Douglas County Commission to consider authorizing new zoning regulations, extend moratorium on subdividing land

photo by: Chris Conde

The Douglas County Courthouse is pictured in September 2018.

The Douglas County Commission on Wednesday will consider authorizing new zoning regulations, which the county staff has been pursuing in light of increased residential development in rural areas.

But the commission will also consider extending its postponement on processing applications to subdivide land in those areas of the county for another month — until March 22.

In August, the County Commission established a six-month moratorium on processing the applications, which are known as certificates of survey, to give county staff time to develop the new zoning regulations. That moratorium is set to expire on Friday.

Tonya Voigt, the county’s zoning director, said in a memo to the commissioners that the moratorium extension was needed because the changes to the zoning regulations called for some amendments to the joint city-county subdivision codes as well. While the County Commission will consider approving the amended subdivision regulations with the zoning changes on Wednesday, the Lawrence City of Commission will need to weigh in on the subdivision changes before they can be officially authorized, Voigt told the Journal-World on Tuesday.

Planner Mary Miller said the City Commission was expected to consider the subdivision amendments for initial approval on March 3 and final approval on March 17.

According to a memo to the commissioners, the proposed subdivision amendments are clarifying changes needed to accommodate the revisions in the zoning regulations. Some of them are related to the districts where land can be subdivided and the process needed to do it, both of which are focuses in the proposed zoning regulations.

The county began considering updating the zoning regulations after noticing a dramatic increase in development in the rural parts of the county in 2018. It also recently approved its comprehensive plan, which includes the goal of drafting new zoning regulations that preserve agricultural uses of land and the rural character of the unincorporated areas of the county.

The major changes in the proposed regulations include the creation of new agricultural districts for properties in the rural parts of the county and would add a step to the process of subdividing land outside the urban growth area that surrounds Lawrence.

The majority of rural land in the county would fall into a zoning district known as “Ag-1” under the new rules. County officials previously said Ag-1 would be for traditional farming operations on large parcels of land. But another kind of rural zoning, “Ag-2,” could be used for smaller agricultural operations, such as a winery, that sit on at least 20 acres of land, and it also could be subdivided into a number of smaller residential lots.

The new step would require an application from landowners to subdivide their land to go through the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Commission, providing an opportunity for the public to weigh in. Currently, the county’s zoning regulations allow applications to be administratively approved and they do not have a specific public process.

Other proposed major changes include simplifying industrial and business districts and the creation of cluster preservation districts to accurately zone already established residential areas.

After planning staff made some edits to the proposed codes to address concerns voiced by residents of Big Springs, an unincorporated community in northwest Douglas County, the Planning Commission unanimously approved forwarding the new regulations to the County Commission during its meeting on Jan. 22.

The County Commission will meet at 4 and 5:30 p.m. for its work session and regular meeting, respectively, Wednesday at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. Full agendas are available online at

Related coverage

Aug. 18, 2019: ‘Shocking’ increase of residential development in rural parts of Douglas County likely to bring code changes

Sept. 18, 2019: Douglas County Commission hears proposal to change county’s rules for dividing rural land

Dec. 1, 2019: Douglas County’s proposed zoning code changes heading to Planning Commission soon

Dec. 16, 2019: Residents of Big Springs voice opposition to Douglas County’s proposed zoning regulation changes

Jan. 24, 2020: Planning Commission approves proposed county zoning regulation changes after revising Big Springs district

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