Brook Creek neighbors to stand against proposed 360-unit complex on east side of Lawrence

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Planning commissioners on Wednesday will consider a developer’s rezoning request for an apartment complex that many Brook Creek residents fear would permanently change the character of their neighborhood.

The Eastbrook Apartments project, from Manhattan, Kansas-based developers The Prime Company, would include 360 total units, split into two phases — 192 units in phase 1, and 168 in phase 2. All units in the first phase would be income-restricted, according to project documentation.

That total of 360 is a reduction from the 528 units developers initially planned for the site at 2111 E. 15th St., near city limits. Plans drew outcry from dozens of Brook Creek neighbors who showed up for an August meeting about the project.

Neighborhood residents plan to have a large presence at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission’s meeting on Wednesday. They’ve also made their voices heard in writing: the rezoning request comprised only the first 20 pages of the agenda item that, as of Tuesday afternoon, had grown to 140 pages.

City staff members are recommending that the planning commissioners approve the developer’s rezoning request “to build a workforce multifamily development to provide much needed attainable housing for the residents of Lawrence.” If they do, the request would go next to the Lawrence City Commission.

Phase 1 of the project would include 48 one-bedroom, 96 two-bedroom and 48 three-bedroom units, for 384 total bedrooms. Phase 2 would add 336 bedrooms, for 720 total.

Neighbors said in a statement that the project “would clear the wooded hillsides at 2111 East 15th Street and construct the largest high density apartment complex in Lawrence.”

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times

The 17 acres of land just east of East 15th Street and Lindenwood Lane are currently owned by the World Company, county property records show.

If approved, the request would change the land’s zoning from single-family homes to RM32, which would allow up to 32 dwelling units per acre. That’s the greatest density allowed under the city’s current land development code. Though developers’ initial plans called for 31 dwelling units per acre, the revised plans would be equivalent to about 20.4 dwelling units per acre.

Only a few areas in town are currently zoned RM32, according to a map from the city’s website (click here to open in a new tab):

RM-32-zoning

Many neighbors during the August meeting and in written correspondence to the planning commission have raised concerns about potential stormwater runoff issues; traffic congestion on 15th Street; the loss of numerous mature trees; privacy, as the multistory apartment buildings could have views into their backyards; harm to wildlife in the area; potential changes to the character of the neighborhood and more.

Staff members’ recommendation for approval of the rezoning request does come with conditions intended to mitigate some of those concerns. Those conditions include an “extraordinary setback” of 50 feet to the west and south of the property, and that “existing trees shall be maintained in the extraordinary setback to the maximum extent possible, as approved with the site plan for the project,” according to the agenda item.

In addition, “Access points and needed improvements to E. 15th Street adjacent to the property would be determined with the review of the site plan and the results of the Traffic Impact Study, which will be required with the site plan application,” according to the agenda item.

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Unrelated to the rezoning request, The Prime Company is also seeking $1 million in funding from the city’s affordable housing trust fund. Affordable Housing Advisory Board members earlier this month heard requests regarding nine projects, and they will meet Nov. 13 to make decisions on which projects they will recommend, and how much funding each should receive.

“The design for the project was reduced from the initial design to the current 192 unit design in response to community feedback,” Prime’s AHAB application states of the project’s first phase. “The reduction in units allowed the project to keep more of the existing tree line and increase the setback from 25’ to 50’ barrier between the project and the existing neighborhood.”

Sharon Davis, a member of the neighborhood association who lives nearby the site of the proposed complex, said the project would have “a terrible impact” on the neighborhood.

“We’re a hidden gem in Lawrence, a great mix of neighbors, low to moderate income, and over 80 percent of the homes here are owner occupied,” Davis said in the neighbors’ statement. “This proposal would cram an island of density into our neighborhood and change the character of it forever.”

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times John Emery (left) and Michael Almon listen to neighbors’ concerns during a neighborhood meeting Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023 at the East Lawrence Recreation Center.

Michael Almon, vice president of the Brook Creek Neighborhood Association, said in the statement that Brook Creek is “a model of low-moderate income, affordable, single-dwelling housing.”

“That said, we do have an appropriate presence of multi-dwelling housing that is well integrated into the neighborhood — nothing to the obscene extent of the proposed RM-32 apartment blocks,” he said.

The city staff findings, however, state that “As no negative impacts are anticipated from the proposed development, as conditioned with the extraordinary setback, no benefit to the public would occur with the denial of the request to rezone to the RM32 (Multi-Dwelling Residential) District. Denial of the rezoning request would prevent the development of affordable multi-dwelling residences on this property.”

Planning commissioners are no strangers to the challenge of weighing neighbors’ concerns about projects against the city’s housing and homelessness crisis.

According to Prime’s AHAB application, all of the units in phase one would be permanently affordable — or designated affordable for at least 99 years — for people whose incomes are 30-80% of the area median income. Currently, 30% of the AMI is $19,900 annually for a household of one and $30,000 for a household of four, according to the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority. The upper annual income limit would be $75,700 for a household of four.

Under the city’s definition in its land development code, rental units considered “affordable” have “monthly rent and utilities not exceeding 110% of the (Housing and Urban Development) defined fair market rate as determined yearly” by LDCHA.

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Some neighbors said they understood the city’s pressing need for affordable housing, but they wanted to see more affordable single-family homes instead of apartments.

Brook Creek neighbors have also launched an online petition for area residents to express their concerns, available at this link.

The planning commission meets starting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25 in the City Commission room at Lawrence City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. See the full agenda at this link. The meeting will be livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/lawrenceksvideo.

People may provide public comment in person at City Hall or via Zoom; register for the Zoom meeting at this link.

Commissioners will also consider a rezoning request that would allow the building at 801 Iowa St. — currently a Super 8 hotel — to be converted into a long-term drug and alcohol treatment facility. City staff members are recommending approval. See that agenda item at this link.

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Brook Creek neighbors to stand against proposed 360-unit complex on east side of Lawrence

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Planning commissioners on Wednesday will consider a developer’s rezoning request for an apartment complex that many Brook Creek residents fear would permanently change the character of their neighborhood.

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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