Maria Barnes on Neighborhood Conservation Districts

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In response to panicky and misinformed e-mails spreading alarm about the idea of Neighborhood Conservation Districts, Councilor Maria Barnes, who revived the dormant issue at the request of many of her District 4 constituents, has sent out an e-mail clarifying the overall concept and the specific proposal under discussion.

Neighborhood Conservation Districts

In the past several weeks, I have received numerous emails and phone calls inquiring about the proposed conservation district ordinance. The proposed ordinance would allow neighborhoods to finely tune the zoning code to address/maintain the physical characteristics of their neighborhood. If the neighborhoods choose to do so, the ordinance would empower them to adopt an overlay zoning that would help preserve features they believe important to the houses in their neighborhood. There is a great deal of misinformation about what this ordinance will and will not do. So, I would like to take this opportunity to explain the proposed ordinance.

Was the ordinance drafted without the involvement of the regional planning body INCOG?

Those concerned that this is a legislative initiative of a city councilor, and not Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) staff, should be aware that the current draft is based on a 1995 draft ordinance proposed by TMAPC staff. It has been on the table for 13 years.

Beginning in 1992, Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) staff researched and developed draft recommendations for a conservation district overlay designation. The Conservation District Study was included in the TMAPC's annual work program in 1994-95 and 1995-96, "in response to development pressures that [had] begun to affect several of the city's otherwise stable neighborhoods. These pressures [were] the result of inappropriate and often obsolete zoning patterns or the expansion of major non-residential uses adjacent to or into residential areas. The study's purpose was to identify and recommend means to stabilize the neighborhoods without jeopardizing the adjacent uses' viability."

Conservation Zoning is not Historic Preservation

This ordinance is not designed to slow or stop the demolition of houses and replacing them with newer ones. Quite the opposite, the ordinance freely allows new houses to be built within conservation districts, provided the builder meets the reasonable guidelines that the homeowners create.

A Conservation District would not be imposed against homeowners' wishes.

In order to establish the overlay zoning, neighborhoods would have to demonstrate significant support for the zoning. The neighborhoods would be able to choose the types of features to include in the overlay, whether it is setbacks, height, or roof pitch.

Conservation District Zoning could not be used to enforce "taste."

The adopted guidelines will be up to the individual neighborhoods; however, those guidelines will be limited to size, scale, and other objective criteria consistent with existing, predominate features of the neighborhood. No one will be able to dictate aesthetic requirements such as paint color or window styles.

Conservation Districts will not impose additional red tape.

The current version of the ordinance would allow the Conservation Districts to be administered through the building and permitting office, just like any other construction project.


Based upon the input I have received from homeowners in my district, I chose to work on this proposed ordinance. However, I am always interested in hearing more.

Please let me know what you think of conservation districts, and whether you believe your neighborhood would benefit from such an ordinance. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at 596-1924.

Something that could be clearer in Barnes's response is that, while the neighborhood would be involved in the drafting of guidelines, the guidelines and the NCD boundaries would be reviewed by the TMAPC and require the approval of the City Council and the Mayor -- the same process used for any other zoning change, including overlay districts like Planned Unit Developments (PUD) and Historic Preservation (HP) districts. And as with any other zoning change, a protest petition signed by a sufficient number of property owners in or near the district would trigger a supermajority -- seven of the nine councilors would have to approve the NCD rezoning in order for it to go into effect. Here's the relevant portion of the Tulsa City Charter, section 6.3, adopted by the vote of the people in the 2006 city primary election:

In the event a protest against a proposed zoning change is filed at least three (3) days prior to the hearing of the Council by the owners of twenty percent (20%) or more of the area of the lots included in such proposed change, or by the owners of fifty percent (50%) or more of the area of the lots within a three hundred foot (300') radius of the exterior boundary of the territory included in a proposed change, such zoning change shall not become effective except by the affirmative vote of three fourths (3/4) of the entire membership of the Council. The Council shall establish by ordinance the procedures to be followed in the filing, validation, and acceptance of a protest authorized by this Section.

While it's mathematically possible that an NCD could be approved without the support of the overwhelming majority of the property owners within it, it's politically very unlikely.

As I've already communicated to Eric Gomez, her opponent in the April 1 general election, I will be happy to publish any statement he cares to make on the subject of Neighborhood Conservation Districts. In our phone conversation, Gomez disavowed a statement in an e-mail circulated by an NCD opponent claiming that he (Gomez) absolutely opposes NCDs.

You can find the first draft of an NCD enabling ordinance, the City Council staff analysis of NCDs in other cities, and my latest column on the subject, linked from this BatesLine entry, Fighting FUD on NCDs.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 10, 2008 10:42 PM.

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