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Douglas County Commission denies request from developers of project south of Lawrence

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The Douglas County Commission on Wednesday voted 2-1 against the next step in a plan for the New Boston Crossings development south of Lawrence. 

However, the denial won’t likely have much of an impact on the project overall.

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The plan is for mixed-use development on about 177 acres of land to the southeast of the Kansas Highway 10 interchange at Iowa Street.

The plan includes 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 city commission in March approved annexation of the land into city limits.

The comprehensive plan amendment that was before the county commission Wednesday modifies the city’s Plan 2040. It is to “revise the land use map, change the commercial references from Auto-Related Commercial uses to commercial uses that align with Plan 2040, and revise residential and open space uses within the area between Highway 59/S. Iowa Street extended on the west, E. 1350 Road/Michigan Street extended south of Kansas Highway 10, and north of the Wakarusa River,” according to information in the meeting agenda.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission in November considered and ultimately approved the comprehensive plan amendment on a 5-4 vote and a preliminary plat for the project on an 8-1 vote. The Lawrence City Commission approved the comprehensive plan amendment on a 4-1 vote Tuesday but was not asked to vote on the plat. 

Commissioners heard from many of the same people who spoke to Lawrence city commissioners Tuesday night. Some spoke in favor of the project, for its potential to bring new housing to the area, and some opposed it, mainly for environmental concerns as much of the land is on the floodplain.

Douglas County Commissioners Karen Willey and Shannon Reid ultimately voted against the comprehensive plan amendment; Commissioner Patrick Kelly voted in favor of it, though he also expressed concerns about the project. 

Commissioners discussed possibly adding conditions to the comprehensive plan amendment to help assuage some of the floodplain concerns, but that likely would have needed to go to legal counsel first. 

Numerous rezoning requests associated with the project are still pending. Planning commissioners last month recommended approval of some requests and denial of several others. City commissioners will likely consider those requests in the near future.

The county commission’s decision to deny the plan amendment means that city staff members will need to include memos and updated findings of fact with the project’s rezoning requests when they go before the Lawrence City Commission. 

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“I don’t think I can support this particular question that’s been brought before us because of the erosion of open space and floodplain that is inherent in this question,” Willey said. “If a different question were asked that allowed for development north of that waterway that divides the property, I would be much more interested in that. But as it stands, it’s not something that I’m comfortable supporting.”

Commissioners said they had concerns about the city and county having different values regarding the importance of open space and the floodplain. 

Kelly encouraged those who gave public comment Wednesday to keep up with the project as the other requests move through the process, and to get involved in the county’s open space planning process. 

The open space plan will be the subject of the commission’s work session set for 4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 14.

The county will also host a public meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 19 in the Zoning and Codes Building, 3755 E. 25th St., to discuss the draft open space plan and take questions from the public. That meeting will also be available by Zoom. Find more information at dgcoks.org/openspace.

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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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