Lawrence City Commission will again consider moving general public comment period later in agenda

photo by: Rochelle Valverde/Journal-World

Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St., is pictured on Jan. 31, 2023.

The Lawrence City Commission is once again set to consider changes to the protocol for general public comment at its weekly meetings, this time due to apparent difficulties with recording this portion of the meeting while simultaneously stopping the live broadcast.

At Tuesday’s City Commission meeting, commissioners are being asked to consider moving the general public comment period to the very end of the meeting agenda. As the Journal-World has reported, the group approved changes to its meeting procedures last month that already included moving the period from near the beginning of the agenda to almost the end, with only commission items and the commission calendar taking place afterward prior to adjournment.

Part of those changes included that the general public comment period was no longer to be broadcast live, with commissioners requesting that it still be filmed so it can be included with the recording posted online after each meeting. But city staff now says that isn’t possible based on the current agenda order. Recordings of City Commission and other advisory boards’ meetings are typically taken via a continuous livestream on the city’s YouTube channel.

“In discussions with our video production specialist, it was determined that we are unable to meet … these directives with current technology,” the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting reads. “To stop broadcasting general public comment and also maintain a recording of it, it must be placed at the end of the meeting.”

The agenda item report also notes that commissioners can maintain the current order of business if they wish, but the city “would not be able to maintain a recording” of the general public comment period if it is not broadcast live.

A city spokesperson recently told the Journal-World that the city was working on “a few options that will address the challenges in ceasing the broadcast of public commentary that we’ve seen of late.”

In other business, commissioners will:

• Host a public hearing to consider nominating First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway, to the Lawrence Register of Historic Places.

The property, constructed in the late 1960s, is being nominated for its architecture and is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Register of Historic Kansas Places. Members of the city’s Historic Resources Commission voted to recommend that the City Commission nominate the structure for the local register at its April meeting.

As the Journal-World has reported, First Presbyterian Church is the same church that sued the city to halt a housing project planned for property across the street from the church at 2300 Crestline Drive. According to online court records, there hasn’t been any decision in the case since a two-day bench trial took place in Douglas County District Court in early March.

Those legal proceedings were discussed during the April HRC meeting. Some people like Greg Musil, an attorney representing the property owners across the street, told the group that the nomination would impose “a new burden” on developers due to one requirement of neighboring properties who wish to engage in some development activities near a historic property.

In Lawrence, local historic properties gain an accompanying 250-foot “context area” requiring a certificate of approval before actions like demolitions or exterior construction visible from the public right of way can occur.

Historic Resources Administrator Lynne Braddock Zollner said review of any new construction in that context area would look mainly toward whether there would be an impact on the church itself, which she said city staff believes “would be very difficult” to prove due to the church’s siting and a lack of cohesive context in surrounding properties.

Others who spoke at the April meeting included Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority CEO Shannon Oury, who said the LDCHA had “concerns” about how the designation might affect an ongoing expansion project at its nearby Clinton Place Apartments.

But Jeff Southard, a member of the congregation who submitted the historic register nomination in December 2023, pushed back against the idea that the ongoing litigation has anything to do with the historic register nomination, calling it a “false premise.”

“It will probably be alleged, though, that our church’s desire to obtain this designation is part of a scheme to stop development on the west side of Crestline,” Southard said at the April meeting. “If that were actually true, which it’s not, why didn’t the church do this three years ago, rather than waste all of the time and money with the lawsuit — which will go on whatever this commission does, and win or lose, First Presbyterian is still going to seek this designation, as we have from the state and federal governments?”

• Consider approving a recommended boundary for the first step of the site selection process for a new downtown bus station.

As the Journal-World reported, city leaders approved a resolution at the start of 2024 that lays out the scope of work for a steering committee for the project. That group is tasked with making a recommendation to the City Commission by the end of the year regarding which sites in downtown Lawrence should be considered for a new bus station.

On Tuesday, city leaders are considering taking action on the first step of the steering committee’s duties: establishing a downtown boundary. Lawrence Transit is presenting a recommended map, but commissioners will also have discretion to make adjustments if they wish before taking a vote.

The boundary up for consideration this week generally stretches from the intersection of Sixth and Massachusetts streets to just past the Douglas County Courthouse at the intersection of 11th and Massachusetts streets. It covers a wider area between Sixth and Ninth streets, extending to Tennessee and Rhode Island streets. The northern boundary border also branches out along the edge of downtown Lawrence over to the Amtrak station along New Jersey Street. Further south toward the courthouse, the boundary condenses closer to Massachusetts Street, save for a small chunk covering the parking lot near the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center and South Park.

photo by: City of Lawrence screenshot

This map shows a recommended boundary area for the potential site of a new downtown bus station.

If that boundary is approved, the steering committee’s next steps will be determining their site selection criteria, a process slated to take place between now and August.

• During a work session, receive feedback on a major renovation project at the city’s Outdoor Aquatic Center, 727 Kentucky St.

As the Journal-World has reported, the city began gathering public feedback about a $6.1 million renovation planned for the aquatic center in April. The city has said the renovation aims to address maintenance concerns, provide new amenities and result in an expanded pool season.

The City Commission will see four draft concepts developed using community input from the past two months. Some of them focus on large-scale new features like a lazy river or large splash pad, while others combine multiple elements for further variety or a focus on family leisure. Further public engagement about the concepts will take place this summer, with a recommended concept slated to return to a City Commission agenda in August.

• During a work session, hear an update on the Lawrence Police Department’s progress toward accreditation with the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

Commissioners don’t take any action on items discussed during work sessions.

The City Commission will convene at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. A live stream of the meeting can be viewed via Zoom or the city’s YouTube channel.


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