Whirled says homeowners should do their homework


I don't have the energy at this late hour to take apart Janet Pearson's condescending, simplistic, and one-sided column in Sunday's Whirled about zoning controversies. The column is little more than a dressed-up presentation of the views of Jerry Lasker, director of the Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG), whose planning staff were behind the successful (and unlawful) effort to invalidate the protest petition against the rezoning of 71st and Harvard.

It's apparent she only has second-hand knowledge of neighborhood complaints about Tulsa's zoning process, filtered through the perspective of the people who run the zoning process and are quite pleased with it. Her treatment of the subject would have benefitted from some conversation with actual neighborhood leaders like Brookside's Nancy Apgar, Mona Miller from 71st & Harvard, or Maria Barnes from Kendall-Whittier.

Here are a few excerpts and my comments:

Few happenings at City Hall generate more controversy than zoning cases. Each year there are usually several big zoning fights, as well as countless smaller ones that don't make headlines but still make enemies.

Several recent cases -- notably the Wal-Mart grocery store proposal for 41st Street and Harvard Avenue -- are cases in point.

Interesting that 71st & Harvard doesn't get an explicit mention. Could it be because the rezoning benefitted a company with close connections to her employer?

Residents have a good point: Developers and their representatives usually do have the upper hand because of their experience and superior knowledge of the zoning process.

No, Janet, real residents will tell you that developers have the upper hand because the system is slanted in the developer's favor. The 71st & Harvard neighbors demonstrated a sophisticated awareness of the zoning process when they presented a protest petition to the City Council, which under the law raises the bar to require supermajority approval for rezoning. INCOG staff and the City Attorney's office responded to this "superior knowledge" by changing the rules to invalidate their petition.

But homeowners could improve their chances of altering proposals and even prevailing in the end by doing a little homework. In the Wal-Mart case, it was evident some had done their research.

The subtext here: "The system is just fine. Neighborhoods can prevail, if they will only do their homework. The 71st & Harvard neighbors lost, not because of a slanted system, but because they didn't do their homework. Poor stupid neighbors."

Study of land-use issues should begin even before buying property. "If you're looking to buy a house, look at the neighborhood. Look at the zoning in the area. Go to the planning commission office to see if there are uses other than residential approved for the area," recommends Jerry Lasker, director of the area planning agency INCOG, which includes the local zoning department, the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission....

"Also, look at what's across the street," he continues. If there is more intense development -- busy commercial or retail businesses, for example -- nearby, then there is a good chance pressure will grow in that area for more such development to occur.

Homeowners would do themselves a favor if they familiarize themselves with two important documents: the comprehensive plan and the development guidelines. There are other documents that are valuable to review also: protective covenants, subdivision plats, even the zoning code itself.

All the "homework" that Pearson recommends (really Lasker through her) was done by people in the 71st & Harvard area. They looked at the existing zoning -- residential. The looked at the comprehensive plan -- low-intensity residential. They looked at nearby development -- all residential for at least a mile in each direction. Previous proposals for commercial development had been turned down. The neighbors had good reason to expect that the site would remain residential. None of it mattered, because power trumps law when it comes to land use regulation in Tulsa.

That's enough for now -- but there's plenty more to rebut. Lasker defends the practice of ignoring the Comprehensive Plan, rather than amending it to reflect changing conditions, and says that infill development doesn't have to be consistent with existing development -- in fact you should expect it to be inconsistent and more intensive. Lasker even tries to wrap INCOG's policies with the mantle of "smart growth".

The more I mull it over, the more this column looks like damage control, trying to paper over the serious issues raised by the 71st & Harvard case, trying to take the wind out of the sails of efforts to challenge the current stacked zoning process in the courts and at the ballot box. If you haven't yet, go back and read my entry on the lawsuit, with excerpts and a link to the full text, and be amazed at the creative efforts expended to deny property owners due process.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 22, 2003 1:41 AM.

41st & Harvard: One for the neighborhoods was the previous entry in this blog.

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