve the maximum amount of open space within the park.
Due to the protest petition, city commissioners will have to approve the permit with a super majority, or four out of five commissioners, according to a city staff memo to the commission. The Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the permit for approval, though with some conditions and other suggestions, so for the City Commission to deny the permit would also require a supermajority.
photo by: City of Lawrence
The proposed new water tower would be slightly larger than the existing tower and more centrally located in the park. The current water tower was constructed in 1954, is 132 feet tall and stores 500,000 gallons of water, according to city reports and the project’s website. The proposed replacement tower would be 140 feet tall and would store 750,000 gallons of water. Currently, the tower and equipment buildings are in the northwest corner of the park. The city proposes that the new tower and equipment buildings be located in the north-central area of the park. The old water tower would be removed once the new tower is complete.
Antennas and other related equipment has also been a point of discussion. The existing water tower has antennas for three cellular providers and Douglas County Emergency Communications, and the new tower will include space for the relocated telecommunication equipment and antennas. The site plan includes a small building at the base of the water tower for ground equipment related to the emergency services equipment. A staff report states that the tower is being designed to accommodate the relocation of communication equipment from the private providers, which would require the addition of other equipment buildings at the base of the tower, but that those additions would require a new special use permit.
The Planning Commission initially discussed the permit in August, and directed city staff to contact the neighborhood for additional input on the project. The Planning Commission subsequently voted unanimously in October to recommend approval of the permit, though with the additional recommendation that a landscape plan that includes all the required street trees be added to the site plan. The Planning Commission also recommended the City Commission consider the addition of a shared path, the prohibition of non-essential communication equipment leases, and that that the tower location be west of the originally proposed location, which was in the northeast quadrant of the park. The city staff memo states that staff worked with the design team to revise the site plan, which now has the tower in a north-central location as recommended by the planning commission.
The City Commission will convene virtually at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday with limited staff 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. A link to register for the Zoom meeting and directions to submit written public comment are included in the agenda that is available on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.