Developer seeking early approvals to build large apartment complex along East 15th Street; Panasonic announces leaders for De Soto plant

photo by: Douglas County GIS

The property marked with the blue star, 2111 E. 15th Street, is the site of a proposed rezoning that would allow for a large apartment complex.

Lawrence City Hall has received a development filing that would open the door for 500 units of new apartments — totaling more than 1,000 bedrooms — to be built on the far eastern edge of Lawrence.

If approved, it may be one of the first tangible signs of the impact Panasonic’s pending 4,000-job, $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant in De Soto will have on Lawrence’s east side.

The project would be on 17 acres of heavily wooded property along East 15th Street, next to Lawrence VenturePark and southeast of Lawrence’s Oak Hill Cemetery.

The property, 2111 E. 15th St., currently is zoned for single-family residential homes. The new development filing at City Hall is seeking to rezone the property for dense apartment development.

Doug Brown, a Lawrence-based commercial real estate agent who is representing the property’s current owner, said the Panasonic project — which is about 20 minutes from the eastern edge of Lawrence — is causing developers to take a new look at vacant parcels like this one.

“It is close enough to K-10 that they believe, and I believe, that it will be a good spot for multi-family to serve that project,” Brown said.

The property’s current owners — The World Company, the Lawrence-based firm that previously owned the Journal-World — is not the proposed developer for the site. Instead, Manhattan-based The Prime Company is the developer interested in buying the property and pursuing the apartment development, according to the filing at City Hall.

I put a call into a principal with The Prime Company, but have not heard back from the firm, which touts online that it is a “multifamily development firm that designs, builds, and manages urban properties across the nation.”

The rezoning request included a concept plan for the property. That plan shows a first phase that would build 288 apartments — 72 one-bedroom, 144 two-bedroom, and 72 three-bedroom units — on the western half of the property. It also would include a 5,000-square-foot clubhouse.

A second phase would be built on the eastern half of the property, and would be similar but slightly smaller. It would include 240 apartments, with 60 one-bedroom, 120 two-bedroom and 60 three-bedroom units. It also would include a 5,000-square-foot clubhouse.

The concept plan didn’t provide many other details about the potential project, but the rezoning application said the project would provide “much needed attainable workforce housing units” for area residents “who currently are burdened by high housing costs.”

The rezoning request will be the latest test of how willing city leaders are to move forward with more dense development in the city. City commissioners, the city manager and others have said greater density is a key strategy in creating more affordable housing options. The site currently is zoned for 10,000-square-foot single-family lots, which is one of the least dense residential zoning categories in the city. The developers are seeking RM-32 multifamily zoning, which is one of the more dense residential zoning categories in the city.

The rezoning request will need to be heard by both the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and the City Commission before the project can move forward. If the rezoning is approved, the project also would be required to file more specific plans for the actual apartment development before it could be constructed.

•••

There is another sign — in addition to tons and tons of construction steel — that the Panasonic project is becoming more tangible by the day. The Japanese corporation has announced a team of 12 senior leaders for the plant, which is under construction on a portion of the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant just south of Kansas Highway 10 in De Soto.

Unfortunately, the release from Panasonic doesn’t provide any information about the individuals, other than their names and positions. However, those names likely will be important to know in the future, as the group probably will control millions upon millions of dollars in spending decisions that will impact the local economy in the coming months.

The plant is scheduled to begin operations in early 2025. As we’ve reported, area leaders have been told that about 200 employees per month are expected to be hired throughout 2024.

Here’s a look at the senior leadership positions for the De Soto plant, as recently announced by Panasonic:

— Allan Swan, president of Panasonic Energy of North America and leader of Project Kansas;

• Koya Takahashi, SVP, leader of Project Kansas;

• Masafumi Sonoda, SVP of operations;

• Thomas Fickett, chief financial officer;

• Eduardo Campos, VP of quality;

• Innocent Chikunya, VP of operations;

• Justin Herman, VP and chief information officer;

• Hidetoshi Kaneko, VP of supply chain;

• Walt Miller, VP of operational excellence;

• Kristen Walters, VP of human resources;

• Carl Walton, VP of strategic initiatives and facilities;

• Robert Winans, VP of supply chain.

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