Bell's appealing roller coaster decision


I think I'm going to take a weekend off from blogging and this comes up: After months of piddling around by the attorney for Bell's Amusement Park, Roy Johnsen, Bell's has finally filed an appeal in their zoning case to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In October 2001, the Tulsa County Board of Adjustment voted 3-2 to approve a special exception to allow Bell's to build a new 88' tall roller coaster to the west of Zingo, much closer to a nearby and long-established neighborhood. The neighborhood appealed, and in August 2002, District Judge David Peterson rejected the zoning change, which was contrary to the Comprehensive Plan, which requires low-intensity development for that portion of the Fairgrounds.

I'll later update this entry with more detail, but for now I'll say that Peterson was right, with law and precedent to back him up. The Comprehensive Plan, which is approved by the City and County governments, prescribes what zoning changes are permissible for a given parcel of land, by means of an intensity designation. In 1984, the Fairgrounds was divided into three bands of intensities -- the westernmost section as low intensity, the easternmost as high intensity, and in between a medium intensity section. The low and medium intensity sections directly border neighborhoods, while the high intensity section abuts retail development.

The Tulsa County Board of Adjustment exceeded its authority in granting a special exception for a high intensity use in an area designated low intensity. Here's a quote from an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling relevant to this case.

The board of adjustment cannot have unconfined and unrestrained freedom of action. It is not at liberty to depart from the comprehensive plan embodied in the ordinance and it cannot, under the guise of exceptions and variances, modify, amend, repeal, or nullify the ordinance by establishing new zone lines and creating different areas for the drilling of oil and gas wells and thereby essentially change and substantially derogate the fundamental character, intent, and true purpose of the zoning law. Its power of review in granting variations and exceptions is limited to adjusting practical difficulties and unusual emergencies which may arise in a particular case when the strict enforcement of the provisions of the ordinance would constitute an unnecessary hardship.

The BoA isn't free to do whatever it wants, and property owners should be grateful. Well-written zoning and planning regulations help to remove uncertainty that might prevent investment.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 22, 2003 2:12 AM.

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