photo by: Mike Yoder / Journal-World file photo
After making a few changes, city leaders approved a plan that will shape downtown development for years to come.
At its Tuesday meeting, the Lawrence City Commission voted 3-1, with Commissioner Lisa Larsen absent and Commissioner Stuart Boley opposed, to adopt the Downtown Lawrence Plan with the changes agreed to at the meeting. Commissioners voted to change the wording of the plan to further commit to increasing the number of downtown housing, and they also added a reference to an existing plan that would serve as a guide for artistic and cultural efforts.
After these changes, the commissioners who voted for the plan agreed that they were happy with the process and the finished product.
“I am excited about this plan and I think it is a good step forward,” said Mayor Brad Finkeldei.
Finkeldei also noted that only a few people commented on the plan on Tuesday, which he said told him that the consultants hired to draft the plan had successfully engaged with the community throughout the process.
The commission’s review had previously been delayed after a community steering committee reviewing the plan requested more time to consider the comments and concerns it had received from members of the public. The commission gave the committee more time to consider comments and suggest revisions, and several revisions were incorporated into the draft that was presented to the commission on Tuesday.
The 120-page plan, which has been delayed by the pandemic, has been in the works since August 2018. The city hired Houseal Lavigne Associates at a cost of $ 147,070 to complete it.
The plan will guide downtown growth and development over the next 20 years, and it includes recommendations for land use, development, building heights, parking, transportation, infrastructure, landscapes. street art and public art installations, among other elements, as reported by Journal-World. .
In the section on land use, the committee voted to strengthen the commitment to provide more housing in the city center by replacing the word “could” with “should” in the following sentence: types of housing, including including townhouses and apartments / condominiums, either as stand-alone products or as part of mixed use. The commission agreed that other areas of the plan that emphasized the importance of affordable housing were also crucial.
But Boley said the plan didn’t go far enough. He cited the city’s environmental sustainability goals and the new comprehensive city-county plan’s emphasis on increasing residential density, and he said the downtown plan should put more emphasis on increasing residential density. on these issues.
“The requirement for environmental sustainability demands greater residential density in this area, greater use of public transportation,” Boley said. “There are all kinds of things that I think this plan just doesn’t put enough emphasis on. ”
The other change made by the commission concerned the arts and culture. The plan provides for the improvement and expansion of downtown arts and culture, and the commission voted to add a reference to the city’s existing cultural plan as a guide for doing so.
Before the Municipal Commission made its two changes, the plan had already undergone another round of revisions recommended by the Downtown Master Plan Steering Committee.
Last month, in response to public comments, the committee called for changes related to historic preservation, equity and inclusion and some of the plan’s redevelopment recommendations. Specifically, a negative statement on the city’s historic preservation ordinance was removed from the project, as were some specific suggestions to weaken the ordinance; they were replaced by a more open recommendation to review the ordinance. Recommendations on equity and inclusion, including a business incubator focused on women and minority entrepreneurs, were also added. The plan provides development directions for specific sites in the event of a future vacancy, and references to the Replay Lounge and the Red Lyon Tavern have been removed. The bars were originally included in a recommendation to replace some one-story buildings with taller mixed-use buildings if those properties become available.
The completed plan includes 22 “key actions” that the city should take to achieve the plan’s goals. These include updating the downtown design guidelines; complete the downtown section of the Lawrence Loop; explore a permanent outdoor event space that could better accommodate the farmer’s market and other events; and determine whether it would be possible to charge a vacancy fee for unused downtown commercial space.
Finkeldei also stressed that it is not enough to create a good plan – the city should also implement it well. He said it would be important for the commission to work with partners and take other steps to implement the plan, including providing funding for capital projects.