A stay of execution for a historic home


Good news at 15th and Utica: Tulsa Preservation Commission denied a request to demolish a home in the Yorktown historic district and turn it into parking for a new Arvest Bank branch. The bad news is that this is really only a stay of execution. The TPC can only delay demolition of a historic structure for 60 days.

Charles Norman, the attorney for Arvest, was quoted as saying, “This development [the new bank and the accompanying demolition] will end up helping the neighborhood by stabilizing its corners and encouraging residents to improve their own properties.” In fact, while the bank itself may be a good thing for the neighborhood, the encroachment into the residential area and the demolition of historic properties will undermine the value of surrounding properties. Homes that once faced other historic homes will now face a flat sheet of asphalt. People will be less likely to invest in maintaining and improving their homes without the assurance that historic standards will be enforced. Particularly vulnerable are the smaller homes along Victor Avenue and along the north side of 16th Street.

Charles Norman is right that infill development will be needed "to make Tulsa's core flourish," but it has to be done in a way that preserves the positive aspects of the neighborhood's character. The bank could have gone in at 15th & Lewis, in place of the vacant supermarket building, or it could have gone in without drive-thru lanes, using the extra space for parking and avoiding the need to demolish homes in the historic district.

One of the TPC commissioners says that the development would save the neighborhood from something much worse that could go there. That argument has often been put forward by Charles Norman himself. Mr. Norman, as City Attorney at the time, was the primary author of the zoning system we now have, and he continues to have a great deal of influence over its evolution and application. If you think about it, the message is, "The zoning code I created is so inadequate for infill development, so open to incompatible development, so insensitive to the character of existing development, that you should be grateful that what my client is proposing is only mildly incompatible."

The system is broken. The zoning code was designed for sprawling suburban development on vacant land. It has been patched more times than a six-pack-a-day smoker trying to kick the habit. It's time to replace it with something that works for our present circumstances.

Tulsa Topics has more here.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 17, 2005 7:26 AM.

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