Douglas County commissioners suggest no changes to Plan 2040, praise its approach to rural areas

photo by: Dylan Lysen

The Douglas County Commission during their meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.

The Douglas County Commission didn’t suggest any changes to a proposed comprehensive plan for the county and the City of Lawrence at a Wednesday work session, and one commissioner praised the plan’s focus on preserving rural areas.

Wednesday’s session was the commission’s first look at the plan, known as Plan 2040, which outlines how the city and county will consider development and land use in the future. The commission hasn’t voted on the plan yet — it’s tentatively scheduled to do so during its next meeting on Oct. 16 — but commissioners said they were pleased with the work that had already been done.

“Our responsibility here is not to undo all the work that has been done to get to the point that it is today,” Commissioner Patrick Kelly said, noting that the plan had been in the works for almost five years. “I think we need to honor that tremendous work.”

For its part, the Lawrence City Commission approved Plan 2040 during its meeting on Oct. 1. The county portion of the plan focuses on how to consider development in rural areas, which commissioners previously said they wanted to slow down after a dramatic increase in development in 2018.

The plan’s proposed goals for the county include preserving “the visual distinction between urban and rural areas” and protecting the “rural character” of the parts of the county outside of Lawrence’s urban growth area. It also includes goals of minimizing the conversion of agricultural land to nonagricultural uses and maintaining workable land and high-quality soil for future generations.

County Commissioner Nancy Thellman said she was impressed with how the plan “really does honor our rural community and our natural resources in ways that are incredibly important.” She said she especially appreciated the plan’s focus on preservation of workable agricultural land.

“Thinking about the next generation, I’m just so grateful you helped shape that,” Thellman told Karen Willey, a Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioner who helped craft the plan.

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Planning Manager Jeff Crick presents an overview of the proposed 2040 Comprehensive Plan for Lawrence and Douglas County during a County Commission work session on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.

However, Kelly said he noticed the plan did not specifically define what would count as an agricultural use of land. Scott McCullough, Lawrence’s planning and development services director, said that was beyond the scope of the plan and would be up the County Commission to determine.

McCullough said the proposed plan was not a regulatory document, but rather a set of broad guidelines outlining a vision for the future.

“Ultimately, it is up to the County Commission to determine what this policy intends,” he said.

If the county signs off on it, Plan 2040 will replace the current plan, Horizon 2020. Changes made by either the city or county will go back to the Planning Commission.

In other business, the commission denied two appeals to approved certificates of survey. A certificate of survey is an application to subdivide a parcel of land that is 20 acres or larger into smaller residential lots.

After hearing arguments from rural residents who opposed their neighbors’ plans to subdivide land, the commissioners said the appeals did not provide evidence that county staffers were in error when they approved the certificates of survey.

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