Neighborhood groups share concerns that code changes could create more student housing, parking problems

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Lawrence City Hall

In in-person meetings with neighborhood groups this week, the team working to create Lawrence’s new land development code heard concerns that it could cause a “perfect storm” of student housing.

But planning leaders say they want to reassure the public that that scenario isn’t likely to happen.

During the Planning Commission’s meeting on Wednesday, commissioners heard about the feedback gathered at the 11 in-person meetings on Monday and Tuesday. Elizabeth Garvin, a worker with Clarion Associates who has helped the city develop the code, said the groups’ three largest concerns — eliminating residential parking minimums, increasing occupancy limits and allowing duplex conversion more frequently — were interrelated fears about how the changes could reshape mostly single-unit neighborhoods into student housing areas.

As the Journal-World reported, the proposed code changes would remove required parking minimums and instead implement parking maximums.

Garvin said she came away from the listening sessions with the impression that the biggest concern from neighborhoods, especially those adjacent to the University of Kansas campus, was about the absolute number of people new development could bring to the area.

“What (neighborhood groups) say they’re worried about is an increased number of students and an increased number of cars,” Garvin said.

Planning Commissioner Gary Rexroad said some of the concerns for single-family homeowners should be assuaged by the fact the code is mostly about new development, but he added that the possibility of redevelopment down the line could change the character of the neighborhood, especially if the code limits what can be built.

Garvin said that the code acts a little bit “like a funnel,” because there are other checks besides parking that will limit how dense development can be in different parts of the city.

“We realize people think their street is going to be entirely parked up and everything is going to apartments,” Garvin said. “That’s not how the code checks out, but it’s not as accessible to a non-user.”

Chelsi Hayden, the vice chair of the Planning Commission, said this helped her better grasp how the code works in practice. She asked Garvin if she and the team could provide better examples to help illustrate that the code changes “don’t play out as disastrous” as a worst-case scenario.

Garvin agreed. She said she realized during the conversations with the public that the team could go further to “allay people’s concerns,” especially with the final draft of the code set to be presented on July 19.

Although it’s called the final draft, the development code will still need approvals before it takes effect. Jeff Crick, the Planning and Development Services director, said the City Commission plans to have a work session on the code on Oct. 15 and take it up for consideration on Nov. 12.

In the meantime, the Planning Commission will have seven other meetings that focus on tweaking the development code, and the public will be able to provide ongoing feedback.


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