Developer files plans for new single-family neighborhood in eastern Lawrence; DCCCA files plans near Kasold Curve
photo by: Chad Lawhorn
If I had been an apartment dweller in the past decade, I’m pretty sure I would have adopted the philosophy that it is easier to move to a new apartment than clean the one I’m in. New apartments were that abundant in Lawrence.
It is hardly news that apartment construction boomed in Lawrence. It often was the subject of derisive comments by people who feared the town was going to be overrun by apartments. Less discussed was that while all these new apartments were being built, a lot fewer single-family homes were being constructed.
That backstory is partially why a recent development filing at City Hall caught my eye: It is proposing to rezone land that already is approved for apartment development and turn it into a new single-family neighborhood.
Plans call for vacant property at 28th Street and O’Connell Road in eastern Lawrence to be converted into a new single-family neighborhood with at least 22 new homes. In the rezoning application, the development group said the approximately 10-acre site was appropriate for apartment development, but “the demand has not been there.”
Indeed, there have been building permits for only six apartment units in Lawrence through May of this year, according to city records. Last year, there were permits for only 94 units. That may sound like a lot, but during the previous decade, Lawrence averaged more than 350 apartment units per year.
There certainly hasn’t been what I would call a boom in new single-family home construction to take the place of the apartment construction. But as real estate agents continue to stress how few homes are available for sale in Lawrence, we are starting to see some signs of increased home construction.
“Lawrence needs affordable housing, and that is what we are going to try to do with it,” said Frank Salb, a longtime Lawrence builder who is developing the new neighborhood. “We have some new industry coming into the business park in that area. A lot of those employees out there will need homes to live in. Hopefully we can have some housing close to where they work.”
The property is a couple of blocks south of Lawrence VenturePark, which has attracted snack food manufacturer Pretzels Inc. and U.S. Engineering Metalworks, which produces specialized heating and cooling ductwork products.
Salb is working with the Lawrence nonprofit Tenants to Homeowners to locate several affordable homes in the neighborhood. Salb said he was optimistic that Tenants to Homeowners would buy six to seven lots in the development. The organization buys lots and build homes that it then sells for less than normal market values. In addition, restrictions on the properties limit how much they can be resold for. Salb also said he hoped to have Habitat for Humanity build a home or two in the neighborhood.
There will be machinations to watch at Lawrence City Hall, though. The rezoning request itself may not be difficult to win approval for, given that neighbors generally like being next to single-family homes better than apartments. But Salb said he would be asking the city for some help in extending 28th Street to the development. Currently, 28th Street ends on the west side of O’Connell Road. The proposed project is on the east side of O’Connell Road.
Salb didn’t provide me information on how much financial assistance he may seek from the city. It might be an interesting test case to watch. The city has dedicated funding for affordable housing projects, but will it view providing city funds to a private developer to help open up a neighborhood as the way to spur affordable housing?
Salb argues that it certainly can because the less he has to spend on the road construction, the less he can sell the lots to builders for. Land developers — which is the role Salb is playing after he sold his homebuilding business to his son — generally recoup their development costs and make their profit by selling lots to the construction companies that actually build the homes.
That part of the business has changed a lot in the last 30-plus years that Salb has been in the housing industry in Lawrence, he said.
“When I started in the ’80s, some of the first lots I bought were $11,000, and we were selling homes for $65,000 to $70,000,” Salb said. “Now, we are talking about $65,000 to $75,000 just for the lots.”
Salb said that he hoped to get started on the project soon, but that the city participation on 28th Street was pretty critical to how the project proceeds. In addition to the 22 single-family building lots, plans call for part of the property to remain zoned RM-15 multifamily development. But instead of building traditional apartments on the site, the new plans call for 17 duplex lots.
As I noted earlier, we don’t yet have a single-family building boom, but there are signs the pace is picking up. The city recently released its building permits through May, and the figures show single-family home construction is up nearly 40% from a year ago.
That sounds like a lot, but we’re still talking fairly small numbers. Building permits have been issued for 74 new homes in Lawrence through May. That’s up from 54 building permits for new single-family homes issued during the same period a year ago. The 74 single-family permits are the highest total since 2017, when 91 permits were issued during the period.
That puts Lawrence on pace for probably 150 to 170 new single-family homes in 2021. That would be a little better than the recent average, but so much slower than how Lawrence used to add homes. I still think one of the more notable statistics about Lawrence growth is that from 1991 to 2004, Lawrence had a streak of building 300 or more single-family homes every single year.
Lawrence City Hall received one other filing recently that could lead to another single-family neighborhood. DCCCA, the Lawrence-based nonprofit that does drug and alcohol counseling, has filed plans to annex a 3-acre piece of property along 31st Street into the city limits. It is asking that the vacant property be zoned for residential, single-family uses.
However, in the filing documents, DCCCA says it has no immediate plans to develop the property. The site, which currently has a county address of 1241 North 1300 Road, is next door to DCCCA’s First Step House, which is a treatment center near the curve where 31st Street turns into Kasold Drive. The vacant property — which in the past year underwent a lot of grading and tree removal — is just east of First Step House.
I don’t have much information on why DCCCA wants the property annexed into the city and zoned for residential uses, but I am playing phone tag with a spokesman there. If I get any significant update, I’ll pass it along, but it does sound like there aren’t any plans imminent. It is worth noting, however, that DCCCA owns another, much larger vacant tract of ground that is immediately east of the 3-acre site. That larger piece of ground already is in the city limits and is already zoned for residential development.
The rezoning and annexation for the 3-acre site ultimately will need to win City Commission approval.