Landmark Church Lawsuit Against City of Lawrence Over Controversial Apartment Complex Set for Bench Trial

LAWRENCE, Kan. – A church in Lawrence, Kansas, is taking its lawsuit against the City of Lawrence to trial. First Presbyterian Church is challenging a development project led by Dallas-based Fountain Residential Partners, which plans to build a 300-bedroom apartment complex on a 9-acre site. The church, located near the proposed development, argues that the city’s approval of the project violates zoning codes.

The lawsuit was originally filed in late 2021, dismissed a few months later, and then revived in mid-2023 after a successful appeal. The trial, which was initially scheduled for early January, has been rescheduled to take place on March 6 and 7, 2024.

Unlike traditional apartment buildings, the development plans call for 57 duplexes and six detached dwelling structures, spread across the site. Each building would have two or three stories, accommodating a total of 128 units. The church’s primary claim is that the city’s zoning category for the property does not allow for the construction of multiple duplexes on one lot.

In response, the developer argues that the project aligns with the city’s definition of low-density residential development and complies with existing zoning regulations. The dispute centers on the interpretation of the term “duplex” within the city code.

The church also raises concerns about the potential negative impact of the development on traffic, parking, and drainage in the area. Additionally, the Lawrence Child Development Center, located near the site, has expressed opposition to the project as it could affect the privacy and security of its outdoor playground.

The lawsuit initially faced a setback when the district court ruled in favor of the city and developer’s motions to dismiss, stating that the church failed to establish a valid legal claim. However, in a reversal of this judgment, the Court of Appeals found that the city code could be interpreted in different ways, classifying it as ambiguous.

As the trial approaches, both parties await a final resolution. The church’s lawsuit represents a larger dispute between local development interests and concerns over zoning regulations and community impact.

The outcome of this trial will have implications not only for this specific development project in Lawrence but also for future construction and land use decisions in the city. The clash between First Presbyterian Church and the City of Lawrence highlights the complexities involved in balancing development goals with community needs and concerns.