Hoping for compromise, Lawrence City Commission votes to seek consultant for potential road along dog park

photo by: Screenshot/City of Lawrence

The Lawrence City Commission meets over video conferencing software for its meeting Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020.

Hoping for a compromise, city leaders have voted to go forward with community engagement regarding a proposal to extend a road near the Mutt Run Off-Leash Dog Park that more than 1,300 Lawrence residents say they oppose.

As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted 4-1, with Commissioner Courtney Shipley opposed, to authorize the city to issue a request for qualifications for public engagement and design services for the extension of West 27th Street adjacent to the city dog park. However, commissioners emphasized that there was no guarantee that the project would move past the public engagement portion of the contract to final design.

“It definitely needs to be that two-step process, so we don’t get into it so far that we’ve spent more money than is necessary if we can’t come up with some level of compromise on what’s going to happen here,” Commissioner Lisa Larsen said.

The city received a $1.04 million grant from the Kansas Department of Transportation to help fund the approximately $1.55 million project, according to a city staff memo to the commission. The project would install an approximately 1-mile paved roadway connecting existing segments of West 27th Street on both the east and west sides of the Clinton Lake spillway, creating a continuous roadway from the Kansas Highway 10 and 27th Street intersection to East 902 Road at the dog park. The approximately 100-acre dog park would not decrease in size under the proposal, but the road would run along the edge of the park, requiring the area to be fenced for the dogs’ safety.

A group of Lawrence residents has come out against the proposed road, and a petition asking for a moratorium on the project now has more than 1,300 signatures, according to a document the group shared with the Journal-World.

City officials have said the road project aims to provide more direct access to the dog park, Clinton Lake and nearby Eagle Bend Golf Course, as well as improve access at the city’s Youth Sports Complex. The connection would provide a second entry/exit point to the sports complex, which currently has only one access point at the intersection of K-10 and 27th Street and commonly creates traffic backups near the intersection. As part of their request for a moratorium, the opponents of the road project want the city to consider other options for addressing traffic congestion at the intersection.

More than a dozen people either spoke to the commission as part of public comment Tuesday or submitted correspondence against the project. A couple others said that thousands of people also use the sports complex, and that the city should at least move forward with community engagement to discuss options.

However, Lawrence resident Lynn Gimpel said that it did not make sense to “urbanize the beautiful open green space” of the dog park to address traffic issues at the sport complex that only happen on certain days for part of the year.

“We go to the Mutt Run to get away from traffic,” Gimpel said. “The idea of permanently destroying it to provide a temporary solution to a traffic problem that occurs less than half the year is unconscionable.”

Commissioners did not indicate whether they were supportive of the proposal to build a road, and made clear that the step they were taking Tuesday was only to seek proposals for the consulting contract. They also clarified that the contract would come back to the commission for review before being finalized and that the commission must provide another approval before consultants went forward with final design.

Shipley, who voted against the authorization, said she didn’t think the city’s first solution should be to build a new road, especially given the commission’s priorities regarding green space and past discussions about reducing driving and encouraging use of public transportation.

Though Vice Mayor Brad Finkeldei voted to move forward, he said he really wanted a two-step process because he was dubious that community engagement would be successful at getting support or consensus for building the road. He said he wanted the group of residents opposing the road to know there was still a “no build option” on the table.

“I want the Mutt Run people to know that’s a real option as part of this, and it certainly is,” Finkeldei said. “But I don’t want to get to a point where we spend a lot of money only to find out that we haven’t made progress.”

City staff proposes that the community engagement process include public meetings, the formation of a steering committee of various stakeholders, and the identification of alternative alignments for the road, according to the memo.

More from Tuesday’s meeting

Lawrence City Commission approves incentives for pretzel facility that will add nearly 300 jobs

Lawrence City Commission approves outside study of police department to inform potential changes to police duties

City Commission 10/20/20


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