Douglas County Commission poised to deny request to rezone rural land for residential development
photo by: Meeting screenshot/Douglas County Commission
County leaders are poised to deny a rural landowner’s request to develop her nearly 70-acre property just west of Lawrence into a residential subdivision.
At its meeting Wednesday, the Douglas County Commission directed county staff to develop a future item for consideration that would formally deny Mary Wakeman’s request to rezone her property at the northwest corner of East 800 Road and North 1500 Road from Ag-1, an agricultural district, to a Cluster Development, which allows for residential uses.
Commission Chair Patrick Kelly said he did not want the commission to deny the project until county staff crafted a “legally sound” denial to the request. County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said staff would bring that item to the commission in a future meeting.
Wakeman, who called the proposed development Kanwaka Prairie Estates, planned for a 10-lot residential subdivision for the property. About 40% of the land would have been left undeveloped to protect the environmentally sensitive lands in the area, which include wetland, a stream corridor and native prairie.
But the commissioners expressed several concerns with the project. Commissioner Nancy Thellman said one of her concerns was that the project would require the county to allow a variance on the road and drainage requirements for a cluster development outlined in the county’s new zoning codes, which were established earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Michelle Derusseau expressed concerns about the residential density, noting other residential developments in the area consist of fewer homes. She asked Wakeman why she wanted 10 homes on 3 acres each instead of a development with fewer homes and larger lot sizes.
Wakeman said she chose the 10-lot plan because the lot sizes were similar to lots in nearby developments. She also noted the subdivision planned to have rules and restrictions on what homes could be in the development that would prohibit “cookie-cutter” homes.
Area residents also voiced their opposition during the meeting, and Planner Mary Miller said some residents started a petition to challenge the project. Some of their concerns included how North 1500 Road would be affected by increased traffic and whether the subdivision was compatible with the rural character of the area.
Patrick Watkins, an attorney for Wakeman, said he believed similar development in that area was already underway and that Wakeman followed the county guidelines the best she could.
But with the variance needed to the county’s new codes, the commissioners said they couldn’t allow the project.
“We’re setting precedents with this project by already giving it variances, so that’s a future opportunity for developers to expect the same lessening of standards,” Thellman said.
In other business, commissioners voted to discontinue a voluntary tax distribution period that occurs in December.
Douglas County collects property taxes for many entities, including local municipalities and school districts. Some of those entities have historically received a 10% tax distribution in December, but this is not required by state law, and acting County Treasurer Adam Rains had told the commission in a memo that keeping the tax distribution period in December created problems for his office.
With the revocation, the December tax distribution will be discontinued starting in 2021.
The commissioners also received a report from Tara Laughlin of accounting firm Allen, Gibbs & Houlik and finalized its 2019 audit process.
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