Lawrence City Commission allows Fall Creek Villas development plan to advance

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City commissioners on Tuesday gave initial approval to a preliminary development plan for a strip of duplexes in northwestern Lawrence months after they denied an earlier plan for the property. 

The commissioners, weighing a desire for more housing stock against concerns over the specific project, voted to advance the proposal under the condition that the applicant would bring back a final development plan for the commission to review.

The Fall Creek Villas project is a set of 14 duplex buildings — 28 total units — proposed to be built along Deerfield Creek near Kasold Drive and Tomahawk Drive in northwestern Lawrence, about two-thirds of a mile north of Sixth Street.

Mayor Bart Littlejohn, Vice Mayor Mike Dever, Commissioner Brad Finkeldei and Commissioner Lisa Larsen voted to advance the proposal. Commissioner Amber Sellers opposed it.

Because the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission recommended denial of the project, it needed at least four affirmative votes from city commissioners to advance.  

“Infill projects inevitably run up against conflict because of the nature of the project itself,” Littlejohn said.

Littlejohn said he was drawn to approve the project because of the growing need for housing in the city. 

“We need housing,” Littlejohn said. “We do a lot … We’ve been behind for a while. So we’re playing a lot of catchup.”

Dever said that infill projects can help increase tax revenue to help the city cover costs. He said that he understood the concerns from neighbors, but that his job was to ensure that the project aligned with city code and goals.

“It’s not my job to tell developers where they can and cannot build. It’s my job to interpret the code and interpret the rules,” Dever said. “… I think we should move forward with these types of projects.” 

Dever replaced former commissioner Courtney Shipley earlier this month. Shipley voted against the project in April and briefly spoke against the project during Tuesday’s meeting as a member of the public.

Sellers, the lone commissioner who remained opposed to the project, said that an infill project can work if it is the right project. The Fall Creek Villas, though, did not fulfill that goal for her. 

“If I wanted a $400,000 house, I damn sure don’t want water in my backyard, whether it was intended or not,” Sellers said. 

Larsen, who voted against the project in April, expressed hesitation to approve the project, but said she wanted to see it back more fully developed to make a decision. 

“Staff consistently said throughout (their report) that it meets all these criteria, but there is no discussion in here how the stormwater does, so there’s just not enough facts for me,” Larsen said. That’s why she was intrigued when the developer said they could bring the plan back once they’re through the stormwater phase of planning, she said.


In April, the commission denied the project on a 3-2 vote after the planning commission recommended denial. Dever, replacing Shipley’s vote, and Larsen were the key vote changes that allowed the project to advance with the four necessary votes.

Commissioners heard from dozens of neighbors during public comment, many of whom had coordinated slideshows detailing concerns over the project. They outlined their worries over density code regulations, flooding and erosion concerns, storm corridors and more. 

Commenters said they were open to a plan that aligned with city code and received support from the planning commission. This project did neither, they said.

A handful of commenters spoke in support of the project, highlighting the need for more housing in Lawrence. 

Phil Strubel, an engineer for Landplan representing the proposal, said that they had attempted to take into account what the city commission said when they denied the proposal earlier this year.

“City staff has recommended approval of this project for a reason,” Strubel said. “It’s not because they just didn’t have time to look at it. I mean, we’ve exhausted this project and are going through a lot of iterations on how we’ve laid things out.”

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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.

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Kaw Valley Almanac for April 22-28, 2024

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