Developer seeks to annex land north of Rock Chalk Park to build 300-plus homes

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A developer will ask the Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday to approve annexing and rezoning land north of city limits to build 300 or more market-rate homes.

Garber Enterprises Inc. owns 85 acres of land directly north of Rock Chalk Park on the northwestern edge of Lawrence, just east of Kansas Highway 10 near the Interstate 70 interchange.

City staff recommends the commission approve the request, though planning commissioners voted 5-4 to recommend denial because they felt the plan didn’t offer enough community benefit, according to the agenda. But the city has a critical need for more single-family lots, the staff memo says.

The red pin on the map below shows the approximate location of the land:

One key issue for development of the area is extending public utilities there, according to the staff memo to the commission. “The City Commission will be required to consider specific policy decisions regarding implementation of the city’s utility master plan or allow development using a pump station to serve this development for the foreseeable future.”

Staff does not know the fiscal impact the proposal could have for the city, but it could include participation in improvement districts to pay for work on East 902 Road, and sanitary sewer extensions or an additional pump station, according to the agenda.

Some neighbors raised concerns to the Planning Commission regarding what effects the development could have on water runoff, whether it could harm the Kansas River or nearby wildlife, and extra wear and tear on nearby roads.

Michael Almon, of the Lawrence Sustainability Action Network, asked the commission to request that the developer refile and return with a plan for a mixed-use, higher-density project.

The homes would be within Perry school district boundaries (which are different from city limits). The commission last year approved another annexation request expanding the city north of Monterey Way near Interstate 70. That annexation added room for about 200 homes, the developer estimated, just inside the boundaries of the Perry district.

Expanding Lawrence

Commissioners voted 3-2 during their meeting this week, with Mayor Lisa Larsen and Commissioner Courtney Shipley opposed, to annex land southeast of Kansas Highway 10 and Iowa Street. Plans for that land, called “New Boston Crossing,” include single-family homes, townhomes, possible zero-lot line homes and a mixture of “mid-level” housing stock, according to the meeting agenda. It also includes an entertainment district in the middle.

Larsen and Shipley both cited concerns about the sensitive land south of town and said they would prefer the city expand in different directions, specifically east and west.

“We have not discussed this with our community. We have not discussed this with respect to the wetlands,” Shipley said. “We just say, ‘Oh, cool, we’ll make a trail, and that’ll make it all better.’ I don’t know that that’s accurate.”

Commissioners who voted in support of that annexation cited the city’s need for more housing as a key reason for voting in favor.

“We can’t talk about equity and access to housing for all if we don’t understand and start being intentional and aggressive about addressing access to housing for all,” Commissioner Amber Sellers said. “So as we talk about the nuances of the beautification and the benefits of having creeks and tree canopies for market housing, I want us to have that same energy and fervor when we talk about affordable housing, moderate-income housing, workforce housing, in that what it takes for us to not only as commissioners lobby for that, but to also educate our constituents on what that looks like.”

The Lawrence City Commission will meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, March 21 at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.

The commission accepts written public comment until noon the day of the meeting sent to People may provide public comment during meetings in person at City Hall or via Zoom. Register for the Zoom meeting at this link.

View the full meeting agenda at this link. Meetings are livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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