More details emerge about major south Lawrence development along U.S. Highway 59, as key city zoning votes near
photo by: Nick Krug
One of Lawrence’s largest development projects in years is about to enter a crucial period.
Plans to build hundreds of homes and a couple hundred thousand square feet of retail space and hotels on 177 acres of agricultural land along the South Lawrence Trafficway will be seeking critical zoning approvals from city officials in the coming weeks.
At stake in the near term is whether Lawrence’s tight housing market will see an infusion of more than 150 building lots for new homes in the next year. Longer term, the stakes involve whether the community will get a few new retailers, a new entertainment district, and whether Lawrence will have a new southern gateway into town.
Members of the Wichita-based development group are pushing hard to get City Hall approvals by November, so construction on the housing portion of the development could be underway next summer.
“Our developers are biting at the bit, and they are ready to go,” Phil Struble — president of Lawrence-based Landplan Engineering, which is leading the planning for the project — told me. “Lawrence needs everything we are bringing in, desperately.”
The project is at the southeast corner of the U.S. Highway 59 and SLT interchange. The property, which is currently a bean field and vacant agricultural land, has been the site of multiple development proposals over the years. All have failed to win necessary city approvals.
But as we reported in March, the Lawrence City Commission narrowly approved an annexation request for the project, which has been dubbed New Boston Crossing. That annexation approval is more of an approval than any other proposed project at the site has received.
“That was a huge step,” Struble said of the annexation. “Our city leaders basically said we want to do something down here. We are ready.”
If city commissioners, however, don’t follow through and approve the rezoning requests, the annexation would mean little. Struble is hoping the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will consider the rezoning requests in October and that the City Commission will hear the item in November. However, he said the city hasn’t yet set dates for the hearings.
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World
The rezoning documents filed with the city, though, do provide more details about the project. They include:
• In addition to lots of single-family housing — plans call for nearly 190 single-family houses and townhomes when the project is completed — the development will include a lot of new apartments or condominiums. The new plans show space for 600 “apartments/condo” units on the eastern edge of the site.
• The eastern edge of the site would be the first part of the project to develop. That’s because the city several years ago extended Michigan Street south of the SLT. The new housing on the eastern edge of the development would be able to take its access off of Michigan Street.
• The retail portions of the project likely would not open until 2027. That’s because the development needs to wait for the Kansas Department of Transportation to install a new traffic signal on U.S. Highway 59, which is also south Iowa Street. That signal work is expected to be completed when KDOT expands the western leg of the SLT to four lanes. That work will involve a relocation of the SLT entrance and exit ramps on Iowa Street. The signal will be installed as part of that work. The new commercial development basically would be right across the street from the new exit ramp of the SLT.
• The commercial plans are not showing a lot of space for traditional big box retailers. Instead, the largest lots on the site are being labeled as sites for “multipurpose recreational facilities.” Struble said developers are envisioning everything from a bowling alley to movie theaters to pickleball-themed restaurants, and other such experiential retail types of businesses.
Struble said the developers — a group led by Wichita businessman Phil Bundy — particularly want some projects that appeal to youth in the community because their market research has shown a lack of activities for middle school and high school students in Lawrence.
“There are lots of new and different ideas that you can bring in today, and we want to put them all in one place that is safe for kids, easy for parents to drop them off, and a place that has plenty of stuff for parents to do around there, if they want to stay,” Struble said.
However, the two lots set aside for recreational purposes would have the zoning category of CC-200, which would allow for more traditional big box retail development to occur on the sites if the recreational components don’t materialize.
• Other retail components include a heavy helping of restaurants. The plans show sites for two sit-down restaurants and four fast-food restaurants with drive-thrus. Tenants have not been announced for any of the sites. Also included in the plans is a convenience store/gas station with 10 fueling pumps along the U.S. 59 frontage of the property. One lot is devoted to a 20,000-square-foot “shopping plaza.”
Struble said developers hope to build multi-story buildings on the site that will allow for retail and commercial uses on the ground floor, while having apartments on the upper floors.
“We think that is the future,” Struble said of the mixed-used buildings.
• A pair of hotels also are envisioned for the site. The plan shows two hotel lots side by side, near the southern edge of the development. The plan, which is conceptual in nature, lists them as business hotels, each with 90 rooms.
• Three lots, also on the southern edge of the development, are listed as sites for medical office buildings.
• The very southern portion of the property is undeveloped because it is the area closest to the Wakarusa River. The fact that some of the property being developed is in the floodplain led to some of the opposition that resulted in Mayor Lisa Larsen and Commissioner Courtney Shipley voting against the annexation request earlier this year.
Developers say they are being sensitive to the floodplain issues. The project includes a large new pond on the southern portion of the property. The rezoning request is seeking to have nearly 70 acres of the 177-acre site zoned as open space, which would prohibit development on those portions of the property.
• Plans also call for a series of monument signs to be installed along U.S. Highway 59 to help create a gateway feel around the development. Plans submitted to City Hall show a series of six 30-foot tall limestone towers that would each hold a place for a picture or an image related to Lawrence. The towers would be lighted and surrounded by landscaping, according to the plans.
Struble said it is important to the development group to create a gateway type of feeling for the area, and he said the developers are committed to seeing the project through. He said the developers think the project has a good chance to win city approval because the plans are calling for far more housing than any of the previous proposals did. Previous proposals focused more on big-box retail development.
“This is a true mixed-used development,” Struble said.
The Wichita development group also has strong contacts with housing and retail groups across the country, and the feedback from those potential partners has been strong.
“They are resilient,” Struble said of the developers. “Working in Lawrence isn’t easy or for the faint of heart. But this group is in it for the long haul. They have a lot of industry partners throughout the whole country who are interested in bringing their stuff here.
“We can’t announce anything right now, but the names they throw out on a regular basis, you think ‘this is going to be so awesome, once it gets done.'”
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World