Planning Commission approves proposed county zoning regulation changes after revising Big Springs district
photo by: Meeting screenshot/City of Lawrence YouTube Channel
After several Big Springs residents voiced opposition to proposed changes to the Douglas County zoning regulations, county planning staff recently offered a new district just for their community.
Big Springs is an unincorporated community in northwest Douglas County, located along U.S. Highway 40.
Planner Mary Miller on Wednesday told the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Commission that the revised proposal now includes the Big Springs Community District, according to a video recording of the meeting. The newly created district adds the ability for commercial property owners of that community to also use their land for residential purposes.
“Their No. 1 concern was losing the ability to have residential uses,” Miller said. “Most of the properties in Big Springs are used for residential.”
Along with that revision, the Planning Commission unanimously approved the proposed county zoning regulation changes during its meeting. The proposal will be forwarded to the Douglas County Commission for final consideration.
The Big Springs residents expressed their concerns during the Planning Commission’s December meeting.
They repeatedly said that they wanted to remain with their current zoning district, a business district known as B-2, rather than being moved to the newly created Village District.
The purpose of the Village District is to support the continued existence of unincorporated communities — such as Big Springs, Stull, Vinland and others — by establishing a unique set of standards for them and allowing a variety of uses without the requirement to rezone. Currently these areas are zoned for agricultural or business uses.
However, the Big Springs residents said the Village District would hinder their ability to operate businesses and have a home on the same property. After hearing from those residents, Miller said planning staff met with them in early January to discuss the issue and revise the community’s districting.
Miller said during the Wednesday meeting that the community’s newly created district is similar to the proposed General Business district, but with the added benefit of allowing residential uses on the same land as commercial properties.
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 that is located outside of 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 a landowner to subdivide their land to go through the 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.
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