Buying grass for your lawn may get a little easier if North Lawrence sod shop plan wins approval
The movement in Douglas County right now is to save rural farmland, which has created an interesting question for a pending project in North Lawrence. Where do you park the tractors?
Plans have been filed for a 35,000-square-foot building to be constructed on a North Lawrence farm field along U.S. Highway 24/59 just north of the city limits. Most of the building will serve as an equipment shed for tractors and other farm implements, but it is not entirely an ordinary farm building.
The plans have been filed by Sod Shop Inc. to construct the building at the southeast corner of the intersection of U.S. Highway 24/59 and North 1900 Road to house its agricultural equipment, the business’ offices and also to have a small retail area where people could come on site to pick up their rolls of sod instead of having them delivered.
“But I’m not sure it is going to happen,” said Wade Wilbur, co-owner and president of Sod Shop Inc. “It is definitely not a done deal.”
That’s because he’s uncertain whether the project will win the necessary government approvals, including site plan approval from the Douglas County Commission. Wilbur previously tried to get the property, which is just a bit south of the Shuck Implement Company dealership, rezoned for industrial uses. But that rezoning request never won approval, as there have long been fears by some that the flat expanses of rich bottomland just outside the city limits — especially those pieces close to Interstate 70 — will be converted into an industrial park.
So, the most recent plans by the Sod Shop have dropped the request for the industrial rezoning and instead are asking for the project to simply be approved as an agricultural building.
“They see all that land remaining agricultural through 2040,” Wilbur said of county planners and the county’s comprehensive plan that goes through the next two decades. “But we are an agriculture business, and we are trying to store our equipment.”
The company currently has its offices and equipment space co-located with the Pine Landscape Center 1753 East 1500 Road. But both the landscape center and the sod business are growing, which has started to cause space at that location to become cramped, Wilbur said. He said the company considered looking for building space inside the city limits, but said he didn’t think it would make sense having the tractors and other farm implements going on city streets. Plus, like any farmer, he wants to be close to his fields, he said.
The company grows sod on about 750 acres of bottomland in the Kaw River valley, with a couple of the fields near its current location and a couple of additional fields just west of its proposed location.
It will be interesting to see what type of conversation the project sparks about agricultural uses in Douglas County. Unlike many farmers, this operation doesn’t send its products to the farmers’ market or even the feedlot. Wilbur said about 80% of the sod grown in rural Lawrence actually is shipped to Kansas City, with Johnson County being a big market.
“A lot of the housing developments in Kansas City require sod,” Wilbur said. “It has to be down before they can close on the house. Our business follows the housing market, but it has been strong.”
The company employs about 30 people in Lawrence.
Currently, Sod Shop primarily sells to larger customers, but Wilbur said part of the idea behind the move is to create a new location that is easier for homeowners to stop by and learn about sod options.
“My desire is to be able to sell some sod in smaller quantities,” Wilbur said.
However, he said there are no plans to open up a full lawn and garden center. Sod Shop, which got its start in the Wichita area about 20 years ago, does operate a lawn and garden center in that market. Wilbur said the most he would like to do in Lawrence is sell some fertilizer and other such products that are used directly for the sod. Whether that would be allowed under the agricultural zoning designation is unclear.
Wilbur said he hopes to get a hearing before the County Commission in the next few weeks and, if approved, would like to have the building in operation by next summer.
While we are in the North Lawrence area, I’ll pass along information about one other project you may see underway soon. Look for a warehouse expansion at Scanning America, 1440 N. Third St. The company has filed plans with City Hall to add about 5,900 square feet to its existing warehouse at the site.
The company converts paper documents into electronic files, but clients often want the paper documents saved for a certain period of time, CEO Tim Hunsinger told me via email. That’s causing the current warehouse to fill up more quickly. (I can attest to not letting your paper warehouse become too full. I was unable to open my high school locker for nearly the entire six years due to concerns of being crushed by overflow paper.)
The additional warehouse space will expand the Lawrence location’s capacity to do business but won’t result in any immediate job gains, he said.
“We need the space for normal operations, so it is critical to maintaining the jobs we do have,” Hunsinger said.