Historic non-preservation

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There's a story in Sunday's Whirled (starts here, jump page here) about a revival of plans to build a new Arvest Bank branch on the southeast corner of 15th and Utica. The dispute isn't so much about the bank building itself, which will sit on the site of the old H. L. Moss store, but about the parking, which will replace three homes within the Yorktown Historic Preservation zoning district, and about access from the bank lot to Victor Avenue, currently a residential street.

The dispute is ultimately the result of trying to do suburban-style development in one of Tulsa's few remaining walkable urban neighborhoods. If the bank were built without a drive-through, the parking could probably fit in the already commercialized area at the corner, without the need to sacrifice the historic homes.

Residential areas in that part of Midtown are very vulnerable to commercial encroachment. In the suburbs, the typical development pattern puts commercial development at one mile intervals on the corners only -- expanding a suburban commercial node by a few acres would still leave a sufficiently large residential area to be viable as a neighborhood.

In Midtown, the residential areas are divided every half mile (or in some places, more often) by major streets with commercial facilities and offices all along streets. The kind of small-scale commercial development that was done when the neighborhoods were first built, in the 1910s and 1920s, is a good fit and compliments the residential areas without overwhelming them. Large-scale suburban-style development endangers these classic urban neighborhoods by encroaching further into what is already a fairly small residential area. Yorktown Neighborhood already has to deal with expansion pressure from St. John Medical Center, as well as traffic that winds its way through the neighborhood on the way to the hospital. At some point, a residential area can become too small for homeowners to consider it viable, and property values begin to decline.

The story also highlights how weak Tulsa's historic preservation ordinance is. HP overlay zoning can only be applied to residential areas -- commercial buildings can't be covered. If a property owner wants to demolish an HP-zoned home, the most the City can do is delay demolition for four months, in hopes that the owner can be persuaded to sell it to someone who will keep the building standing.

The point of an HP ordinance is to preserve the investment of homeowners who restore and improve their homes. When you demolish three historic homes to build a parking lot, you not only lose a part of a neighborhood, but homes that once were buffered from commercial development and major streets are now exposed, and they lose some of their value in the process. This can trigger a gradual erosion of the neighborhood from the outside in.

City Councilor Tom Baker's offer to help find a compromise between the bank and the neighborhood seems beside the point. He and the rest of the Council should be working on improving our zoning code so that it recognizes the difference between 15th & Utica and 71st & Memorial. What works in one type of neighborhood may be destructive to another. That's why many cities, including Oklahoma City and Dallas, use neighborhood conservation districts to customize zoning rules to accommodate new development while preserving and enhancing the character of a neighborhood. As more and more development will be happening in already-developed parts of town, we need to deal with the issue at long last, even if it offends certain special interest groups. We can and must find an approach that is fair to all.

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» Preservation act from dustbury.com

Tulsa's historic preservation ordinance is excessively weak, says Michael Bates: HP overlay zoning can only be applied to residential areas — commercial buildings can't be covered. If a property owner... Read More

Mark Radzinski (744-5209 and mradzinski@aep.com), President of Yorktown Neighborhood Association, is organizing members of historic preservation districts in Tulsa to speak at the February 2, 2005, 1:30 p.m. public hearing of the Tulsa Metropolitan Are... Read More

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 10, 2005 12:40 AM.

The crux of the matter was the previous entry in this blog.

Never met a tax they didn't like is the next entry in this blog.

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