Rezoning Thurston Street

The city forces the planners

By The Mercury

The City Commission’s brief debate and subsequent passage Tuesday of a proposed rezoning in the 1000 block of Thurston is interesting far beyond the case itself.

Commissioners had been asked to rezone two lots in that block from two-family residential with traditional neighborhood overlay to multiple-family residential with multi-family redevelopment overlay. The idea was to permit the applicants to construct a multi-plex unit.

The Urban Area Planning Board, which reviewed the request, rejected it on the grounds that it violated the land use plan. That plan, which was approved in 2003, is in the process of being revised, but the revisions are not expected to be finalized for up to two years, and when they are, of course, there is no guarantee what changes, if any, they will include to the zoning of the area in question.

So, planners have effectively said, approval of the request now would at least force the coming plan to conform to the commission’s Tuesday decision, and at worst would lock the area into long-term non-conformance.

Those are utterly reasonable arguments, so why did the four-person majority override the planners and support the change Tuesday?

In a sentence, they did so because the existing plan is already out of touch with reality and does in fact need to be changed. That the commission all but forced the change seems undeniable; that they did so deliberately also seems pretty clear.

The structural character of the area’s housing supply is largely that of the single-family home. But that character is misleading. Records show that the vast majority of the structures in that area — an area, by the way, that already includes a 15-plex — are not owner-occupied. Many, in fact, show separate entrances, suggesting that their interiors have been subdivided to facilitate use by more than one living group.

In short, as commissioners recognized, the area already as a practical matter has become multi-family residential. They also rightfully concluded that there was nothing to be gained by denying the rezoning request at this stage if they were likely to approve it a year or two from now when the new plan is released … as they should.

This of course presumes that the new plan alters the area’s zoning. If it does not, however, then it is the plan that will be out of touch with reality.

This raises one other concern about the pending plan. Although the decision remains subject to change, it is at present being drawn under the assumption that it will govern growth and development here for 20 years. Yet the current plan, which was also drawn to be applicable for 20 years, is being updated because it is already plainly outdated. Does it really make sense to commit the city of 2033 to a growth vision constrained by a 2013 knowledge and experience base? What, in the interim, may happen to KSU and/or Fort Riley to markedly alter the factors a long-range plan is designed to control. The question is unanswerable, a fact which in and of itself suggests the wisdom of a more term-limited plan.

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