Chipping away

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I've been watching the TMAPC rebroadcast from last Wednesday. The hearing had to do with removing historic preservation (HP) zoning from a part of the Yorktown HP district in order to make way for parking for a new Arvest Bank.

The lesson to be learned from this and all other contentious zoning issues is that if you can afford to hire Charlie Norman to plead your case, you will get everything you want. Thus has it always been.

The neighbors are rightly concerned that once a few lots have been removed from the district, the precedent will be set for further exclusions. HP zoning was pursued by Yorktown homeowners in order to protect the value of their investment in these historic homes. By mutually agreeing to submit to additional restrictions affecting the exterior of their property, these homeowners were trading the extra expense of maintaining the historic appearance of their property for the guarantee that their neighbors would be doing the same. And certainly they could have some confidence that if the house across the street were to go away, it would be replaced by another house across the street in character with the neighborhood. That confidence was misplaced.

During his rebuttal, Charlie Norman ridiculed the idea that this decision would set a precedent and told the commission that the neighbors' concern about "chipping away at the neighborhood" reveals that they have no confidence in the process, in the planning commission, or in the planning staff. That's right, Mr. Norman. The readiness with which the planning commission discards existing zoning and existing planning makes property owners very cynical. The handling of protest petitions in the 71st and Harvard case -- the constantly shifting standards and rules -- makes property owners very cynical. Sometimes you wonder if we may as well do away with zoning altogether, or if the only reason it exists is to ensure that Charles Norman and Roy Johnsen can make a living.

Some random notes:

  • Norman and several planning commissioners made tried to argue for the zoning change on the grounds that those lots should never have been included in the historic preservation district in the first place. It was an accident.
  • Dwain Midget is knee-jerk for whatever the developer wants and openly hostile to neighborhood representatives. What's more, he's a leftover from the Susan Savage administration. Why is he still the Bill LaFortune's proxy on the planning commission? Or did I just answer my own question?
  • Norman argued that one of the houses in the area to be rezoned is not a historic asset because it was constructed in the '20s for low-to-moderate income residence. So Mr. Norman believes that only the homes of the wealthy are worthy of preservation?

Property owners are looking for stability of expectations, some assurance that the lines on the zoning map really mean something. Developers -- some of them anyway -- want infill development to be as straightforward and uncontroversial as new development, and they don't have any respect for the investments that have been made by nearby property owners. For one year, for the first time in Tulsa's history, we had a City Council majority that was sympathetic to the interests of all property owners affected by infill development. The Home Builders Association and NAIOP and other developers' groups could be reasonable and sit down at the table with homeowners and other property owners to work out a fair system that would better serve the interests of all concerned.

They won't do that because they have been getting their way all this time, and rather than compromise, they'd rather stage a coup d'etat. What a bunch of babies.


CGHill said:

What is it with this Norman fellow? Down here in the Big Town, we actually had two houses built in Heritage Hills East by Habitat for Humanity. Not only are they not historic, but they're not owned by bigwigs. They conform, however, to Oklahoma City's design guidelines, and they're accepted as part of the Historic District.

Methinks Tulsa should either find a way to transplant something resembling a spine into its preservation ordinances, or quit pretending that they actually mean something.

pmcalk said:

Very insightful. Just thought I would add a few thoughts, since I was there. Because this was unprecedented, and so vehemently opposed by all of the historic neighborhoods, as well as the TPC, you would think they would carefully explain their justification for removing HP zoning. Instead, they justified their decision with such statements as "I don't have a problem with removing HP zoning." Well, we do. Also, Mr. Westervelt made it clear that he would not have removed HP zoning if the TPC simply had allowed them to build a parking lot. Great, but the HP zoning ordinance & the Yorktown guidelines did not permit the parking lot the way it was presented. So, basically Mr. Westervelt is saying that he would not have removed HP zoning, if the TPC had simply ignored the HP restrictions. What kind of logic is that?

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 6, 2005 9:18 PM.

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