City seeks input from residents regarding how pandemic affects long-term plan for downtown

Massachusetts Street is illuminated by holiday lights and vehicles on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017.

Though obviously not planned when the process first began two years ago, the city’s master plan for the downtown will now account for how the COVID-19 pandemic and related changes affect the future of downtown.

The city hired a consulting firm, Houseal Lavigne Associates, to complete the Downtown Master Plan in August 2018. So far, the consultants are on the sixth of seven steps in the process, which have included community input, a market and demographic analysis, and creation of goals and a vision for downtown. Consultants began the process of drafting the plan at the beginning of this year, but will now reopen community input due to the pandemic.

City staff and consultants are now seeking feedback from stakeholders and the community regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the long-term vision for downtown Lawrence, according to a news release from the city. Additional feedback regarding impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the future of downtown can be given through several formats in the coming weeks and will help inform the master plan.

A few businesses have either permanently or temporarily closed due to the pandemic. Others have added curbside or delivery options to their regular services, or have used a new city program that allows downtown businesses to repurpose sidewalks and parking near their storefronts for outdoor dining and other uses. Earlier this month, the City Commission expressed strong support for extending that program, with two commissioners saying that they thought it could potentially be made a permanent option.

The preliminary part of the plan that contains the vision, goals and objectives for downtown was previously released in January. One of the changes included in the draft vision statement was a shift to more “experienced-based” businesses in downtown, as the Journal-World previously reported. Originally, the city aimed to have the master plan completed and adopted in the spring, but that schedule has been delayed.

When the master plan is complete, it will cover downtown land use and development for the next 20 years, touching on areas as diverse as building heights, parking, transportation, infrastructure, beautification and streetscapes. So far, the draft includes the vision for downtown, as well as economic data and summaries of community input. Ultimately, specific policy recommendations will be included in the master plan.

Residents can send comments regarding whether and how the pandemic has impacted the long-term vision for downtown by attending a virtual meeting, filling out an online survey or sending an email with comments to downtownplan@lawrenceks.org, according to the news release. Four virtual meetings — which also allow residents to call in via phone — will take place later this month, with the first occurring on Oct. 22. Details about all ways to give input and links to register for the virtual meetings is available under the News & Updates section of the project website, hlplanning.com/portals/lawrence/.

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