PLANiTULSA: Wither INCOG?

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A commenter on another website noticed that I hadn't said anything about behind-the-scenes machinations by the INCOG -- the Indian Nations Council of Governments -- to modify the PLANiTULSA vision and policy plan, particularly the part that recommends that the City of Tulsa bring in-house the planning functions it currently outsources to INCOG. Here are the paragraphs that have INCOG leadership's knickers in a twist, from the Strategies section of Our Vision for Tulsa, p. 44, Step 6: Organize Planning and Development Functions for Implementation:

Organization matters, and currently Tulsa's planning and development functions are spread between many agencies and departments. Development services and economic development functions reside in different departments. The city's redevelopment activities and programs are carried out by the Tulsa Development Authority, and staffed by the City's economic development and real estate management staffs. Neighborhood planning functions are a part of city government. While the city is leading PLANiTULSA, long range planning and zoning is staffed by INCOG under contract with the City, and the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) with both county and city appointees is the key planning advisory body and is responsible for both zoning and comprehensive planning.

For PLANiTULSA to be successful it is critical that the city coordinate development-related activities so they work together to effectively address changes desired by Tulsans. The City of Tulsa should enhance staff capacity and technical skills and consolidate city development-related activities into a Community Development Department as well as bring the current and long range planning functions that are currently outsourced to the INCOG into this new structure. This would result in City staff providing the review and analysis of development requests as well as staffing the Tulsa Metropolitan Planning Commission. The City of Tulsa should continue to support INCOG's leadership role in regional planning and transportation. INCOG's support and regional leadership is critical to implementing the PLANiTULSA vision.

I could launch into commentary at this point, but I've noticed a lot of confusion about what INCOG is, how it relates to the TMAPC and the City of Tulsa, and what would be the practical consequences of implementing the strategy described above. Here are the facts:

INCOG has two core roles. It serves as the Council of Governments (COG) for a sub-state planning district, one of 11 established by the State of Oklahoma in 1970 to cover the entire state, and it is a Metropolitan Planning Organization, fulfilling federal regional planning requirements tied to federal funding.

The Oklahoma Association of Regional Councils (OARC) is the association of Oklahoma's 11 COGs, a group that includes INCOG, COEDD (Central Oklahoma Economic Development District), and SODA (Southern Oklahoma Development Association). The OARC website explains the origin of Oklahoma's COGs and their core responsibilities:

Regional Councils are voluntary associations of local governments formed under Oklahoma law. These associations deal with the problems and planning needs that cross the boundaries of individual local governments or that require regional attention. Regional councils coordinate planning and provide a regional approach to problem solving through cooperative action. Although known by several different names, including councils of governments, regional planning commissions, associations of governments and area councils, they are most commonly referred to as "regional councils" or COGs. No legal distinction exists among the different names.

Regional councils are defined by law as political subdivisions of the state, but they have no regulatory power or other authority possessed by cities, counties, or other local governments. Decisions by regional councils are not binding on member governments. These decisions are considered and adopted as members needs require. As political subdivisions, regional councils are subject to state laws governing open meetings, access to public records and conduct of public officials.

So a COG is a local government version of the United Nations -- a place for governments to talk, but with no power to tax or legislate. Any agreements are only enforced to the extent that member cities and counties choose to do so through their legislative process.

Here is a map of Oklahoma's sub-state planning districts. INCOG's district is Tulsa, Osage, and Creek Counties -- the Tulsa Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area from 1963 to 1973.

INCOG is also a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Wikipedia explains:

A metropolitan planning organization (MPO) is a federally-mandated and federally-funded transportation policy-making organization in the United States that is made up of representatives from local government and governmental transportation authorities. In 1962, the United States Congress passed legislation that required the formation of an MPO for any urbanized area (UZA) with a population greater than 50,000. Federal funding for transportation projects and programs are channeled through this planning process. Congress created MPOs in order to ensure that existing and future expenditures of governmental funds for transportation projects and programs are based on a continuing, cooperative, and comprehensive ("3-C") planning process. Statewide and metropolitan transportation planning processes are governed by federal law (23 U.S.C. ยง 134-135). Transparency through public access to participation in the planning process and electronic publication of plans now is required by federal law. As of 2005, there are 385 MPOs in the U.S.

As one of Oklahoma's three MPOs, INCOG coordinates regional transportation planning for the Tulsa Transportation Management Area (TMA), which covers Tulsa County and parts of four other counties: southeastern Osage (including Skiatook Lake), southwest Rogers (including Claremore), western Wagoner (including Coweta and all of Broken Arrow), and northeastern Creek (including Sapulpa, Kiefer, and Mounds). INCOG conducts ongoing 25-year long-range transportation planning in a five-year cycle -- the latest, Connections 2035, is underway.

(Two other MPOs serve Oklahoma: ACOG for the Oklahoma City TMA, which covers Oklahoma and Cleveland Counties, plus parts of Logan, McClain, Grady, and Canadian Counties, and the Lawton Metropolitan Planning Organization, which covers the urbanized central portion of Comanche County.)

INCOG provides these core services on behalf of its member local governments. Member governments pay dues proportional to population and have representation on the INCOG Board of Directors.

You may have noticed that the statement in the PLANiTULSA document affirms both of these core roles for INCOG.

What's at stake is INCOG's role in the City of Tulsa's zoning and land use planning process. Since 1980 (according to former State Rep. Bruce Niemi), the City of Tulsa has outsourced staffing for the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and the City of Tulsa Board of Adjustment to INCOG, through an annual contract. Before 1980 these roles were performed by the City of Tulsa's planning department; PLANiTULSA proposes restoring that situation.

Staff at INCOG's Land Development Services, headed by Wayne Alberty, process applications for rezoning, subdivision plats, special exceptions, and variances. Land Development staff maintain the records of past zoning and planning decisions. They also analyze these zoning and planning applications and make recommendations to the TMAPC and the BoA to approve, approve with changes, or reject. Often, when a zoning application is not in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan, INCOG staff will recommend approving the rezoning and then amending the Comprehensive Plan to match the rezoning.

According to INCOG's own website, this is an unusual arrangement:

INCOG is one of a few councils of government in the nation that also staffs local and metropolitan planning commissions. It provides staff services to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) and to the City of Tulsa and the Tulsa County Boards of Adjustment. INCOG also serves more than a dozen other local planning commissions and boards of adjustment in cities and counties in the Tulsa metropolitan area.

There's a lot of confusion about the relationship between the City of Tulsa, INCOG, and the TMAPC. Here are the facts:

INCOG Land Development Services provides staff for the City of Tulsa Board of Adjustment, the Tulsa County Board of Adjustment, and TMAPC.

Despite the word Metropolitan in its name, TMAPC only handles zoning and land use planning for the City of Tulsa and unincorporated portions of Tulsa County. Every other Tulsa County municipality has its own planning commission.

TMAPC, organized by the City of Tulsa and Tulsa County in 1953, is the only planning commission organized under Oklahoma Statutes, Title 19, Section 863.1 et seq. -- joint city-county metropolitan area planning commissions for counties over 180,000. (Oklahoma County/Oklahoma City would be eligible, but Oklahoma City has a city planning commission organized under Title 11, Chapter XLVII -- city planning commissions for cities over 200,000 -- and Oklahoma County has a planning commission under Title 19, Section 868.1 et seq. -- county planning commissions for counties over 500,000.)

INCOG's Community Planning division provides planning staff to a number of smaller municipalities, each of which has its own municipal planning commission.

The vital point here is that the City of Tulsa's relationship with INCOG as Metropolitan Planning Organization and the COG for the Sub-State Planning Area, its relationship with INCOG as provider of land planning services, and its relationship with TMAPC are not legally or logically interconnected. The City could choose not to renew its contract with INCOG for land use planning services and instead staff TMAPC and BoA internally. The City could move to a city planning commission like Oklahoma City's, while continuing to contract land use planning to INCOG. The City could even retain INCOG for land use record keeping but give City of Tulsa planners the job of analyzing and making recommendations on zoning applications and comprehensive plan modifications.

All of those choices are independent of each other, and none of them would affect Tulsa's relationship with INCOG as the COG for the sub-state planning area or as the Metropolitan Planning Organization for regional transportation planning.

There's the what. In a future post, I plan to address the why -- why some people want to take Tulsa's land use planning back into City Hall and why others want to be sure it stays put at INCOG.

RELATED LINKS:

The Census Bureau has lists of Metropolitan Areas going back to 1950 and historical info on metropolitan area definitions going back to 1910.

The Federal Highway Administration explains the special geographical entities -- urbanized zones, urban clusters, metropolitan planning areas, transportation management areas -- that play a role in transportation planning and funding.

Here is a map of the Tulsa Urbanized Area (UZA) based on the 2000 Census, which includes parts of Tulsa, Sand Springs, Sperry, Catoosa, Broken Arrow, Coweta, Bixby, Jenks, and Sapulpa. Note that Owasso, Glenpool, Skiatook, and Claremore are separate Urban Clusters, because of wide rural swaths separating them from Tulsa. Note too the large sections of north, east, and west Tulsa that are outside the urbanized area or were as of April 2000.

This directory covers the Tulsa urbanized area with seven more detailed maps showing the streets bounding urbanized areas.

A list of Oklahoma counties, municipalities, metropolitan and micropolitan areas, urbanized areas, urban clusters, school districts, and county subdivisions with their FIPS codes.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 29, 2010 12:26 PM.

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