Dear TMAPC, please don't dismember PLANiTULSA

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Today is the final public hearing before the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission for adoption of the PLANiTULSA vision and policy documents as Tulsa's first comprehensive plan in a generation. The hearing is in the City Council chambers today at 1:30, and I urge you either to attend and speak in support of the plan or send in a comment card for the TMAPC's consideration. Comments must be received before the close of the public hearing in order to be considered.

If you cannot appear in person, but would like to submit your testimony to the Planning Commission, please complete this online comment card or email your comments to and

PLANiTULSA supporters need to speak up. Elements of the developers' lobby in Tulsa are trying to strip away key components of the plan. These developers -- particularly the homebuilders -- object to the notion of "areas of stability" as it would appear to interfere with their ability to scrape midtown lots and turn leafy midtown neighborhoods into subdivisions full of Plano Palaces. (Here are the comments on the plan submitted Monday by Paul Kane, Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa Executive Vice President.)

P. 75 of the land use chapter of the PLANiTULSA policy plan defines areas of stability and the kind of development the plan anticipates for such areas:

2.9 Establish criteria for identifying areas of stability. Define areas of stability as:
  • Established neighborhoods
  • High performing commercial and industrial areas
  • Historic districts and areas with concentrations of historic structures

Planning/investment priorities for areas of stability include:

  • Connectivity and streetscapes improvements

  • Housing/neighborhood revitalization and rehabilitation programs

  • Redevelopment of aging strip centers or corridors

  • Small-scale infill that complements the character of the neighborhood and is consistent in form, scale, rhythm and proportion, as seen from the street

The developers also want to gut the small-area planning concept. PLANiTULSA proposes an extension of the sort of thing we're already doing (e.g. the Pearl District Plan, the Brookside Infill Plan), but the PLANiTULSA approach is to turn those plans, once they're complete and have been adopted, into zoning rules, so that a developer would be able to build something in accordance with the plan by right, rather than needing special TMAPC or BOA permission to proceed. This approach would make things much easier for developers in areas targeted for redevelopment, but the developers want things easier for themselves everywhere. The developers particularly don't want small-area planning applied to areas of stability, where the process could be used to develop design standards for infill redevelopment in established neighborhoods.

The developers' lobby strategy seems to be grounded in a legal theory that if the TMAPC takes elements out of the plan, the City Council can't put them back in. As seven of the nine city councilors were elected over the developers' lobby's objections, the TMAPC is their best shot at getting their way and blocking the council from adopting the complete plan. That's why it's important for ordinary Tulsans to have their voices heard by the TMAPC today.

While leaders of development and real estate organizations and prominent developers were appointed to the PLANiTULSA Citizens' Advisory Committee, they never seemed to participate in the give-and-take of the plan development process. I guess they thought they could swoop in at the last minute and have the TMAPC remake the plan to their liking.

Back in April 2006, I wrote a column in which I described five characteristics of an ideal land use planning and zoning system for Tulsa. Here are those five characteristics:

1. The aim of an ideal system would be to protect the investments of all property owners. That means homeowners as well as investors and developers.

2. My ideal system would be predictable. Before you invest in a piece of property you should be able to know with a high degree of certainty what you can and cannot do with your property and what your neighbors can and cannot do with theirs. If permission is dependent on the whim of city officials or on hiring a sufficiently expensive zoning attorney, the system isn't working as it should.

3. My ideal system would regulate what matters and leave the rest alone. Too often, our zoning code "protects" us against situations that really aren't problems, getting in the way of creative ideas that would enhance a neighborhood, while blithely permitting situations that are harmful to the neighborhood and the city as a whole. A good system allows as much freedom as possible, while not losing sight of the fact that what I do with my property affects the value of my neighbor's property.

4. My ideal system would accommodate a variety of neighborhood and development types in order to meet the variety of needs and interests in a city as big as Tulsa. There needs to be a place in Tulsa for an urban, densely developed downtown, as well as for big-box retail. There needs to be a place for both mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods where car-free living is possible, and for auto-oriented development with big-box stores and residential-only neighborhoods.

5. My ideal system would be clear and straightforward. The fewer and simpler the rules the better. Extra points for expressing those rules visually, to make it apparent to developers and homeowners alike what is allowed and what is not.

I support adoption of PLANiTULSA because, if adopted and if implemented, it will come close to creating the ideal system I outlined.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 10, 2010 8:36 AM.

Oklahoma Swingin' Country, 1989 was the previous entry in this blog.

TMAPC & PLANiTULSA: The hearing and the delayers is the next entry in this blog.

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