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Planning 101

Residents and business owners are often passionate about how the property around them is used, but understanding how zoning, land use and the planning approval process work can be intimidating. Below, we’ve laid out how the planning process works and addressed some of the most frequent questions we receive.

Streetscape

What role does zoning play in our community planning process and how property is used?

Each property in the City is assigned a zoning classification, which provides the rules by which development can occur. Zoning regulations include a list of uses that are allowed and other rules such as maximum height, minimum building setbacks and number of units per lot. It helps growth to occur in a well-managed way that complements the surrounding uses.

Zoning is different from land use. Land use is how a property is being used now (existing land use) or how we anticipate it will be used in the future (future land use). Zoning is the regulations by which a property can develop.

Zoning can be seen as the “book of rules” by which the Comprehensive Plan and Future Land Use Map are brought to fruition. The Comprehensive Plan is the vision, and zoning is the instruction manual to achieve that vision. The Comprehensive Plan serves as a guide and is considered by staff when making recommendations about the rezoning of property.

Example: Uses allowed in the RP-1, Planned Residential Single-Family (Low-Density) Zoning District.


How does the planning process work?

The buttons below show how a rezoning and concept/preliminary plan proposal moves through the planning process. This is one of the more procedurally complex issues the Planning Commission addresses.

Rezoning also often attracts a lot of attention from neighbors. The Agricultural Zoning District was considered a “holding zone” for large undeveloped parcels when they were first annexed by the City. As a result, developers are often seeking to rezone Agricultural property into a zoning type that will accommodate a large development like a subdivision or a commercial district.

All applications for rezoning must be accompanied by a concept or preliminary plan. This saves the developer and City time and money by not having to apply for and review these interconnected items separately.

Pre-application conference

Development proposals are not solicited by the Planning Commission or City staff. Rather, developers and property owners submit development proposals to the Planning Commission. The developer typically kicks off this process by meeting with Community Development staff to present a conceptual plan for their development.

Staff review

Once an application is formally submitted, City staff first checks the plans for completeness and assesses fees. The concept or preliminary plans are reviewed by a team that includes staff from the Engineering, Traffic, Building Inspection and Planning divisions of the Community Development Department, as well as the Police and Fire Departments.

Staff is responsible for ensuring development proposals comply with maximum density, provide enough parking and open space, don’t exceed the maximum height allowance and are set back the required distances from property lines. For multi-family and non-residential development they also look at the design of the buildings.

After reviewing the plans, staff sends comments to the developer, who then addresses the comments and submits revised plans.


Public notices

For all rezoning applications, the applicant must mail a notice of public hearing – supplied by the City – to all property owners within 200 feet of the project’s property lines. These notices must go out at least 20 days before the hearing date via certified mail. The developer must also post a notification sign so it’s visible from the public street. The City also posts a public notice in its official paper of record.

Planning Commission meeting and public hearing

During a Planning Commission meeting, the applicant makes a presentation first. Next, staff give a presentation analyzing the project.

Members of the public are then invited to provide input during a public hearing. Speakers are asked to provide their name and address for the public record. Depending on the number of people who want to speak on a particular item, the chairman may limit the length of comments.

Public hearings are required for rezoning and special use permit applications, but not other items. The chairman will typically still allow public comment for items that don’t require a public hearing.

Members of the public can also submit written comments via letter or email regarding any item considered by the Planning Commission, even on items that don’t have a public hearing. These are entered into the Planning Commission packet if received in time or distributed to commissioners at the meeting or the day of the meeting.

After closing the public hearing, the Planning Commission will discuss the proposal. They may ask additional questions of the applicant and/or City staff.

One of the commissioners will make a motion, and another will second the motion. The chairman will call for a vote, which is usually a voice vote by affirmation. The Commission isn’t voting to approve or deny the applications – they’re voting on a recommendation to send to the City Council.

The Planning Commission typically meets at 7 p.m. on the first Monday of the month in the Community Forum at Lenexa City Hall.


Protest period

For rezoning applications, a 14-day protest period begins after the Planning Commission public hearing. During this time, a petition protesting the zoning change can be filed with the city clerk. It must be signed and notarized by 20% or more of the property owners in the required notification area. If a valid petition is filed, then ¾ of the Governing Body members must vote to approve the rezoning in order for it to be adopted. 


City Council consideration

Rezoning property, approving special use permits and concept/preliminary plans are all considered by the City Council at its regular meetings, held the first and third Tuesday of each month in the Community Forum at Lenexa City Hall. While another public hearing isn’t required for these applications, the mayor will typically allow public comment.

The City Council can vote one of three ways:

  • The City Council can approve the rezoning application in whole or in part, with or without modifications and conditions.
  • The City Council also has the option to remand the application back to the Planning Commission. When this happens, the Governing Body (mayor and City Council) provides specific direction regarding what the Planning Commission should consider. Often, the developer changes something relative to the development proposal. This change may happen between the Planning Commission meeting and City Council meeting, or it may be the result of feedback and direction given by the Governing Body. If a public hearing was required when the Planning Commission first considered the application, it is not required as part of the remand. However, the Commission may allow additional public comment at the meeting.
  • If the City Council votes to deny the zoning request, the application cannot be resubmitted for at least one year. This rule does not apply to concept/preliminary and final plan applications.

Final plan

Once the rezoning and preliminary plan are approved, the developer must submit a final plan. (If a concept plan was submitted with the rezoning plan, they must submit a preliminary plan prior to submitting a final plan.) The final plan goes through another staff review process, with the developer addressing comments from staff before the application goes to the Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission often reviews the final plan as part of the consent agenda and can choose to approve the plan in whole or in part, with or without modifications, or deny the application. Based on the zoning classification of the property, the final plan may not require Planning Commission approval.

The final plan does not have to be sent to the City Council for approval unless requested by two or more City Council members or the city manager.

Once final plan approval is received, the developer can apply for permits to start construction.


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Popular planning questions

Why do projects the neighbors don’t like still get approved?

While members of the public have the opportunity to provide input on proposals, the Planning Commission and City Council take many issues into consideration when making decisions about an application. Rezoning and special use permits are evaluated based on criteria found in the Unified Development Code, including the character of the neighborhood, zoning of the properties nearby, conformance to the Comprehensive Plan, adequacy of utilities and impact on the environment and street network.

Common concerns raised by neighbors include increased traffic, increased crime and lower property values. Some of the issues are more subjective, while others are reasonably quantifiable. For example, traffic impacts are measured based on the Institute of Transportation Engineers Trip Manual, and roadways are built to handle a specific number of vehicles or trips.


How do I know which specific businesses are coming to the proposed development?

Sometimes, the developer knows the specific type of business or brands that will be located in their development. However, they are not required to reveal the eventual tenant as part of their application. In multi-tenant buildings or developments consisting of numerous buildings, it’s less likely the developer will know who all of the tenants will be at the time of application.

How do I provide input on a planning or zoning issue?

Rezoning and special use permit applications require a public hearing at the Planning Commission, during which members of the public are invited to speak. Depending on the number of speakers, the chairperson may limit the length of all presentations or comments. This guide to presenting at a Planning Commission meeting provides helpful tips about how meetings and hearings typically proceed. When public hearings aren’t required at the Planning Commission or City Council, the chairman or mayor still typically allow public comment on the issue.

Whenever the Planning Commission or City Council consider an application, emails and letters are also a welcome way to share feedback. These are included in the meeting packet if received in time or provided to members shortly before the meeting.


How do proposals come to the Planning Commission?

Developers or property owners submit development proposals to the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission and City staff do not solicit development proposals; they react to proposals that are submitted to them. Neither staff nor the Planning Commission has the authority to not consider an application. This doesn’t mean the application has to be approved – it means all applicants have the right for their application to be considered by the Planning Commission.