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Lawrence city commissioners approve change to allow 2 affordable homes on more single lots

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Lawrence city commissioners approved a tweak that will open up more single residential lots to possibly be developed with two small affordable homes.

City commissioners in 2019 approved a text amendment to allow two affordable homes to be built on one lot, if projects meet several conditions. But city code currently does not allow development of two smaller homes on certain types of lots.

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The new text amendment the commission approved Tuesday will change that, opening up more than 1,000 lots to the possibility of being developed with two affordable single-family homes. (Read more about the background in this article.)

City staff members had recommended opening up the option for developers to seek special use permits to develop two homes on single lots smaller than 7,000 square feet regardless of the type of residential zoning district they’re in. Special use permits include a special application and a process to notify neighbors of plans before any building begins, and there is an opportunity for nearby neighbors to protest, among other conditions. For lots larger than 7,000 square feet, developers would only need to seek building permits, under city staff’s initial text amendment.

The planning commission, however, voted 6-3 in August to recommend approval of the text amendment but lower the lot size requirement so developers could seek building permits rather than go through the SUP process to build two homes on lots as small as 6,000 square feet.

Planner Mary Miller told the city commission Tuesday that city staff members didn’t have any concerns about not requiring SUPs for lots 6,000-square-foot lots; they were just trying to be conservative in the changes they were suggesting, she said.

No one gave public comment on the item, and commissioners had little discussion.

“We initiated the text amendment so we could move forward with some of our affordable housing challenges,” Commissioner Brad Finkeldei said. “We didn’t quite open up as many lots as we thought, and certainly Tenants to Homeowners ended up with some lots that they thought they could build on and they can’t for various reasons because of this. It will fix that.”

Mayor Lisa Larsen said she appreciated city staff bringing nonconforming lots into the possibility of higher density development.

Commissioner Amber Sellers said she thinks the timing has been “impeccable” for this change, and it would only help guide continuing conversations around some of the nuances in addressing affordable housing needs.

The commission voted 5-0 in support of the text amendment.

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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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