About 40 people showed up Thursday to voice their concerns about a developer’s plans to build a 1,000-plus bedroom, three-story apartment complex near 15th Street and Lindenwood Lane in eastern Lawrence.
Chris Elsey, principal with Manhattan, Kansas-based The Prime Company, told the crowd at the East Lawrence Rec Center that the project is “attainable housing.” Rents would range from $500 to $1,000 for one-bedroom apartments; $600 to $1,200 for two-bedroom units; and $700 to $1,400 for three-bedroom units.
Elsey said income restrictions would apply to the property, but some neighbors seemed perplexed when he said the “average median income” in Lawrence was around $90,000. According to stats recently provided to the Lawrence City Commission, the median income for Douglas County was calculated at about $65,600. However, the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority website shows that as of May 15, the area median income (AMI) is $94,600 under federal standards.
The project site is 17.65 acres. It is owned by the World Company, county property records show.
Elsey said the land has been under contract for about five weeks, but the project is contingent upon the city approving the company’s rezoning request. If that does not happen, the company would probably not continue to pursue building at the site, he said.
If approved, the complex would be constructed in two phases. The first would include 288 units, and the second would include 240. Half would be two-bedroom units, and the other two quarters would be one- and three-bedroom units.
The red pin on this map shows the approximate location of the planned project, 2115 E. 15th St., just southeast of Oak Hill Cemetery and just west of the city’s former Farmland property:
Elsey’s presentation focused on the company’s philosophy of trying to build community, because happy residents who are friendly with the people who live near them are more likely to renew leases, take care of their properties and “to tell somebody else, ‘Hey, this is a great place to live.’” He said they aren’t “merchant builders,” and since the company launched in 2005, they haven’t sold any properties.
“We want to try to be good neighbors. Again, that’s our motto, ‘Love thy neighbor,’” he said.
Some community members asked why the company didn’t attempt to build single-family homes. One woman shared that she was unable to buy a home until she was 41, it took her “forever” to find one because there aren’t enough single-family homes in Lawrence, and now this project was going to lower her property value.
Elsey said single-family homes wouldn’t be financially feasible for the company. Building three-story apartment buildings would be more cost-effective because they only require one foundation each.
Neighbors had concerns about parking for the complex. Elsey said the 528 units would have 579 parking stalls. That’s about 1.1 stalls per unit. Some people pointed out that on average, households in this area have two vehicles each, and they worried that there was no plan for overflow parking.
Some asked what attracted The Prime Company to their neighborhood, simultaneously cautioning the developers that they would have a lengthy legal battle on their hands. Elsey said it was infill development, and it wouldn’t require extension of utilities; he said it was also not too far from Massachusetts Street (it’s about 2.5 miles), and it would be all the things they like about their neighborhood.
Elsey said the project would include a large clubhouse and pool, which he said they might open to neighborhood residents.
“We are here for two things: quietness; we want quietness in our neighborhood,” Lawrence Ajekwu said. “… Second, property values. … So all these things you’re talking about, the clubhouse, doesn’t mean anything to us.”
Others asked where the kids who moved into the complex would go to school, and how they’d get there, harkening back to the Lawrence school district’s April 2021 choice to close nearby Kennedy Elementary to grades K-5 to make it an early childhood center and the ensuing transportation struggles families have faced.
Thomas Howe, a member of the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board, said he was strongly in favor of making sure the city has enough workforce housing. However, he said in this location, the rezoning the developers are seeking doesn’t fit the site and “You can find better sites than this.”
Neighbors had a wide range of questions and concerns about the project. Many were worried about increased traffic on 15th Street. Others were concerned about the loss of the mature trees in the area, which they said can’t simply be replaced with new trees.
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The Prime Company lists as its mission statement, “To Honor Jesus Christ through Real Estate.” One neighbor said after the meeting that as a Roman Catholic, she was curious which denomination.
The meeting wrapped after roughly an hour and a half.
“It appears at this point that we have a strong disagreement of perspectives,” Michael Almon said, and all their perspectives were valid. “We’re not going to be convincing each other tonight; that’s apparent.”
Almon encouraged people to pay attention to future meetings of the Planning Commission and Lawrence City Commission as the project moves forward and to make their voices heard in those venues.
After the meeting, some neighbors spoke further about their concerns about traffic. There are a lot of young kids in the area, some who regularly play in the street in a nearby cul-de-sac.
One person said they weren’t opposed to affordable or “attainable” housing, as the developer called it, but they couldn’t see why this was a good spot for it, and there is plenty of land available on the west side of town.
John Emery said the neighborhood is very tight-knit, and he was concerned this development could jeopardize that. He and others also worried about privacy if there are three-story buildings where people can look down and into the backyards of the one-story homes in the area.
It was not immediately clear when the project will advance to the Planning Commission for consideration of the rezoning request. Elsey said he estimated that would happen around New Year’s, followed by 18 to 24 months of construction for phase one if approved.