Pearl District rezoning proposals: Approval courts public cynicism

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In less than an hour the Tulsa City Council will consider three zoning proposals to take specific properties out of the Pearl District Form Based Code -- which gives property owners a great deal of flexibility as to their use -- and place them under specific traditional zoning classifications.

I sent the following email to all nine City Councilors.

I am writing to urge you to deny Z-7274, Z-7275, and Z-7276, the three requests that will come before you this evening to remove specific properties from the Pearl District Form Based Code regulating plan. Unfortunately, I cannot appear in person tonight to speak to the Council, but I hope you will take these points into consideration.

Please remember that, on matters of amendments to the zoning ordinance and the zoning map, the TMAPC is only a recommending committee and the City Council has full authority under Oklahoma law and Tulsa ordinance to disregard the TMAPC's recommendation by denying or amending the proposed changes. The lawyers, including the City Attorney, may try to frighten you with the threat of being sued personally for denying these zoning changes, but a zoning change is a legislative matter and the City Council is the legislative body of the City of Tulsa.

There are three reasons you should deny these requests:

1. This is spot zoning of the worst sort. Spot zoning is plucking a single parcel out of an area for rezoning, without regard to the zoning of the surrounding properties. Tulsa has carefully avoided spot zoning for many years, after a period 40 years or so ago in which it was common. Approving these changes will establish a precedent that will make it very difficult for the council to deny future spot zoning changes without seeming to be "arbitrary and capricious."

2. The proposed spot rezonings of these parcels to traditional zoning classifications give the subject property owners less flexibility for future use than they have under the Form Based Code plan for the Pearl District. The current uses are conforming uses under the Pearl District plan. When and if a future owner decides to replace them, under the proposed traditional zoning classifications, they will have to conform to parking minimums and use restrictions that would not apply under the Form Based Code. If these rezonings are approved tonight, future redevelopment on these properties is more likely to require further hearings before the Board of Adjustment, TMAPC, and City Council, with the attendant attorney's fees.

Why would owners agree to a rezoning that works against their interests? I can only speculate, but notice that the applicants are not the property owners but attorneys. Zoning attorneys might fear losing business if the Form Based Code is allowed to take hold, and property owners have more options to develop their property by right, without requiring the services of these attorneys.

3. Approving these changes would eviscerate nearly 20 years of planning for the Pearl District. In the early 1990s, efforts to plan a pedestrian-friendly future for this district that links downtown to Cherry Street and the University of Tulsa. This area developed about 100 years ago, when feet and streetcars were the prevalent way for people to get from home to work, shopping, school, and church. As rising gas prices and aging eyes encourage more Tulsans to reduce their dependance on the automobile, the Pearl District is one of the best suited neighborhoods in Tulsa to meet the demand for pedestrian-friendly living. Approving these three zoning amendments would tell the residents and business owners of the Pearl District who worked for years and fought hard for the small-area plans and form-based code that their efforts were in vain.

4. It would send a message to Tulsa citizens participating in small-area planning and in efforts like PLANiTULSA is a complete waste of time. We spent a lot of money bringing in a planning team and holding public events to develop PlaniTulsa. Much time was taken to amend the Pearl District and PLANiTULSA plans to make as many Tulsans as possible happy before the City Council adopted them. Approving these zoning changes tells Tulsans that they're right to be cynical and hopeless about their influence over city government.

At the beginning of the PLANiTULSA process, Robin Rather and her firm Collective Strength polled 1000 Tulsans. 70% agreed with the statement, "I'm concerned the plan will be too influenced by those who have a lot of money." Rather said at the time, "A lot of people feel like it doesn't matter how you plan. Folks that have a lot of money, or a lot of influence get to do what they want." Tulsans were telling her, "We engage in the public process, we go to these meetings, we do the hard work, but at the end of the day our expectations are not met."

Your vote tonight will either move Tulsans in the direction of cynicism or engagement. A vote against all three zoning map amendments will give Tulsans hope that their involvement in planning will be respected by their elected officials.

MORE: The BatesLine article, Keeping the Promise to the Pearl District, has a history of planning in the Pearl District and links to further articles and resources.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on August 21, 2014 5:24 PM.

Tulsa County Property Taxation: Introductory and advanced was the previous entry in this blog.

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