Plans filed for storage business near northwest entrance to city; rural housing development sought near Clinton Lake
photo by: Journal-World file photo
We all got new hobbies in 2020, and for many it was pushing the “Buy Now” button on the computer screen. 2021’s hobby may be finding a place to store it all. (As I’ve already explained, I didn’t think the Jumbotron would be that jumbo.) Regardless, area residents soon might have a new self-storage business to choose from in far west Lawrence.
“Might” is the key word in that statement. The project still has to win some significant approvals, and past development proposals have sparked concerns from neighbors and planners.
Plans have been filed at Lawrence City Hall for a new “climate-controlled storage facility” to be built at 5275 W. Sixth St. If you are having a hard time picturing the site, it actually is a fairly visible location for motorists coming into the city along Sixth Street. It is the old white farmhouse that sits atop the hill at basically Sixth Street and Queens Road.
I actually wrote about the property extensively a long time ago — back in 2008 — when Bill and Darlene Naff were struggling with whether to sell their longtime country home that had now become clearly planted in the path of a growing city. The elderly couple clearly did decide to sell the home, as they decided being surrounded by city development wasn’t for them, but I’m not sure either of them would have believed in 2008 that property would continue to be undeveloped as we start 2021.
In fact, the old white farmhouse still stands, but is just a shell of itself. Back in 2018, we reported the home was used by a specialized unit of firefighters that breached walls, broke windows and tore up the interior as part of training exercises in fire rescue techniques. Plans called for the house to be demolished a short time later as part of a new upscale townhouse development.
That development never happened, though, and neither did the demolition. Now, storage units may become the beacon atop this particular hill.
Details about the storage unit project are a bit sparse currently. The project isn’t yet to the design phase. Rather, developers have to win the right zoning designation for the site. Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects has filed a request to rezone the property from a multifamily apartment zoning to a light industrial zoning category. Werner’s firm has said the design phase of the project would ensure the facility fit in with the neighborhood.
“When people think of climate-controlled storage, they may think of just a big gray box,” Werner’s firm wrote in its zoning application. “We will provide elevations for what we are proposing. It will look more like an office building. We feel that a well-designed building will benefit the neighborhood and get rid of the burned out house that sits there now.”
Any future debate about the project, though, may center more on what a light industrial zoning category would allow on the site in the future. Werner’s firm said it was proposing a “conditional” zoning for the property, meaning the property owner would agree to certain conditions that would prohibit more intensive types of industrial development that normally would be allowed with an industrial zoning designation.
As for the owners, the property currently is owned by Beckmeisters LLC, which is the group that owns the growing Bridge Haven assisted living communities in west Lawrence. Its leader, Robert Wilson, was behind the townhome development proposed in 2018. But I’m not sure if Beckmeisters is intending to develop the storage units or sell the site to someone else who will create the project.
Regardless, the bigger issue seems to be whether city officials have new ideas on how to develop what has become a difficult, yet pretty visible, site near one of the gateways into the city. Werner alluded to that issue in its zoning application.
“This road is a major gateway to the city, and right now when people come into town on that road, they see a vacant house,” Werner wrote in the application. “Lack of insight by the city and surrounding property owners has made developing this site difficult. The only other option would be more multi-family units here.”
While it remains to be seen whether residents will object to plans for a storage facility next to their homes, a separate set of plans has been filed calling for new residences to be built near an existing storage facility.
That pending development also is in far west Lawrence, and it is on an interesting site too; it is near the entrance to Clinton State Park.
Plans have been filed with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department for a new rural housing development to be built just north of the Clinton Storage facility. You know the facility I’m talking about. It used to be a gas station but now is the storage facility full of boats and RVs. Motorists pass by it as they turn onto the state park’s entrance road.
The approximately 47-acre property is owned by a group led by longtime Lawrence developer Mike Stultz. Preliminary plans indicate the new development won’t have a lot of homes. A concept plan shows nine lots on the property, meaning it would be a large-lot rural type of neighborhood. Technically, though, the project isn’t to the design stage, which is why the current plans are conceptual. Rather, the project is seeking a new zoning designation: the county’s relatively new CP zoning designation, which basically allows for certain types of rural land to be developed with homes. Generally, the zoning category doesn’t allow for lot sizes less than 3 acres.
The project is not seeking annexation into the Lawrence city limits, which would be a bigger deal because it would allow for greater density and the city thus far hasn’t been interested in allowing much development west of the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Still, the project will be worth watching because it is not every day that new housing developments that close to Clinton Lake become available.