Trio of new single-family housing developments, including one in a former research park, proposed for Lawrence

photo by: Google Maps

A site map of 1717 Research Park Drive, which is proposed for a single family neighborhood geared towards seniors, is shown.

News and notes from around town, with a special emphasis on Lawrence’s housing scene:

• It might be fun to live on a street named Research Park Drive. (Upon hearing my address, people would exclaim that they hope it’s cranial research they are conducting.) Regardless, that old business park address may indeed become a new single-family neighborhood.

Plans have been filed at Lawrence City Hall to convert the long-vacant property at 1717 Research Park Drive into a single-family development that would house 14 smaller homes geared toward the retirement community.

If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it is about a block west of Wakarusa Drive. The property is basically behind and across the street from the large corporate center office complex at 18th and Wakarusa.

For the longest time that area and the property around it were thought to be a linchpin in Lawrence’s future business success. The area just west of Wakarusa Drive was thought to be the city’s best chance to capture corporate headquarters and tech-based companies. For a while, that seemed likely. The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America has its national headquarters in the area, and the once-promising Oread Labs business built significant office space in the vicinity.

But that momentum faded quite a while ago. Now, perhaps it is fitting that a single-family neighborhood is proposed for the research park. Figuring out how to get more single-family homes in Lawrence might be one of the issues most in need of research in the community.

The project is being proposed by a group led by Lawrence businessman Roger Johnson. Back in 2019 he had proposed a different type of use that wasn’t exactly research business park in nature, but also wasn’t at all residential. He proposed a trio of office/warehouse buildings that would be geared to service-oriented companies — think of businesses like plumbers or heating and cooling firms — that need some shop space and a place to park their trucks while being close to many west Lawrence neighborhoods.

That project won city approval but has never been built. Johnson told me that it became clear the market is more in need of single-family homes than small-scale shop and warehouse space. So, he’s seeking to shift gears. The project, though, will have to win several approvals at City Hall. The current research park-oriented zoning doesn’t allow for single-family neighborhoods.

photo by: Courtesy: City of Lawrence/Allen Belot Architect

A development plan is shown for a proposed single family neighborhood at 1717 Research Park Drive in west Lawrence.

Johnson’s group has submitted a development plan that shows how the project would come together. It would feature 14 single-family homes, and they would be smaller than a normal Lawrence house. The plans show homes would come in at less than 1,000 square feet, would have a single-car garage or carport, and would be built along private streets that would have designated spots set aside for visitor parking.

Johnson told me the concept is geared for senior housing. He said the current plans are for the units to be put up for sale rather than one company owning the entire development and leasing the homes. He said plans call for a homeowners association to be created to manage the common areas of the development and such. No word yet on when the project could potentially come to fruition, or what prices they might sell for. However, the concept looks different enough that it may be worth watching how it unfolds.

• Johnson has a bigger project in far west Lawrence that is further along in the development process. Late last month the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission gave unanimous approval for a housing development near the southeast corner of George Williams Way and Sixth Street.

That project, called Beth’s Ranch, would allow for a little more than 100 living units to be built on the largely vacant property that has housed a horse ranch and farmstead. It would contain about 82 townhomes and 24 single-family homes. The single-family homes would be built on 5,000-square-foot lots, instead of the more standard 7,000-square-foot lots that dominated during Lawrence’s suburban building era.

When we reported on the project in March, I noted that it would be a more dense development than what the city has sometimes seen. In fact, Johnson had submitted a previous plan for the property in early 2022 that would have had about 80 single-family homes on the approximately 20-acre site. That project never won approval, and my understanding is that’s because city leaders wanted a more dense development.

Increased density is often something city officials say they want to combat urban sprawl, but getting dense projects approved can sometimes be tricky nonetheless. This project still must win City Commission approval, but the unanimous vote by the Planning Commission makes that much more likely.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Plans have been filed to convert a portion of the farm field along Comfort Court in North Lawrence into a site for additional Habitat for Humanity homes.

• One of the most innovative housing projects in Lawrence is nothing new. It is Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit that produces affordable housing by using the concept of “sweat equity.” People who ultimately will own the affordable homes often physically help build the homes to help control construction costs.

Again, that initiative is not new, but it does have plans to grow. Plans have been filed at City Hall to add seven building lots to an existing Habitat for Humanity neighborhood in North Lawrence along Comfort Court, which is near Eighth and Walnut streets.

The neighborhood has about a dozen houses currently that have been built by Habitat for Humanity over many years. Erika Zimmerman, executive director for the Lawrence Habitat for Humanity organization, told me a donor helped make the purchase of the land possible.

The nonprofit jumped at the chance to get the property, and now is working to win the necessary City Commission approvals. However, groundbreaking for the homes may not be for another two years, she said. That’s because the organization also is working on developing a new neighborhood in the 31st and Kasold area. The group hopes to build 10 to 15 houses in the Kasold Curve area on land behind Connect Church. The organization also is working to complete a couple of houses in Eudora.

In all, the organization has quite a few potential building lots in a community where they can be hard to come by.

“I feel a little greedy only in that this isn’t typical for us to have this land,” Zimmerman said. “I feel greedy, but then I don’t because I know how important it is to have this amount of land available for affordable housing.”

Plus, the situation should be kept in perspective. The total number of homes the organization may be poised to build is still less than 30 over a period of a couple of years, Zimmerman noted. She said the organization probably gets two to three calls each day from community members inquiring about how to qualify for a Habitat for Humanity home. That’s up from what used to be one to two calls per week, she said.

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