Lawrence city commissioners express support for updates to land development code, hope to implement it this year

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City commissioners on Tuesday received an update on the city’s new land development code, which aims to update zoning regulations to allow for more sustainability, affordable housing and equity.

Elizabeth Garvin of Clarion, a national land-use consulting firm, gave a presentation to commissioners outlining the work of city staff, planning commissioners and a steering committee for the updated code.

The city began work to update the land development code in 2022 and is hoping to implement the new one this year. Currently, the project is in its third of four stages, which is drafting the new land development code. 

One of the major goals of the new code is to encourage density and affordable housing in Lawrence. A lack of affordable housing has been a major focus in Lawrence and has prompted the approval of new developments and millions in funding. 

Tuesday’s presentation outlined a variety of changes to help abate Lawrence’s affordable housing shortage. The plan encourages smaller lots and more residential density as well as a flurry of other items aimed to increase flexibility for residential developments, including the addition of density minimums for residential lots. 

One major change in the code allows for up to four units to be built on one single-family lot. 

“This doesn’t change what anybody has on the ground, it doesn’t make you bulldoze your house and put four units in,” Garvin said. “But it does move us away from dispersing land into more spread out single-family development. If somebody wants to do a development that is more dense than that, this should be a good conversation, this should be something talked about in the community.”

Another major point of emphasis in the code is the addition of a new section focusing on mobility and connectivity. Garvin said this section goes beyond just vehicles to focus on keeping everyone safe as they move across the city. 

One of the biggest changes is the removal of a parking minimum, which currently requires developments to include a certain number of parking spaces, to a new parking maximum. Garvin said many cities are beginning to make this switch in order to allow more development and limit parking lots, which can take up large amounts of land. The new code also includes goals for bicycle and electric vehicle parking. 

“Communities are understanding that without vehicles in the equation, housing can be tremendously lower cost,” Vice Mayor Mike Dever said. “The average cost of a parking space is between $60,000 and $80,000 sometimes and when you can take that out of the equation, it can really make things more affordable. So, it’s exciting to me, and I’m glad to see this coming.”


Another big point of focus for the new code is encouraging more mixed-use development. Mixed-use development integrates different functions such as residential, commercial and recreational spaces within a single lot or area.

“One of the consistent comments that we’ve heard across this process from our steering committee and from other groups is, ‘Why don’t we have more mixed use in Lawrence?’” Garvin said during her presentation. 

Commissioner Brad Finkeldei, who has chaired the steering committee for the new code, said he encouraged the community to get involved and give input on the new code.

“You know, there’s a lot of big changes we’re proposing here,” he said. He encouraged commissioners and community members to start having those conversations soon to avoid delays to the new code. 

Commissioner Amber Sellers said she was excited to continue conversations on the code. Commissioner Lisa Larsen also expressed support for the changes.

“I know it’s been a long process, but I’ve been happily impressed with where it’s going and with where it’ll be,” Mayor Bart Littlejohn said.

You can view the full presentation and more on the new code here.

Commissioners did not need to take a formal vote on the agenda item Tuesday. Adoption of the final plan is slated for spring or early summer of this year.

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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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