Plans filed for new three-story apartment, retail building on Vermont Street

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A pair of vacant lots at 815 and 821 Vermont St. are shown on Sept. 20, 2023. The property is proposed to house a three-story apartment and retail building.

The vacant lots at 815 and 821 Vermont St. long have been an oddity — a slice of agriculture in the heart of downtown. When the property was owned by former city commissioner and restaurant operator Bob Schumm, he used the sites to grow a variety of produce. Now, even though the property has sold, it still is listed as a private orchard.

Soon, though, look for something else to sprout from the ground: a three-story building that will have apartments on its upper floors and three new retail spaces on the ground floor.

The plans filed at Lawrence City Hall call for 16 apartments, with a mix of one- and two-bedroom units. The ground floor will have three retail spaces, ranging in size from about 600 square feet to about 1,200 square feet, making them smaller spots than many you would find on Massachusetts Street.

That smaller size is partially because a large part of the first floor will be occupied by a private parking garage that will provide 16 parking spaces. The property has traditional downtown zoning, which means it doesn’t have to provide any off-street parking spaces. However, the zoning code doesn’t prevent developers from providing off-street parking, if they so desire. Past downtown projects have been mixed on that front. There are a few new apartment developments that provide little to no off-street parking, but several of the larger apartment projects in downtown have included garages.

The plans I have from the city don’t make it clear who the developer is on the project, but Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects has designed the project and is working to win city approvals. I’ve got a message into Werner for more details, but property and corporate records show the site was sold in July to a group led by Imran Wahla, an owner of Lawrence-based Holiday Properties, which operates several apartment complexes in town.

If some of this sounds familiar, you may be remembering a plan filed by Schumm several years ago to build condominiums and office/retail space on the property. That project, however, never advanced as Schumm unsuccessfully sought financial incentives from the city to build the project. Thus far, I haven’t seen any requests for incentives for this project.

Absent something like an incentives request, the project has many of the approvals it needs to build. The biggest is the zoning. The city’s downtown zoning code allows for this type of use, and in fact, city officials have been encouraging this type of mixed-used development.

The project, though, will need to win design approval to ensure that it meets the city’s downtown design guidelines. That’s the application the developer recently filed with the city. I don’t yet have full color renderings of the proposed project, but here’s a look at the rendering submitted to the city, which shows the project as it faces Vermont Street.

photo by: Courtesy City of Lawrence/Paul Werner Architects

Renderings for a proposed three-story apartment and retail building for the 800 block of Vermont Street are shown.


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