New Boston Crossing, a planned development southeast of the Kansas Highway 10 interchange at Iowa Street, took the next steps toward coming to fruition with votes from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission on Wednesday.
The plan includes mixed-use development on about 177 acres of land. It will include single-family homes, townhouses or rowhouses, and multidwelling residential units. It also includes an entertainment district in the middle and some green space and a large pond toward the southeast. The Lawrence City Commission on March 14 approved annexation of the land into city limits.
The planning commission on Wednesday considered and ultimately approved a comprehensive plan amendment and a preliminary plat for the project. The applicant asked to defer eight rezoning requests until a future meeting.
Commissioners heard from numerous community members with varying perspectives on the project.
One in favor of the plan, Ron Gaches, said he was an advocate for infill development during five years he spent serving on the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board.
“Guess what? No infill happened in this community,” Gaches said. “The NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) crowd comes out and talks it all down. I saw project after project after project come before this planning commission and before our City Commission and get voted down. … We’ve got to go outside, someplace else.”
Patrick Schmitz, CEO of Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, also spoke in favor of the plan.
“I believe this development holds immense potential to address critical housing needs for our employees while simultaneously fostering broader community growth,” he said.
Below is a zoomable diagram of the proposed New Boston Crossing (click here to open the PDF in a new tab):New-Boston-Crossings-r4
On the other side of the issue, community members raised concerns about the development’s proximity to the wetlands, and the way the process is moving.
“It looks like it could be a good plan for somewhere else — not right next to the Wakarusa River and precious wetlands that this community holds so dear,” Dawn Hawkins said.
Carlos Andrade raised questions about light pollution and said there are sensitive biomes nearby. He also had concerns about underground fuel storage tanks that could be part of the plans if a gas station is included, and he said accidents or spills of any sort could lead to significant runoff into the groundwater and surface water, which would pose significant effects to the wetland area.
Michael Almon of the Sustainability Action Network brought up “four previous failed attempts to urbanize this site” and said that “It would be very shortsighted to rush through this quick and dirty amendment without a broad community discussion.”
Among planning commissioners who voiced arguments against the comprehensive plan amendment were Jane Eldredge and Charlie Thomas.
Eldredge said she believed the commissioners needed to do anything they could to protect and enhance downtown Lawrence.
“We’ve just supported a wonderful new housing project for downtown, and we need to continue to support that kind of thing and keep it growing and keep it strong,” Eldredge said, referring to the planned New Hampshire Street Lofts. The commission on Monday voted to recommend in favor of a special-use permit allowing the ground floor of the building to be used as live-work spaces, and to build angled parking along New Hampshire Street in front of the building.
Planning Commission Chair Gary Rexroad said the same arguments had been made years ago about developments out at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive, and at Rock Chalk Park. He said both areas have become great draws for the community, “all of which have ultimately fed into downtown.”
Eldredge said she didn’t think that growth happened with 177 acres all at once, but rather it grew slowly. She said the New Boston Crossing project has many of the same features as downtown Lawrence, but it’s large and far away, and she thinks “we need to let downtown Lawrence continue to grow and we need to continue to focus on it. … I think it’s a matter of scale and placement.”
Thomas said that “I think we owe it to the Wakarusa River to be careful, to take care of her.”
Rexroad said the plan promised protections for the Wakarusa River, and he was willing to “allow for something to happen out there — just give it a chance.”
Other commissioners shared some concerns about the project, but most said they believed the comprehensive plan amendment met the criteria the city uses to evaluate such amendments. They are high-level policy changes, as opposed to specific plans that are still in progress to deal with floodplain issues and other such details that city engineering staff will review, one staff member said.
Toward the end of their four-hour meeting, the commission voted 5-4 to recommend approval of the comprehensive plan amendment and 8-1 in favor of a preliminary plat for the project. The eight rezoning items could return at the commission’s December meeting or further out in the future.
The commission’s recommendations will go to the Lawrence City Commission and Douglas County Commission for consideration.