Lawrence apartment boom fizzles a bit as City Hall deals major setback to big apartment plan
A student-oriented apartment complex with more than 500 bedrooms may not be coming to the area near Clinton Parkway and Crestline Drive after all. Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commissioners dealt the project a potentially fatal blow on Wednesday.
After hearing from a long line of upset neighbors, planning commissioners unanimously denied a proposed change to the city’s comprehensive plan to accommodate the project.
Commissioners didn’t vote on the actual design plans for Gilbane Development to build 197 apartments with 522 bedrooms near the southwest corner of Clinton Parkway and Crestline Drive. Instead, commissioners denied a change to Horizon 2020, the comprehensive plan that provides guidance on particular areas that the community should develop. Horizon 2020 listed the vacant property near Clinton Parkway and Crestline as developing with office use in the future. The developers were seeking to have the plan modified to list the area for medium and high density residential use.
As we’ve reported several times, the project had a real twist: A day care — the Lawrence Child Development Center sits on a portion of the property. Gilbane, which is a large developer of apartments across the country, could not reach a deal to buy out the day care, so it planned to simply build around it. The proposed plans showed the day care surrounded on three sides.
It was easy to see how that oddity could cause the project some problems. But the project also faced a more traditional hurdle: Lots of neighbors who didn’t want an apartment complex built next to their single family homes. The group had plenty of insight into how to fight City Hall. Former Mayor Mike Amyx is part of the neighborhood that abuts the proposed project.
The comprehensive plan issue gave neighbors a point to argue. They could legitimately say that when they bought their houses they had reason to believe they would be living next to offices, not apartments. That is what the plan called for.
But, it wasn’t certain that planning commissioners would feel that way. The city’s planning staff recommended approval of the comprehensive plan change, noting that there already are apartments just southeast of the site. Plus, the staff report noted that KU’s continued redevelopment of the southern part of its campus and the potential redevelopment of West Campus may create more demand for residential development in south Lawrence. The staff also noted that the city has been promoting the idea of infill development rather than pushing large projects to the edge of town.
This project, which certainly would have added at least $10 million to the property tax base, is a good example of the pitfalls of infill development. Getting a plan that meets the approval of neighbors is almost harder than building in a pasture on the edge of town.
The denial of the comprehensive plan amendment should kill this particular project. Unlike most planning commission items, a comprehensive plan amendment is difficult for the City Commission to overturn. Plus, the City Commission would likely react much the same way to neighbors' concerns as the Planning Commission did.
I’ve reached out to Gilbane officials to get a reaction. Technically, the current zoning on the property — a residential/office designation — allows for some types of medium density residential development, but it would require major changes to the plan and its scope. I’ll let you know if I hear something from the development group.
And don’t worry, there will be plenty of other apartment projects to keep an eye on. The big one is a 784-bedroom proposal on 27 acres of land south of the Iowa Street Walmart. The development would stretch all the way to the South Lawrence Trafficway. That project should have an easier path to approval. It already has apartment zoning in place.
As we reported earlier this week, the other project to watch is a 192-bedroom apartment complex near the southwest corner of 23rd Street and O’Connell Road. That property also already has multi-family zoning in place.