Tulsa Zoning Category

Tulsa, north of downtown, aerial photo, 1951

Tulsa, north of downtown, satellite photo, 2014

Tulsa's Near Northside neighborhood, whose rise and demise I documented in a 2014 story for This Land Press ("Steps to Nowhere"), is part of an area that will be the subject of the Unity Heritage Neighborhoods Design Workshop, next week, September 11-15, 2017, led by urban design students from Notre Dame:

The University of Notre Dame Graduate Urban Design Studio will be traveling to Tulsa to work with our community to provide positive visions for future development. The studio will be conducting a 3-month design study focused on the Unity Heritage Neighborhoods located immediately north of downtown. The study broadly encompasses areas such as the Brady Heights Historic District, Emerson Elementary, Greenwood, and the Evans-Fintube site. To kick-off this effort, the studio will be conducting a week-long design workshop from September 11th - 15th to meet with the local community, to hear our thoughts for the area, and to begin envisioning the possibilities with us through a series of visual urban and architectural designs. Come on out and imagine the future together!

The workshop includes three events for public input and feedback. All are free and open to the public, but RSVPs would be appreciated. The links below will take you to the registration page for each event.

Workshop Introduction & Initial Community Input: Monday, September 11th, 2017, 6-8pm, at 36 Degrees North, 36 E. Cameron St. (That's just east of Main on Cameron in the Brady Bob Wills Arts District.)

Meet the team. Hear about the components necessary for making vibrant, walkable, mixed-use, diverse, and inclusive cities, towns, and neighborhoods. Share your vision and desires for the area.

Mid-Week Design Presentation & Initial Feedback: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017, 6-8pm, at the Greenwood Cultural Center:

Check out the in-process urban and architectural designs and provide feedback for the students to work on to further shape the vision.

End-of-Workshop Design Presentation & Feedback: Friday, September 15th, 6-8pm, at Central Library:

See the final designs from the week and provide your thoughts and feedback for the students to continue to work on during the remainder of their study. The studio will return to Tulsa in December to present their final designs and findings for the community to use as an ongoing resource.

MORE: Here's my Flickr set of images of Tulsa's lost Near Northside.

Tulsan Sarah Kobos has another insightful essay up at the Strong Towns website, illustrated with her own photos of lousy urban design right here in our hometown. While she's willing to forgive the urban design errors of the post-World War II decades, she politely asks cities to stop making them already:

Fine. We'll add the suburban development pattern to the long list of humanity's mistakes that occurred during the latter half of the 20th century. Like feathered bangs, the Ford Pinto, or any tattoo you got before the age of 35, sometimes we err, not because of malice, but from an understandable combination of ignorance and exuberance.

The thing that really drives me crazy is the present. Now, we know better. We recognize the economic, human health, and environmental benefits of traditional building patterns. And yet, there is so much inertia built into the system, we just keep building car-centric crap like it was 1985.

While there are walkable sections of the city that benefitted from neglect when we were busy tearing down downtown and building suburban neighborhoods, they are now endangered by their own success:

In older parts of the city, walkable neighborhoods are being rediscovered and revitalized because they're interesting, human-scaled, and pleasant. People are drawn to them because they have character, and because it's nice to be able to walk to dinner or bike to meet friends for coffee. Understandably, the moment a particular neighborhood becomes popular--thanks to its historic buildings and traditional building pattern--it will attract new development. But if you're not prepared with zoning laws to enhance and support walkability, you'll get what everyone knows how to build, which is crap for cars.

If you've wondered why urban advocates are so concerned about demolition and redevelopment in downtown and midtown neighborhoods, Sarah offers a clear and simple explanation: It's easier to preserve walkability in neighborhoods that were optimized for people getting around on foot -- with smaller blocks and buildings oriented to the sidewalk -- than to try to create it in neighborhoods that were optimized for getting around in a car. Because of Tulsa's relatively young age, we never had that many walkable neighborhoods to begin with, and too many of those we had have fallen victim to urban renewal, expressway construction, and inappropriate infill development approved by our city officials.

That's why many of us have long believed we should follow in the footsteps of nearly all of our peer regional cities and institute special design-focused land-use rules in our walkable, historic commercial districts. Oklahoma City, Wichita, Little Rock, Dallas, Fort Worth, Kansas City all have design rules customized to protect walkable neighborhoods. Tulsa doesn't, in part because of the idea that chain stores and restaurants will insist on building their standard design everywhere. But anyone who has traveled around the country or around the world has seen examples of standard chains -- McDonald's, 7-Eleven, Walgreens, to name a few -- who have adapted designs to local requirements in order to have a store where there are customers they want to reach.

While our new zoning code allows for this kind of district, certain developers have fought against it tooth-and-nail, and we haven't seen any leadership in the right direction from any of our mayors. Instead, rules that were written for auto-oriented suburban commercial development govern these walkable commercial districts:

Since that time, we have gradually added requirements to our ordinances governing commercial lots: parking per square foot of building space; percent of landscaping area; maximum floor area ratios; building setbacks, prohibitions against residential uses, and many more. But every one of these requirements was created with car-oriented, suburban-style development in mind. The zoning code didn't support the old places built for people on foot, and in far too many cities, ordinances and zoning maps have still not been updated to protect these incredibly valuable assets.

While I've been pleased to see some street-oriented infill development along Cherry Street replacing auto-oriented development -- Roosevelt's (where the car wash used to be), Chipotle, CVS (replacing a convenience store) -- the requirement for a ridiculously large minimum number of parking spaces has required the removal of many homes and small apartment buildings, reducing the number of people who can live affordably within walking distance of all these amenities. The massive parking lots reduce the area's density, which also reduces its economic productivity. Generally speaking, the higher the population density (up to a point far more dense than Tulsa will ever be), the less you have to spend on infrastructure to serve a given population.

I've been hoping for some leadership at City Hall on this issue for many years, but I've long since given up holding my breath. I appreciate the efforts of Tulsans like Sarah Kobos to educate citizens with vivid examples and lively language. Maybe, someday, we'll reach critical mass and see things change.

MORE: A collection of links to past BatesLine articles on zoning generally and in support of overlay districts such as neighborhood conservation districts, urban conservation districts, and historic preservation districts.

San Antonio's Majestic Theatre facade, by Michael Bates (IMG_0547)

A friend asked me recently where I stood on the issue of design guidelines in zoning, particularly as it affects property rights and a proposed overlay district for downtown Tulsa. I referred him to a sampling relevant articles from the BatesLine archive, in which I discuss zoning generally and defend the idea of overlay districts such as neighborhood conservation districts, urban conservation districts, and historic preservation districts. I thought the links might be of broader interest:

Citizen-Jane.jpgCitizen Jane, a film documenting the struggle to preserve Lower Manhattan from being destroyed by expressway construction in the 1960s, is currently showing at Tulsa's Circle Cinema. A special event at the 2:00 pm showing on Sunday, May 21, 2017, will pay tribute to Tulsa activist Betsy Horowitz, who led the successful fight to preserve Maple Ridge and River Parks from a planned expressway.

Jane Jacobs, a journalist by training and a Greenwich Village resident, turned her lessons learned fighting the city planners into a number of books that have stood the test of time, the most famous of which is The Death and Life of Great American Cities. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what makes a neighborhood or district thrive and what makes it fail.

Citizen Jane is a timely tale of what can happen when engaged citizens fight the power for the sake of a better world. Arguably no one did more to shape our understanding of the modern American city than Jane Jacobs, the visionary activist and writer who fought to preserve urban communities in the face of destructive development projects. Director Matt Tyranuer (Valentino: The Last Emperor) vividly brings to life Jacobs' 1960s showdown with ruthless construction kingpin Robert Moses over his plan to raze lower Manhattan to make way for a highway, a dramatic struggle over the very soul of the neighborhood. The highway would have eliminated much of Washington Square Park and other Manhattan landmarks. Because of organized community opposition led by Jacobs, the project was dropped in 1969.

In Tulsa in the late 1960s, an outspoken Maple Ridge resident, Betsy Horowitz (1929-2009), similarly led the successful grassroots effort to oppose the Riverside Expressway that would have taken out historic Maple Ridge homes and Lee Elementary School, prevented the establishment of the Tulsa's River Parks and eliminated the opportunity for the current development of the much anticipated A Gathering Place. The Oklahoma Highway Department officially cancelled the expressway project in 1972. Betsy once stated that "to save Maple Ridge and Lee School was not just a dream of mine; it was a passion that became an obsession."

Circle Cinema has invited Andrew Horowitz, Betsy's son, to speak about his mother's efforts and passion after a screening of the film on Sunday, May 21, at 2pm. The Tulsa Historical Society will have a display of materials in the Circle lobby reflecting the events that unfolded during the battle over the proposed Riverside Expressway.


MORE:

Here's my tribute to Betsy Horowitz following her death in 2009. Unfortunately, the Goodbye Tulsa podcast interview (dead link) with Betsy's son Andrew Horowitz has vanished from the web; it wasn't captured by Internet Archive. (If someone has it, send it to me and I'll host it here.)

Here's my tribute to Jane Jacobs from 2006, which highlights three of her big ideas about cities and neighborhoods.

From 2005, my urban design reading list, which includes Jacobs's Death and Life of Great American Cities.

In 2011, Roberta Brandes Gratz, author of The Battle for Gotham, posted a thoughtful review of Jane Jacobs' legacy, in light of claims that she was responsible for NIMBYism.

Immature bald eagle and hundreds of white pelicans perch on a sandbar and in the shallows of the Arkansas River at Tulsa, January 2014. Looking northwest from Helmerich Park toward the 71st Street Bridge and Turkey Mountain.

Vision Tulsa Vote Yes ads claim (dishonestly) that approval of the Vision Tulsa Dam Tax hike on April 5, 2016, will prevent future strip malls from being built along the river. In fact, nothing in the Vision Tulsa propositions address development standards. Moreover,
the City Council has the power right now to prevent inappropriate development, both through the zoning ordinance and through placing conditions on the sale or lease of city-owned land. Far from helping protect the river corridor, voter approval of the proposed Vision Tulsa Dam Tax would instead surrender the only financial leverage Tulsans have to push for common-sense rules to ensure appropriate future development along the Arkansas River.

The City Council has had the power all along to amend the zoning ordinance to require appropriate and compatible development along the river. The City Council could create a new zoning district along the river and specify design guidelines for any new construction within the district. If the design guidelines are sufficiently objective, they could be enforced directly through the permitting process. If the design guidelines involve a degree of subjective judgment, the ordinance could require that applications for construction be approved by a design review board before a building permit is issued. While this cannot be done overnight -- the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission would have to review such an ordinance and make a recommendation before the City Council could act -- it can be done. We have an example just down the turnpike.

Oklahoma City has numerous design-focused zoning overlay districts; many of them have been in place for over 30 years. Some are intended to preserve the walkable, urban characteristics of historic commercial districts like 23rd Street and Classen Blvd. Some are aimed at ensuring that new development is compatible with existing development in a neighborhood. Two districts, established in 2007, specifically deal with the banks of the North Canadian River (aka "Oklahoma River"): The Scenic River Overlay District and the Scenic River Overlay Design District.

It's not as though the need for design guidelines along Tulsa's riverfront has suddenly arisen. Starting around ten years ago, chain restaurants, a shopping center, and a convenience store were built on the west side of Riverside between 96th Street and 101st Street. All of these buildings turn their backs to the river, and most are typical cookie-cutter, chain-store architecture, a huge waste of the unique opportunity presented by the river (sandbars or no sandbars). That nothing has been done to date leads me to believe that nothing would be done once the Council has secured the dam tax increase.

(MORE: In an August 2006 column, I explained why design guidelines were appropriate for unique places like riverfronts and the gateways to our city. In February 2007, then-Mayor Kathy Taylor called for a study of special zoning for the river corridor, but as far as I can tell, the effort never went beyond the discussion phase.)

City leaders have even more control over riverfront development when the project requires the use of publicly-owned land. And yet our current mayor and council seem determined to discard that leverage.

Back on August 11, 2015, the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority (TPFA) voted 3-2 to sell the northern section of Helmerich Park, a city park along the Arkansas River southwest of 71st and Riverside, to a commercial developer for the construction of a strip mall and large parking lot.

Just a few weeks earlier, on July 16, 2015, the City Council voted to change the comprehensive plan land-use designation for the parcel from "Park and Open-Space" to "Mixed-Use Corridor" and from "Area of Stability" to "Area of Change." This greased the path for any zoning accommodation that the developers might need. A no vote by the Council may well have deterred the developer from pursuing the shopping center.

A lawsuit challenging the TPFA's authority to sell city-owned land without the blessing of the City Council has put the sale on hold, but there are reports that proponents of the sale have found a way around this roadblock, and that this will be under discussion at a meeting of the TPFA this Thursday, March 31, 2016, 4:30 p.m, in Room 10-203 at City Hall. (The meeting notice is online, but the agenda has not yet been posted.) The way around the roadblock? If the City Council votes to abandon the section of the park as surplus to the city's needs, the lawsuit would be moot, and TPFA would have permission to move ahead with the sale to the developers.

Former Tulsa Mayor Terry Young has been a leader in the effort to stop the commercial development of the northern half of Helmerich Park. Late last week his alert was posted to the Save Helmerich Park Facebook page:

URGENT NOTICE!

Helmerich Park Friends:

The Tulsa Public Facilities Authority has scheduled a new Special Meeting to act on a request to the City Council to ABANDON parts of Helmerich Park.

The request to ABANDON a tract in the park is to allow the sale of the land to private developers for the construction of a 52,000 square foot shopping center and acres of asphalt parking.

WE NEED HELMERICH PARK SUPPORTERS TO ATTEND THIS MEETING TO RAISE DEEP CONCERNS ABOUT THIS ACTION!

The meeting will be:

Thursday
March 31, 2016
4 p.m.
Room 10-203 (Tenth Floor)
City Hall - One Technology Center
175 East 2nd Street

Please mark your calendar and try to attend. Bring other supporters. This board needs to know the depth and breadth of our opposition.

Here is what is at stake:

In response to our lawsuit which makes it clear that TPFA does not have the power to sell any or all of Helmerich Park, TPFA is planning to ask the City Council to do it by:
Passing a resolution abandoning the park use of a portion of Helmerich Park and finding it is no longer needed for public use.

PLUS:

TPFA will ask the City Council to:

Endorse, support, and consent to the sale of Helmerich Park to North Point Property for building a shopping center.

We have a full week to add this meeting to our respective schedules.

I hope you will join us to add many, many more faces to our efforts to sway TPFA and to SAVE HELMERICH PARK.

Terry Young

Just under the wire, I submitted my comments a week ago Saturday on the draft for public comment of the proposed zoning code for the City of Tulsa. This is a critical document for Tulsa's future, far more important than the debate over water-in-the-river.

The current zoning code is nearly 40 years old, based on the Vision 2000 comprehensive planning process of the 1970s. While the current code has been tweaked at the margins, it still reflects the view of urban planning that was in vogue in the age of bell bottoms, earth tones, and avocado green kitchen appliances: Strictly segregate work from home from church from school from shopping. Zone for what happens inside the building, rather than for what affects the neighbors (parking, noise, building scale and appearance). Treat established neighborhoods as obsolete areas in need of redevelopment.

The mid-'70s planning approach dates back even further. You can see the same themes in the earliest planning documents produced by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission in the late '50s. These principles have shaped Tulsa's development as it tripled in land area in 1966 and filled in the new territory over the next half-century, producing the traffic headaches we see particularly in south Tulsa and the erosion of many of Tulsa's closer-in pre-war neighborhoods.

Tulsa's new comprehensive plan reflects a better approach to development, as I explained when I spoke in support of its adoption in 2010:

The PLANiTULSA Policy Plan does an admirable job of accommodating growth and redevelopment while protecting the qualities that make most of Tulsa's neighborhoods desirable places to live, shop, play, and work. If the plan's recommendations are adopted and ultimately implemented in the City of Tulsa zoning code, the result will be clear, objective standards and a predictable environment for all stakeholders, including both property owners and developers. That predictable environment will help to reduce conflicts, uncertainty, and costs in redevelopment.

(In a 2006 column, I explained in greater detail the principles that should guide the ideal system of land-use regulation.)

Note the emphasis added above. The comprehensive plan doesn't accomplish anything unless it guides the development of city ordinances and capital improvements. So the City of Tulsa hired Duncan Associates to develop a new zoning code guided by the plan, and in February a draft was released, opening a four-month public comment period. On the Feedback Tulsa website -- the City's official online forum -- you can read background information about the draft zoning code, the draft, and the public comments that were submitted.

While you can find the draft code on the city's website, here is a local copy of the 2015 draft Tulsa zoning code for your convenience.

I submitted a brief overall comment and a spreadsheet of comments addressing specific provisions of the code. Here's the overall comment:

The draft code is well-organized, and the language is clear. The illustrations are helpful. I appreciate the thrust of the code toward handling routine and benign matters administratively rather than continuing to clog the BoA and Council agendas. The addition of new building types and new zoning types is also welcome. It should be remembered that the zoning code exists to serve the interests of all Tulsans -- home owners, commercial property owners, and tenants -- not just the interests of those who make a living in the real estate and development industry.

While the zoning code draft embodies many of the principles set out in the new comprehensive plan, it appears to bear the hatchet marks of development lobbyists seeking to continue to do business the same old way. Effectively killing form-based codes, granting of significant authority to a temporary city contractor, building high hurdles for the establishment of overlay districts which are weaker than those available in peer cities in this region, and limiting historic preservation to residential areas are examples of the vandalism that appears to have been perpetrated in the drafting of this code by those who were granted a special seat at the table.

In addition to the comments below, I concur with the comments submitted by Tulsa Now and Jamie Jamieson.

After submitting my comments, I noticed several more that I would endorse; I'll try to provide some excerpts in a separate entry. Here is a link to Tulsa Now's statement on the draft zoning code.

I should explain the reference to a temporary city contractor. The City of Tulsa contracts with the Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG) to maintain its zoning and planning records and to analyze and make recommendations on zoning, special exception, and variance cases that come before the city's Board of Adjustment and the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission. INCOG has two core roles under state statute, but its role in the City of Tulsa's land use planning process is contractual and renewed annually. It is also somewhat redundant, as Tulsa has its own planning staff which is quite capable of analyzing applications and making recommendations as well. Most of Tulsa's neighboring municipalities handle zoning and planning internally -- their own staff and their own planning commission, more directly accountable to the voters' elected representatives.

The draft of the zoning code gives considerable discretionary powers to a "land use administrator" who is identified as the director of development services for INCOG. One provision in the draft code gives the same discretionary power to both the land use administrator and the development administrator (an official in the City's planning department), presumably so that if a developer doesn't get the answer he wants from one official, he can get approval from the other official. If this INCOG land use administrator is biased in the exercise of his discretionary powers, city officials would have very little recourse. In my comments, I state that INCOG staff should only be given the task of record-keeping and administering the process; discretionary powers should be retained within city government.

My suspicion is that the development industry representatives who were given a special seat at the table to guide the drafting of the zoning code felt that they would have more influence, as they have in the past, over INCOG planning staff than over City of Tulsa planning staff.

And here (after the jump) are my comments on specific provisions:

It has been the City of Tulsa's policy for at least 15 years to build sidewalks when rebuilding arterial streets. During the recent reconstruction of Yale Avenue between 21st and 31st Streets, utilities were moved and sidewalks were built on both sides of the street, allowing safe passage for pedestrians and those in motorized wheelchairs. Even the historic brick columns that once marked the entrance to the Lortondale farm and the Meadowbrook Country Club were demolished to make room for the sidewalks, which were built within the city's right-of-way.

Even the east side of Peoria between 21st and 31st, through the well-to-do Terwilliger Heights neighborhood near Philbrook Museum, has a sidewalk, although it twists and turns around utility poles.

My very first column for Urban Tulsa Weekly, back in September 2005, was about the value of a walkable environment to people with disabilities, as well as other Tulsans who don't drive:

For tens of thousands of our fellow Tulsans, walkability isn't about rows of trendy cafes and quirky consignment shops, or about sidewalks to nowhere; it's about independence. For them, driving simply isn't an option. I'm not talking just about those who can't afford to operate a car.

There are those who are physically unable to drive. Many senior citizens, troubled by glare at night or uncertain of their reflexes, prefer to drive only during daylight or not at all. Teenagers are old enough to get around on their own, but either can't drive yet or shouldn't. For those who can't drive, urban design makes the difference between freedom and frustrating dependence.

Danny, a friend from church, has cerebral palsy and suffers from seizures. He can't drive, and he can only walk short distances with a cane, but he can get around with his electric scooter. Unfortunately, he lives on South Lewis, and he's been pulled over by the police more than once trying to go to the supermarket on his scooter. There aren't any sidewalks, and the only way to get to the store is on the street. Using Tulsa Transit's LIFT paratransit service requires booking a day in advance, waiting outside up to an hour for a ride, and leaving early enough to pick up and drop off other passengers on the way to his destination. LIFT isn't available on Sundays. If the next errand isn't reachable from the first by foot or scooter, it means another bus ride and another long wait. Because of the shape of our city, Danny doesn't have the freedom to go where he wants to go when he wants to go, and it makes Tulsa a frustrating place to live.

So sidewalks matter to Tulsans, and it's right and smart for the city to build them in the city's right-of-way, along with rebuilding the water and sewer lines when rebuilding the streets.

Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr evidently doesn't agree with the wisdom of this long-standing policy, because he has asked the Public Works Department to delete the sidewalk along the east side of Riverside Drive from plans for rebuilding that road around The Gathering Place. Dewey Jr seems to think it would be safer for pedestrians from nearby neighborhoods to cross four lanes of high-speed traffic on Riverside Drive, walk along the River Parks trail, and then cross Riverside again.

I wish I could say I was disappointed, but I can't say that I'm surprised. At least the neighborhood will be safe from muggers on Hoverounds.

MORE: No, they can't use the Midland Valley Trail to get to the Gathering Place; it's closed for three years.

STILL MORE: Good for Public Works director Paul Zachary for refusing to remove the sidewalk from the plans. Boo to Bartlett Jr. for forcing the removal, apparently at the behest of a campaign donor who is also his oil company's landlord.

SD004971

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.

Just got an email from the Tulsa County Republican Party announcing volunteer door-knocking days on behalf of Dewey Bartlett Jr, running for re-election as Mayor of Tulsa. Although this is officially a non-partisan race, both candidates are closely identified with their respective parties, and both were elected to their first terms on a partisan ballot.

Several things about the email were surprising. Five dates were listed, and of those five, only three were going to be staffed by the Tulsa County Republican Party. One date was for the Rogers County Republican Party and another for the Washington County Republican Party. The City of Tulsa has no territory in Washington County, and only a narrow fenceline in Rogers County. Occasionally you have as many as two Rogers County voters who show up to vote in a city election. The email address for the point of contact for the effort is that of the Oklahoma Republican Party's northeastern field rep.

I can understand why the state GOP would be concerned. Kathy Taylor has the means to self-fund a campaign for higher office, threatening solid GOP control of the State Capitol and Oklahoma's congressional delegation. A defeat in November, one presumes, would put an end to any ambitions for higher office.

On the other hand, consider that Democrat Susan Savage was mayor for 10 years, left office without ever being defeated, and was considered a potential candidate for higher office, but she has never even made the attempt. Her only post-mayoral position has been her appointment as Secretary of State by a fellow Democrat, Gov. Brad Henry. If she ran to be a senator or congressman or governor, Kathy Taylor would have to run for office as a Democrat, and her views on national and ideological issues would come to the fore. Republicans who might be comfortable with her as mayor would block her from election to a legislature where the numbers of Ds and Rs determines overall control.

Taylor herself seems to have had a couple of ripe opportunities to move up into state or national elective politics, but she hasn't. Presumably her pollsters tell her she can't win statewide or even CD1-wide right now.

It's sad that Bartlett Jr can't muster enough enthusiasm among Republicans in the City of Tulsa to get them to knock doors for him. I imagine that many Republican activists were turned off by Bartlett Jr's endorsement of Taylor's re-election, his hostility toward the Republican-majority council that served during the first half of the term, and by what appears to be at best a chilly relationship with the councilors who replaced them (most of them with the support of Bartlett Jr's allies). Not to mention his support for gay-rights legislation and the Vision2 pork-barrel and corporate welfare county tax. (Not that Taylor is any better on those issues.) I still have yet to hear of a current councilor who endorses Bartlett Jr's re-election.

I imagine that the Democratic Party is as anxious to get Taylor elected as the Republicans are to prevent it, and that they too are importing out-of-town Democratic activists to support her campaign.

So our first-ever non-partisan mayoral election has become a proxy battle between the two major national parties. The motivating issue for politicos outside our city limits (and for some inside) is whether the Democrats' best hope for breaking the Republican monopoly in Oklahoma will have or will be deprived of Tulsa City Hall as a platform from which to run for higher office.

But the question on the minds of many Tulsans: What difference will November's result make to the way city government is run? Whether it's Taylor or Bartlett Jr, the same "leading Tulsa citizens" -- the usual suspects -- will be appointed to authorities, boards, and commissions. Whether it's Bartlett Jr or Taylor, the same guy who has been around since the Randle Administration will oversee urban planning and serve as the Mayor's proxy on the Planning Commission.* Whoever wins, we'll still be stuck with the complicated and messy trash system imposed upon us by board members that Kathy appointed and Dewey re-appointed (or didn't bother to replace). Whoever wins will fall all over himself or herself to back the Tulsa Regional Chamber's latest wheeze.

*NOTE: Dwain Midget appears in news reports as early as February 7, 1991, as the Mayor's representative on the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission. The description in the linked article is incorrect: the Mayor does have a vote on the TMAPC, a vote which which has been exercised by Mr. Midget on the Mayor's behalf for over 22 years under five different mayors from both major parties. Many neighborhood association leaders have long seen Midget as a consistent vote for the development lobby and hostile to neighborhood concerns. If there really were any significant differences in policy between the last five mayors, wouldn't a new mayor have bothered to replace someone in such a key role with someone closer to the new mayor's perspective?

Today, August 13, 2013, the polls will be open in southern Tulsa County, including the southern part of midtown Tulsa, for the special general election to replace retiring Tulsa County District 3 Commissioner Fred Perry. On the ballot are former State Rep. Ron Peters, who heads a public relations firm, and Tulsa County field construction supervisor John Bomar. The Tulsa World and the political arm of the Metropolitan Tulsa Regional Metro Chamber of Commerce have endorsed Peters. The winner will face a run for re-election next year when Perry's term expires.

In a May forum at TCC, both candidates indicated support for additional county sales tax propositions.

Rogers County voters will be asked to renew a one-cent county sales tax. 7/8ths of the cent will go to roads and bridges; 1/8th will go to help pay down a hefty legal judgment against the county. Here's how the Tulsa World's Rhett Morgan described the judgment:

Material Service Corp. filed the action against the county in 2000. The company wasn't seeking monetary damages but wanted a determination by the court that the county had improperly annexed the property leased by Material Service, preventing it from mining there, an attorney for the company said.

After a change-of-venue request was granted, the inverse condemnation case went to trial in Mayes County in 2009, with the jury awarding Material Service $12.5 million. Prejudgment and post-judgment interest, attorneys fees and costs since the 2009 jury verdict pushed the amount to more than $32 million.

Annexation? I am pretty sure that Oklahoma counties cannot unilaterally change their own boundaries by annexation. Rogers County lost territory to Tulsa County about 100 years ago, but its boundaries have been utterly stable for the last century.

What appears to have happened is that the City of Claremore-Rogers County Metropolitan Area Planning Commission added the land that Material Service Corp. had leased for limestone quarrying to the unincorporated land subject to county zoning, followed by county zoning to prohibit the quarrying that MSC wanted to do. This was done without proper notice, and MSC sued the county for the economic damages they suffered for misusing their zoning power. Looks like a case of trying to close the barn door just as the horses were escaping, if the horses had a high-powered trial lawyer to argue their case.

An ordinance to amend the "Bartlett Amendment," which requires Riverside Drive improvements to be a separate item on the ballot at capital improvements elections, is on the agenda for tonight's (August 8, 2013) Tulsa City Council agenda. The amendment would exclude Riverside Drive improvements between 2300 and 3400 Riverside Drive connected with the George Kaiser Family Foundation's "A Gathering Place."

The Bartlett Amendment was promoted by then-District 9 City Councilor Dewey Bartlett, Jr., at a time when developers were seeking to turn Riverside Drive into a six-lane parkway all the way from south Tulsa to downtown. The proposed parkway would have turned north on Houston Avenue to connect to the western part of downtown. Nearby neighborhoods objected to the widening of the road. The amendment made it unlikely that such a widening would be approved, as it would have to be unbundled from other capital improvements and considered separately.

The Bartlett Amendment already excludes certain improvements detailed in the 1993 Conceptual Plan for Riverside Drive and Houston Avenue, including side street tie-off and cul-de-sac construction, right-of-way acquisition, utility relocation, and the realignment and redesign of the dangerous and flood-prone Midland Valley Railroad viaduct just north of 31st and Riverside.

Preserve Midtown has posted a note from Theron Warlick, City of Tulsa urban planner, on the status of Tulsa's zoning code update:

I'm the lead planner on the zoning code update and I think I can shine some light on the process. For about nine months, I've been working with the consultant, Kirk Bishop of Duncan Associates, as well as with City Staff and a citizen's advisory team. We're building up to a review draft that will be available this summer. At this point, we're still not done with our first pass through the code.

In short, there are two major thrusts of the code. First, we are focusing on reorganizing and cleaning up the code we have...there should be few changes here. If you are RS-3 today, you will still be RS-3 when the code is adopted and the rules will be the same.

There may be some minor tweaks to some of the office and commercial districts, but this is mainly for modernization and clarity, and to eliminate internal conflicts within the code, if any. The only substantive change that I can recall is that we're looking at reducing on-site parking requirements in commercial districts to line up with industry norms and requirements in other communities. Reducing this requirement should alleviate some of the pressure to create on-site and off-site parking in neighborhoods. I think there's clear support for this in PLANiTULSA, as well as from the citizen's team and staff. We should not be requiring more parking than Tulsans actually NEED.

The second work item is to create some new mixed use districts that can be applied IN THE FUTURE; these were districts that were recommended in PLANiTULSA and they will provide a predictable alternative to PUDs. I should stress that these districts will not be applied anywhere immediately upon adoption, but will be available for use in the future.

The process so far has been very slow and painstaking, and not very earth-shaking or controversial. Kirk's charge is to a) clean up a messy, thirty-year-old zoning code and b) find ways to implement PLANiTULSA through the zoning code; he's taking that very seriously. Fact is, writing code is an arduous and nerdy process. I'm a city planner with decades of experience and it takes everything I've got to follow every detail. Just getting together a working draft is taking a very long time.

The way this process is designed, we will ultimately produce a public review draft that will have a clear explanation of every substantive change, why it is needed, and what the implications of the change will be. When we have this ready for you, we will take all the time we need to walk anyone and everyone who is interested through the draft and help them understand every detail.

In the meantime, if you want to attend some of the citizen team meetings (about one every six weeks) just let me know and I'll share the date, time, and location.

Meanwhile, in Austin, developers have won repeal of the city's project duration regulation: A project's building permit used to expire after three or five years (depending on the zoning category). It prevented a developer from getting a permit and sitting on it, perhaps not building until conditions around the project had changed significantly. There are concerns that the repeal will re-enable building permits granted decades ago, long before current policy was put in place.

Here in Tulsa we have a similar issue: The possibility of zombie zoning, where a developer convinces the City Council to approve a planned unit development (PUD) or straight rezoning based on his pretty pictures and plans, but despite zoning approval, the project never moves forward. This happened with land northwest of 91st Street and S Delaware Ave. The land had been rezoned at some point to Industrial Low Intensity (IL), but it was never developed. In the intervening years, the surrounding area changed from agricultural to high-end residential, with gated communities and nice townhouse developments. When The Home Depot decided to build a store there c. 2003, they could do it under this existing zombie IL zoning that had been granted for an ancient project that was never built. Further north, the big empty lot at 14th and Utica, rezoned OM (Office Medium Intensity), could easily become a zombie lot.

The moral of the story is for the City Council to be exceedingly cautions about straight rezonings, and perhaps there should be a provision to sunset and revert a project-driven zoning change of any sort (whether straight rezoning, PUD, or other mechanism) when the project hasn't been pursued.

Some other tabs in the browser about cities and urban policy:

OU's Institute of Quality Communities has a photographic catalog of walkability challenges on Oklahoma City's Western Ave., a relatively walkable and popular neighborhood, but still with obstacles to navigating on foot (or by wheelchair): dead-end and blocked sidewalks, large curb cuts (which make it difficult for pedestrians to predict the movements of vehicles), mismatches between stop-lines and crosswalks, and elevation changes.

nerdpath.jpgThe article taught me a new phrase: "desire lines" -- the worn paths in the grass that indicate where people would like to have a sidewalk. Voting with their feet, as it were. We had one of these that cut across Kresge Oval, saving all of 70' over the alternate route. It was dubbed the "Nerd Path." One spring someone planted it with flowers to force the nerds to take a less efficient route.

Last week in Dallas, the former head of Trammell Crow delivered a scathing speech to his fellow developers, noting the unequal treatment between the city's affluent northside and poorer southside. He noted the much greater amount of government money spent on downtown and northside amenities, and the care taken in the north to mitigate the effects of expressways; the southside was not given the same courtesy:

He contrasted the interstates that bisected and destroyed southern Dallas neighborhoods with the less obtrusive Dallas North Tollway.

"We're right here in Highland Park. It didn't happen here. It didn't happen in Bluffview where I live. It didn't happen over in Preston Hollow," he said. "People in the southern half of our city did not have the power to stop these kinds of things from happening to their own neighborhoods."...

"You always have to follow the money trail in Dallas," Williams said. "We spend money on the Arts District. We spend money on big name bridges like the Calatrava bridges. We spend money on a two-city-block downtown park."

"Those area all good things, but the truth is we live in a world of limited resources. We are going to have to have a public conversation about how resources get prioritized," he said.

Something similar happened in Tulsa with the expressways -- professional white families were able to block the Riverside Expressway from coming through Maple Ridge; Greenwood, the heart of Tulsa's African-American community, met a different fate.

Finally, this article on Takoma Park, Maryland, is about open data in local government, but note the fact that Takoma Park's city hall is open to the public for activities other than basic governmental functions. Wouldn't it be nice to be on your way to an exercise class at City Hall and accidentally bump into the Director of Public Works on his way to a meeting and to have the chance to buttonhole him about some overdue sewer project?

The Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission will cast its final vote today, September 5, 2012, on the Pearl District Association's request for a form-based land use ordinance covering the neighborhood. The new rules governing the Pearl District would be phased in to replace the existing use-based zoning code. The Pearl District proposal would better fit the neighborhood, designed for walkability when it was first developed over 90 years ago, and it would give property owners a great deal of flexibility in making the best and highest use of existing buildings and, ultimately, in building new facilities compatible with the walkable nature of the neighborhood.

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Back in April I wrote a lengthy post covering the twenty-year history of efforts by city planners and Pearl District neighborhood leaders to reverse a decline that began in the late 1980s. The Pearl District occupies a strategic location linking downtown, Cherry Street, Hillcrest Hospital, the University of Tulsa campus, and the Kendall-Whittier and Crutchfield neighborhoods. Much good investment has already occurred. The form-based development code is one of the last pieces of the puzzle. (Long-overdue stormwater improvements for Elm Creek are another important piece.) This could be the key to a general revival of near-downtown housing and employment, spreading to surrounding neighborhoods.

Certain developers and development attorneys have lobbied hard to defeat and undermine the hard work of the Pearl District residents and business owners that have put so many years into this plan. I suspect the development attorneys would prefer the situation under the present code, where they get paid to sit through long hearings for the multiple variances, special exceptions, and zoning changes required just to build the same sort of buildings that have been there for nearly a century.

The TMAPC meeting is today, September 5, 2012, starting at 1:30 pm, in the City Council chambers at Tulsa City Hall, 2nd and Cincinnati. It's at the end of the agenda, so if you're coming, be prepared to stay awhile.

Supporters of positive, growth-oriented, neighborhood-driven development policy need to email the TMAPC (bhuntsinger@incog.org) and, if possible, show up today to support the Pearl District plan.

UPDATE, after the vote: The proposal was voted down, and there's a new legal interpretation that the TMAPC's vote against means the City Council can't consider it. It's my understanding that for a zoning code amendment, it's only necessary for the TMAPC to consider it and make a recommendation (whether for or against) and at that point the City Council is free to adhere to the TMAPC's recommendation or override it. But even if the City Council had enough members bold enough to take this up, you can bet that someone would threaten to sue them individually and the mayor-controlled City Attorney's office would withhold any assistance, notwithstanding the legal merits of the situation.

From what I've been told, some of the TMAPC members may have put themselves in legal jeopardy by not being guided by the duly adopted comprehensive plan in making their decision. Zoning decisions should never be a popularity contest, but it sounds like that's exactly what happened today. Of course, legal jeopardy only becomes a reality if someone is willing to expend the time and treasure to prosecute a lawsuit. I have no doubt that the anti-Pearl District bunch have the resources and the will to punish any planning commissioner or city councilor that stands in their way. I am just as certain that the same is not true of the pro-Pearl District advocates.

All the same, I hope someone on the City Council will move for the Pearl District plan's adoption. Some of my midtown friends, who share my passion for sound urban planning policy, are getting an education in how power politics are played in Tulsa. They're learning that the people they thought were the good guys and the bad guys aren't. As I wrote earlier on a Facebook thread:

You remember that horrible, awful, bickering city council we got rid of? Part of what they were bickering about was trying to keep the Mayor from loading up TMAPC with developer types and instead trying to fill some of the seats with neighborhood leaders who are knowledgeable about zoning.

You remember when we had a neighborhood president on the TMAPC, and how the newly elected county commissioner made it a personal crusade to get rid the neighborhood president off of the TMAPC, at the behest of her developer buddies? The neighborhood president, Liz Wright, survived that attempt to force her out, but when her term expired the county commissioner replaced her with someone presumably more friendly to developers. Liz Wright was there today to speak in support of the Pearl District. The county commissioner is TulsaNow co-founder Karen Keith, who was re-elected with no opposition this year. Karen Keith paid absolutely no political price for her attempt to force a neighborhood leader off of the TMAPC.

Bottom line is that some of the politicians you think are your friends have been actively working behind the scenes, at the behest of their allies and campaign contributors in the development lobby, to undermine reasonable and modest zoning reforms like the one that was killed today.

Today's (July 11, 2012) meeting of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) includes these two items near the very end of the agenda, under "Other Business":

21. Review and discuss the Tulsa Preservation Commission Design Guidelines Updates for Residential Structures and Non-Residential and Mixed-Use Structures within Historic Preservation Overlay Zoning Districts

22. The Planning Commission (PC) will make a determination and direct PC staff and City of Tulsa Planning Staff of what steps to take next regarding the Form-Based Code.

The only item following 22 is the "Commissioner's Comments" placeholder that marks the end of every agenda.

Unlike the other items on the agenda, no background information is linked for these two items.

It's apparent that the so-called "planning" commissioners aren't interested in feedback from anyone other than zoning attorneys and the special interest groups they represent. If you can only spare an hour or so away from work, you can't be present for items at the end of an agenda, since their starting times are dependent on previous agenda items and could vary by hours. Only someone whose job is to be at the TMAPC meeting (e.g., zoning attorney, development lobbyist) can afford to be there for the entire meeting, no matter how long it lasts.

The lack of background information linked online means that insiders will know what is going to be discussed and whether it will be important and worthwhile to attend, but Joe Citizen won't have a clue. An ordinary Tulsan won't have the information needed to prepare remarks to the TMAPC (assuming citizens will be allowed to speak at all) and certainly won't know enough to draft a letter.

The decision on the 11th & Utica QuikTrip has had its own deterrent effect: People saw from that decision that the "planning" commissioners and the majority of City Council members have no intention of following our brand new comprehensive plan, notwithstanding the three-year process involved in gathering public input from thousands of Tulsans, creating a plan, gathering feedback, making adjustments, and bringing the plan through the approval process.

This new comprehensive plan will be followed when it works to the advantage of the big players in town. It will be set aside when it works to their disadvantage.

After doing their best to discourage, deter, and complicate public input on these items, the "planning" commissioners will claim that the lack of dissent is because people are content with whatever the big players want.

As individuals participating in the PLANiTULSA process and through our elected representatives on the City Council, who adopted the final version of the comprehensive plan, Tulsans decided how we want to see our city develop. We want to protect our beloved single-family neighborhoods, both old and new. But we have areas of town with run-down commercial buildings, run-down apartment complexes, and abandoned industrial buildings -- in areas like these, we can allow for mixed-use, urban, walkable development, for people like college students, singles, young couples, and empty-nesters who want to live in that kind of place. Tulsa can and should offer a wide range of living choices to suit different tastes and different stages of life.

Where better to re-create a walkable, urban community than a neighborhood originally built like that -- a neighborhood like the Pearl District, developed when people walked or rode the streetcar to get places, a place that had homes, stores, churches, schools, and workplaces all within walking distance. Only a few, simple rules are needed to ensure that new development reinforces the walkable character of the district. The proposed form-based code gives a property owner far more scope to make economically productive use of his land than our current use-based zoning system does.

If I were conspiratorially minded, I would suspect that the developer lobbyists and the Tulsa Metro Chamber had conspired to get my friends in the Tea Party movement all worked up about "Agenda 21" so they'd ignore the corporate welfare county sales tax proposal likely to be on November's ballot and at the same time oppose the greater freedom offered to property owners by form-based codes as somehow a threat to liberty.

(Remember what TEA stands for? Taxed Enough Already! But have any of you heard even a grumble out of the Tulsa-area TEA Party groups about the proposed county corporate welfare tax?)

PLANiTULSA, Tulsa's new comprehensive plan adopted by our elected representatives, is not Agenda 21. We haven't signed ourselves up to obey UN treaties or regulations. We haven't ceded our sovereignty to any other entity. Blue-helmeted soldiers are not going to drop out of black helicopters onto your patio and relocate you at gunpoint into a tenement slum. Tulsa has had a comprehensive land use and transportation plan since the 1920s, and previous plans have been far more prescriptive than PLANiTULSA.

(But former Mayor Kathy Taylor did sign Tulsa up to obey the Kyoto Protocol and signed up for NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's gun-grabbing coalition, and yet a candidate claiming to be a "conservative Republican" endorsed her for re-election. I wonder how many Tea Party conservatives supported him anyway.)

I hope that next year we will elect a new mayor who is committed to carrying out the comprehensive plan that was developed by the people of Tulsa and adopted by its elected representatives, who will pull Tulsa out of TMAPC and constitute a city planning commission for Tulsa (under the same statute as Oklahoma City's planning commission), and who will entrust planning recommendations to a city planning department that is also committed to carrying out our comprehensive plan. (INCOG would continue its transportation planning role, and Tulsa may find it useful to continue to contract with INCOG to maintain zoning records and provide mapping services, but Tulsa should stop paying INCOG to analyze and make recommendations on zoning and planning.)

Congratulations to the Riverview Neighborhood Association and well done to the City of Tulsa Board of Adjustment (BoA). On Tuesday, May 8, 2012, the BoA denied variances that would have allowed a 10-unit townhouse complex on a single lot, once occupied by a single home, at 21st and Cheyenne. (BOA case 21413 at 1935 S. Cheyenne -- click to review the application.)

Although the lot was zoned Residential Multifamily (RM-2), the proposed development violated several setback and height requirements of the zoning code, requiring the developer to seek variances from the zoning code in order to get a construction permit, specifically:

  • Variance of building setback from an arterial street from 35 ft to 10 ft (Section 403 Table 3),
  • Variance of the single-story limitation for multi-family dwellings within 50 ft of an RS district (Section 403.A.1),
  • Variance of height limitation from 35 ft to 40 ft. (Section 403 Table 3).

Please note that these requirements come from the existing zoning code, which has been in place for well over 30 years. Note that they deal with the proposed building's form. Some people of my acquaintance are of the misapprehension that property owners could do as they pleased until recently, but now soldiers in blue helmets have descended upon us in their black helicopters to impose PLANiTULSA and enslave us with their form-based codes to turn us all into United Nations drones. Or something like that. In fact, we have a zoning code now, we've had land-use regulations of some sort since Tulsa was incorporated, and we've had zoning since the 1920s. While the new comprehensive plan, known as PLANiTULSA, recommends changes to the zoning code, those changes haven't been drafted yet, much less approved.

Please also note this lot that, until recently, housed a single family home was zoned multifamily as a result of an ill-considered blanket "upzoning" imposed by the city decades ago under a previous version of the comprehensive plan, which saw this wedge-shaped area of single-family homes and brick low-rise apartment buildings, between I-244, the Inner Dispersal Loop, and the proposed Riverside Expressway, as the perfect place for squat cinder-block apartment complexes.

So the BoA evaluated these proposals in accordance with the existing zoning code, which requires the applicant for a variance to show a hardship. The hardship can't be self-imposed -- "I can't make my money back on the lot unless you let me build this" isn't sufficient. A good example of a hardship is a curved or unusually shaped lot, where the proposed building meets the setback requirement for most of the lot, but misses it by a foot or two where the lot curves. Rather than make the owner curve the building to match the setback line, the BoA would grant a variance to allow a straight building wall. The BoA is a quasi-judicial body, required to follow the law and precedent, required to consider impact of the proposed changes on neighboring properties. An appeal of a BoA decision would be made in District Court. The BoA can't whimsically waive the zoning code to allow a developer to build whatever he wants.

The BoA voted unanimously to deny the variances. The BoA's composition is a positive legacy from Mayor Bill LaFortune's administration, which his successors have wisely left untouched. LaFortune appointed Frazier Henke, Mike Tidwell, and Clayda Stead to the board. Surveyor David White had served as chairman during the Savage administration (the best member of the pre-LaFortune board) and was brought back to the BoA by Kathy Taylor, who also appointed Stuart Van De Wiele. LaFortune's three appointees reestablished the principle that the zoning code was to be followed as written, with variances granted only where a true hardship exists. Getting a variance shouldn't be just a matter of hiring an influential zoning attorney.

Realtor Lori Cain, who lives next door to the subject property, led the opposition to the variances and notes on her blog that the owner has several profitable options within the existing zoning code.

Urban infill is the process of developing vacant or under-used parcels within existing urban areas that are already largely developed. While we ENCOURAGE infill, we expect that the infill be appropriate for the neighborhood, accommodate existing architectural style, -- and not create additional public safety and storm water issues.

Why should the developer's right to make a profit be given more consideration than OUR investments in our personal homesteads? Why should he not build within the zoning restrictions KNOWN to him at the time of his purchase? He could easily build a single-family dwelling and sell it at a profit. Or, if he's insistent on rentals, he could build an upscale duplex or triplex within existing zoning restrictions.

You can watch the May 8, 2012, City of Tulsa Board of Adjustment hearing online via TGOVonline.org. Here's a direct link to the video stream of the May 8, 2012, City of Tulsa Board of Adjustment hearing.

MORE: If Frazier Henke's name seems familiar, it's because his wife, Katie Henke, was the Republican nominee for the recent House District 71 special election and almost certainly will be again for the regular fall election. Katie led by one vote after a recount, but there were more disputed ballots than the margin of victory, leading the Oklahoma Supreme Court to throw out the election and leave the seat vacant until the regular election. Frazier Henke is also the son of Bonnie Henke, a neighborhood leader and advocate for compatible infill development. (Because of that advocacy, Bonnie was targeted for defeat by certain developers when she ran for the District 9 city council seat in 2002, losing the GOP primary by a very narrow margin to Susan Neal.) Frazier is a fair and honorable decision-maker, Tulsa is blessed to have him as BoA chairman, and I'm blessed to count him as a friend.

UPDATE 2012/05/04: The answer is no, by a 5-4 vote to approve the PUD "amendment" and close the street. Thanks to Councilors Blake Ewing, Karen Gilbert, Skip Steele, and G. T. Bynum for upholding the plan and the notion of public infrastructure for public use over the demands of a private business. I'm not surprised that David Patrick and Tom Mansur voted with the developer. I'm disappointed that Jack Henderson, who used to be a reliable supporter of neighborhood interests, and Jeannie Cue, whom I perceived to appreciate the concerns of homeowners, voted in favor of the street closing.

Phil Lakin's vote reinforced the golden rule in Tulsa politics -- he who has the gold makes the rules. For years, developers and INCOG staffers excused deviations to the comprehensive plan because the plan was so old and out of date. Now we have a plan adopted within the last two years and a specific small area plan adopted just seven years ago, and yet Lakin is willing to vote to set it aside. Why would any Tulsan want to take the time to participate in small-area planning without the confidence that the TMAPC and the City Council will follow the plans that they've already approved?

Several items on tonight's City Council agenda involve a proposal to expand the QuikTrip at 11th and Utica by closing 10th Street west of Utica. (Here (PDF format) is a link to the backup information for the QuikTrip street closing agenda item.)

QuikTrip is asking the City Council to surrender to them -- the technical term is "vacate" -- a section of 10th Street west of Utica, so they can build a store and gas station with a bigger footprint, to include what is now 10th Street and the lots to the north.

The City Council should deny the request and encourage QuikTrip to find a creative solution to build within the existing site, rather than surrender a public through street for private use. This issue is a test of whether this City Council is committed to protect public infrastructure and to ensure that its development decisions are consistent with the City's long-range transportation and development plans.

I am a frequent customer of QuikTrip, and I admire the way they've transformed the convenience store industry that they pioneered over 50 years ago. You can expect that a QT store will be clean, well-stocked with high-quality, reasonably priced items, with procedures in place to keep customers and employees safe, even late at night. It's always nice to find a bit of Tulsa in other regions, like St. Louis, Wichita, and Dallas/Ft. Worth, where QT operates. I'd love to see them expand into the Oklahoma City metro area and offer ethanol-free gasoline.

For all of QT's positive aspects, it's not right for city government to turn a through street into a dead end simply to satisfy the aims of a private enterprise. There ought to be a compelling public interest in closing the street before the City Council consents to vacating a through street.

Once upon a time, QuikTrip knew how to adapt itself to a variety of urban and suburban settings. In the '70s and '80s there was a QuikTrip on the Main Mall in downtown Tulsa -- no gas pumps, no vehicular access at all. Some QuikTrip stores were standalone, some anchored strip shopping centers.

Now it appears that QuikTrip is big enough they seem to think they should be able to install their cookie-cutter store plan everywhere, without regard to the impact on public infrastructure.

The advantages of a grid street pattern are well established. Traffic can distribute itself across multiple paths through the grid. If one path is blocked, say, by construction, an accident, or emergency vehicles, traffic can reroute to another path. Through access to the surrounding arterials means it's usually possible to avoid taking a difficult left turn across arterial traffic.

In suburbia, a single residential collector street becomes a choke point for traffic in and out of a neighborhood and a speedway for those who live along it, but in an urban neighborhood with a street grid, traffic in and out is distributed across a dozen or more intersections and no one street bears the brunt of "cut-through" traffic.

10th Street is one of only three streets connecting the neighborhood to Utica Avenue. Those three streets are through all the way to Peoria -- for now.

But the City's stormwater master drainage plan for the Elm Creek basin calls for a major detention pond in the neighborhood that will necessarily interrupt the street grid, interrupting 8th Street and possibly 7th Street as well, leaving 10th Street the only through east-west neighborhood street -- unless QuikTrip gets its way and 10th is closed as well.

In his letter objecting to the proposal, developer Jamie Jamieson points out that the 6th Street Plan, part of the City's Comprehensive Plan, calls for higher density redevelopment in the area northwest of this site, making it imperative to maintain as many access points as possible to the neighborhood. In her letter, neighborhood resident Teddi Allen explains the importance of 10th Street to neighborhood ingress and egress:

According to [INCOG] staff, closure of 10th street would have minimal effect and would not be detrimental to the neighborhood. They argue that residents could either use 11th Street, or weave down Troost to exit the neighborhood via 7th or 8th Streets. Both of these concepts completely disregard the safety of the driving public.

11th Street rises in elevation between Utica and Troost, making any effort to turn out left onto 11th from Troost or Trenton problematic at best, and outright dangerous at worst due to the lack of visibility of oncoming traffic. The situation is compounded by traffic entering and exiting 11th street from the Hillcrest parking garage during peak periods and shift changes. In addition there is a great deal of pedestrian traffic crossing from the south side to the north side of 11th which compounds the problem.

Diverting traffic onto Troost Avenue as well as 7th and 8th Streets is not a viable solution either. 7th and 8th Streets are short residential streets, each a block long and filled with rental properties whose tenants often park on both sides of the street. This makes safe implementation of two way traffic virtually impossible to guarantee. Moreover, Troost Avenue as well as 7th and 8th Streets are at the lowest elevations in the neighborhood, subject to street flooding during periods of heavy rain. The staff analysis appears to ignore the fact that areas of the Pearl District, including these particular streets, lie within the Elm Creek flood basin. In an effort to resolve flooding issues in the Elm Creek Basin, the city has already built one flood detention pond in Centennial park, and there are 3 more ponds planned. Preliminary plans approved by the City (and available on its website) show that one of those ponds will detain water at the level of lowest elevation, i.e., in the area of Troost between 7th and 8th. These streets will not be available long term to provide the access the planners allude to in the application.

As Teddi Allen notes, any proper analysis of the impact of this development on traffic flow must also include the impact of the street closings required for the City's planned detention pond. If city officials surrender 10th Street now and only later realize the negative interaction with the detention pond, they won't be able to get 10th Street reopened without condemnation and compensation to QuikTrip, which would be cost-prohibitive.

And speaking of stormwater, it appears that the new store with its expanded gas canopy and parking area will require converting a large currently vacant grassy area into an impermeable surface. And yet I see nothing in the proposal explaining how additional stormwater runoff will be contained. The store is in the Elm Creek watershed, which is one of the few stormwater basins in the city for which the mitigation plan has not been fully implemented.

In fact, this question was asked at the TMAPC Technical Advisory Committee meeting: "Please address the Environmental, Stormwater Quality, Issues involved with the
Stormwater Runoff flowing into the Stormwater Drainage System from the Vehicle Fueling Areas, and the Tank Excavation Area." Apparently no answer was given: Nothing in the proposal or the INCOG staff analysis addresses additional stormwater runoff at all, much less stormwater than may be carrying toxic, flammable liquids into Elm Creek, into Centennial Park Lake, and ultimately into Zink Lake and the Arkansas River at 21st Street.

As Pearl District Association president Dave Strader pointed out in his letter to the TMAPC, the existing footprint is adequate for QT to construct a Gen 3 (QT Kitchens) store. They have nearly as much space in their existing lot (68,092 sq. ft.) as the lot at 15th and Denver (70,008) where a Gen 3 store was recently built.

In the same letter (pp. 78-85 of the PDF), Strader details the long history of area plans for the neighborhood adopted by the City, the result of years of volunteer effort. The wrong decision here will deter residents and businesspeople from getting involved in developing small area plans for other neighborhoods.

Many of you may be aware that Patrick Fox with The City of Tulsa just announced three new Small Area Plans. Once completed they will be standing in front of you asking you for your support with their plans. Will you support them or will you only support them on the condition that no one complains? What happens when QuikTrip or some other business doesn't want to play by the rules in their neighborhood? Will you tell them that their plan doesn't matter?

You can't roll over every time someone asks you to.

The point is that there are much broader implications to your decisions concerning the 6Th Street Infill Plan and The QT PUD.

Why should people like us volunteer thousands of hours making plans if you aren't going to support us? Why should we make plans at all?

The QuikTrip PUD is contrary to our plan, contrary to the comprehensive plan and increases the risk of our public safety.

Strader goes on to point out that, in 2005, the City declined to vacate a street in another part of the Pearl District (west of the Indian Health Center), citing the clear language in the Pearl District Plan that calls for maintaining the street grid.3

Dear Councilors, please do the right thing tonight and deny QuikTrip's request to vacate 10th Street.

MORE:

My earlier entry, Keeping the Promise to the Pearl District, on why the City must honor the promises it has made over a 20-year period to this neighborhood.

It is possible to build a convenience store that fits into an urban context. Here are just a few examples:

7-11 in Stockholm

Photo of an urban 7-Eleven in Stockholm by meiburgin, Flickr attribution license

Random 7-11

Photo of an urban 7-Eleven in Singapore by Cimexus, Flickr attribution license

stunned at 7-11

Photo of an urban 7-Eleven in Hong Kong by kenyee, Flickr attribution license

UPDATE 2012/04/03: The City of Tulsa Planning Department has issued a "policy analysis" of the Pearl District regulating plan, "a supplemental review of adopted plans of the City intended to provide the Planning Commission with a full understanding of the issues and policies created to address them." Attached at the end of the document is a three-page memo describing concerns raised at the public meetings on the plan and how they can be addressed.

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On Wednesday, April 4, 2012, at 1:30 pm in the City Council chambers at City Hall, 2nd & Cincinnati, the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) will hold a public hearing regarding the proposal to expand the Pearl District land-use regulations from its current pilot area to the entire 300 acres of the neighborhood. The Pearl District plan, developed over a 10-year period by area residents and business owners, faces opposition fueled by disinformation from the Build Anything Anywhere (BAA) Bunch, even though it actually expands the development options available to property owners in the district. Supporters of positive, growth-oriented, neighborhood-driven development policy need to email the TMAPC (bhuntsinger@incog.org) and, if possible, show up on Wednesday to support the Pearl District plan.

The proposed land use regulations implement an infill development plan that has been a part of the City's comprehensive plan since 2005, a plan that was the culmination of a grassroots-driven planning process that began in 1991. The proposed area -- bounded by I-244, the east leg of the Inner Dispersal Loop, 11th Street, and Utica Ave. including the lots facing the south side of 11th and the east side of Utica -- is identical to the area covered by the 2005 6th Street Infill Plan. The opponents who claim that this was a complete surprise and hasn't received sufficient scrutiny are, to be blunt, full of manure. Some of those opposing the current proposal noisily protested the infill plan's adoption seven years ago.

For the BAA Bunch, it's not enough to be able to throw up cookie-cutter suburban development on the other 99.75% of Tulsa's land area. They want to impose that same style of development on one of the few pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods in Tulsa that hasn't been wrecked by urban renewal, expressway construction, or institutional hypertrophy.

Contrary to rumor, the proposal grandfathers existing buildings, allows buildings to be rebuilt as-is in the event of a fire or other disaster, allows for some expansion of an existing building without requiring conformance to the new code, and was developed in public with the involvement of homeowners, developers, business owners, and other community leaders from around the neighborhood.

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Although our regional peer cities -- Oklahoma City, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, Wichita, San Antonio, Kansas City, Little Rock, Denver, among many others -- have had form-based requirements in their zoning codes for decades, Tulsa's BAA bunch bleat like sheep at the slaughterhouse any time the most modest design guidelines are suggested. This is merely the latest example of their obstructionism.

Meanwhile, planning staff at INCOG seem as if they're trying to sabotage the plan. The backup material connected to Wednesday's agenda consists of two illegible maps and a few letters of protest from people who don't appear to have read the proposal. There is no "request for action," no legal document defining exactly what is proposed to be adopted, no explanatory material of any kind. Although the City of Tulsa pays INCOG handsomely to analyze zoning proposals and make recommendations in accordance with the City's comprehensive plan, INCOG has not made public any analysis or recommendations on this proposal. If INCOG development staff were willing, they could, as part of their analysis, dispel the inaccurate rumors about the effects of the proposal.

While the lack of complete online posting is not technically a violation of Oklahoma's Open Meetings law, it certainly violates the spirit of the law. Wednesday's hearing should be continued or postponed until all relevant material has been posted online for at least two weeks.

(It's overdue for Tulsa to fire INCOG as its land-use planning agency. The city would continue to work with INCOG on transportation planning and dialogue with other city, county, and tribal governments in the region, while bringing land-use planning in-house. Wayne Alberty's impending retirement as head of INCOG's development services department would be an excellent time to make the move. We could save INCOG the trouble of hiring a replacement.)

Approving the Pearl District regulatory plan for the entire district is an important step in fulfilling the promises made by city leaders to area residents and business owners for more than two decades, beginning with the 11th Street Corridor Task Force in the early '90s, the Oaklawn redevelopment committee in the late '90s, the 6th Street (Pearl District) Task Force in the 2000s, the 6th Street Plan approved in 2005, and Tulsa's new comprehensive plan (PLANiTULSA) approved in 2010.

The existing use-based land use regulations date back to the '70s and '80s, a typical post-World-War-Two zoning code focused on new development on undeveloped suburban land. Neighborhoods like the Pearl District, which developed just after World War One, were treated almost as an afterthought in the zoning code and comprehensive plan, a dumping ground for whatever activities weren't desired in the nice new parts of the city. It didn't occur to planners of the period that some people might prefer to live, work, and play in a neighborhood convenient to downtown that was built around people rather than cars.

The subdivisions that make up the Pearl District were platted by 1915, and were fully developed by the early '20s. From the beginning there were industrial uses along the MK&T mainline (including a cotton mill and a glass factory) and mixed in with residences and commercial uses. Three streetcar lines served the neighborhood -- a Tulsa Street Railway branch on 1st street, another on 5th Place (Fostoria), turning onto Quincy Ave., and an Oklahoma Union Traction branch along 11th Street. Route 66's original alignment traveled 2nd Street through the neighborhood from 1926 to 1932; US 66 was rerouted to 11th St. in 1932. Broadcaster Paul Harvey grew up in the neighborhood on 5th Place, attending Longfellow School, which was once located on the northwest corner of 6th and Peoria.

The neighborhood was still regarded as a pleasant place to live in the late 1970s, according to newspaper accounts quoting Pearl District leader Dave Strader, who moved into the neighborhood circa 1979. But in the last half of the '80s, prostitution, drug use, and gang activity moved into the area.

A determined group of local residents and business owners were persistent in getting the city to take action to clean up the area, facing death threats from the criminals who were abusing their neighborhood. An 11th Street Corridor Task Force was created in 1991, resulting in a plan that was adopted by the city in 1993. A TIF district was established, and some of the increased property tax revenues generated by The Home Depot became available for implementing the 11th Street Corridor plan.

One of the plan's recommendations involved redeveloping Oaklawn, a small subdivision wedged between Central (now Centennial) Park and Oaklawn Cemetery. In 1999, the Tulsa Development Authority issued a Request for Proposals and formed a task force to evaluate and recommend one proposal for adoption. I served on the task force along with Strader, Paul Wilson of Twenty-First Properties, Dwain Midget from the Mayor's office, and City Councilor Anna Falling, among others. The Village Builders, a team led by developer Jamie Jamieson, was the unanimous selection. Unlike some of the proposals, the Village at Central Park proposal was designed to connect with and encourage improvements in the surrounding area. In the decade since, the area has seen a new Family and Children's Services building, refurbishment of an existing building into a boutique hotel, a facelift for the VFW in the old armory building, the reopening of the historic Church Studios, with many more projects currently in the works.

(One of the unsuccessful proposals came from a leading detractor of the current Pearl District plan. He wanted to build a gated community walled off from the surrounding neighborhood.)

Jamieson immediately joined forces with the Central Park Neighborhood Association. They succeeded in becoming one of three target areas for pilot small-area infill plans as recommended by the 1998-9 Infill Task Force. The new 6th Street Task Force began meeting on a monthly basis sometime around 1999 or 2000. The group eventually adopted the name "Pearl District," inspired by the original name of Peoria Avenue in the area.

One of the challenges faced by the Pearl District group was stormwater control. The Elm Creek basin was the last watershed in the city where no stormwater improvements had been made, and the potential for flooding was a deterrent to redevelopment. The stormwater plan in place would have obliterated Centennial Park to create a giant, treeless detention pond. The Pearl District task force proposed and won acceptance of an alternate plan, with a smaller, landscaped pond in Centennial Park, a new recreation center, and two additional small ponds in other parts of the district. The result is one of the city's most beautiful vistas, looking west across the Centennial Park pond to the downtown skyline.

The 6th Street task force report was issued and adopted by the City in 2005, covering the exact same area now covered by the proposed form-based land use code.

The Pearl District was originally developed under land use regulations that were much less stringent than those currently in force. The new Pearl District form-based code would restore a great deal of flexibility for landowners, while preserving its pedestrian-friendly character, and repairing the urban fabric where it's been compromised by the careless planning decisions of the past. Under the new Pearl District code, you can use more of your land area for your building, because there are smaller, more reasonable requirements for parking, landscaping, and setbacks. You have more options for what uses are allowed on your property, without needing to seek special permission from the city.

Under the current zoning code, any new development in this district requires some combination of rezoning, special exceptions, and zoning variances. It adds expense and uncertainty, hindering redevelopment. The proposed new land-use code is clear and specific, and its aim is to reduce drastically the need to spend money on lawyers and paperwork to move forward with a new development.

If you want to support efforts to revitalize a key inner city neighborhood, one that links downtown, Cherry Street, and the TU campus, if you want the City of Tulsa to keep its promise to a group of long-suffering property owners who have been working on this for two decades, please email (bhuntsinger@incog.org) or attend in person to show your support for the Pearl District plan.

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MORE:

The Pearl District Association website.

The 6th Street Task Force Infill Plan, adopted as part of the City's comprehensive plan in 2005. There is a very informative and comprehensive section on the history of the Pearl District's development and the history of the city's revitalization plans and efforts.

My UTW column from November 2007 on teardowns and infill development, in which I mention that the Pearl District was seeking to become a pilot area for a form-based land-use code. That's almost five years ago.

My UTW column from February 2009 on the Pearl District's creative approach to stormwater mitigation, related links, and then-UTW reporter Mike Easterling's July 2011 story on the same topic.

From 2006, a modest suggestion that the private foundation wanting to spend $100 million of its own money (plus $600 million from taxpayers) to build a pedestrian-friendly district on new islands in the Arkansas River could instead implement the Pearl District plan and revive a pedestrian-friendly district for a fraction of the cost.

My very first UTW column in September 2005 dealt with the the need to have at least one truly walkable neighborhood in Tulsa for the sake of Tulsans with disabilities. Although I didn't mention the Pearl District by name, it's a prime location for a walkable neighborhood to serve disabled Tulsans by virtue of being near the Ailene Murdock Villa and the Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges.

The City of Tulsa Planning Department will officially launch three small area plans this coming Tuesday night, February 28, 2012, at 6 p.m., at the Greenwood Cultural Center, 322 N. Greenwood Ave, in Tulsa. (Doors open at 5:30, the program will go from 6 to 7, followed by Q & A.)

The targeted areas are Utica Ave between 11th and 21st Streets in Midtown (District 4), 36th Street North in north Tulsa (District 1), and Tulsa Hills / West Highlands in southwest Tulsa (District 2). Each of these areas faces unique development challenges. Along the Utica corridor, you have a conflict because there are developers (not the hospitals) who want to intrude into designated historic preservation neighborhoods (Swan Lake and Yorktown) to build medical office buildings and other commercial development.

There are also the expansion aims of the hospitals. At 11th and Utica there's Hillcrest, expanding into the surrounding Terrace Drive and Forest Orchard neighborhoods without much resistance and without much thought to pedestrian-friendly design or the appearance of the Route 66 frontage.

At 21st and Utica, St. John Medical Center has brought in Atlanta planning firm Perkins + Will, evidently in search of a smart, urban solution that protects the historic neighborhoods while meeting St. John's needs. Perkins + Will principal David Green and planner Heather Alhadeff led a meeting back on January 21st at the Central Center in Centennial Park to which neighborhood leaders were invited. Green and Alhadeff's presentation was an informative overview of the history of land use planning, and led me to feel that St. John's paying to have them involved was a sign of good faith from the hospital. Their only misstep, for which they apologized profusely, was using "PLANiTULSA in the promotional material for the meeting, making it appear that the hospital-sponsored event had some official city standing.

This small area planning kickoff on February 28 is, however, an official city meeting. From the city's press release:

These are the first three Small Area Plans to be conducted since the adoption and approval of the PLANiTULSA Comprehensive Plan. Small Area Planning is an important component in implementing this plan, and as with PLANiTULSA, citizen input is an important part of that process.

This event is open to the public and will include a concise, informative program about the Small Area Planning process and time for Q and A.

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The American Planning Association has named Tulsa's historic Swan Lake neighborhood one of ten Great Neighborhoods for 2011, part of the APA's annual recognition of "Great Places In America." (Hat tip to KRMG News for the story.)

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From the APA's citation:

What dominates this attractive and popular neighborhood are the well-maintained sturdy bungalows built along tree-lined streets between 1920 and 1930. Apartment buildings, which meshed with the development's middle-class appeal, appeared on outlying streets as early as 1918. One innovative apartment complex built in 1929 featured a courtyard at its center to provide outdoor recreation space for its tenants. Duplexes and garage apartments -- many from Swan Lake's earliest days -- continue to attract singles, young couples, and empty-nesters.

Once a spring-fed watering hole, Swan Lake eventually became a community gathering place and the site of a 1910 amusement park. Today the lake and surrounding park, a popular bird watching spot, are the focus of neighborhood attention as residents raise funds to restore a 1920s stone fountain.

Finding solutions to commercial encroachment is another focus of residents. The neighborhood is within easy walking distance of the very popular Cherry Street retail and restaurant corridor, several medical facilities, and other businesses. The Swan Lake Neighborhood Association, which initiated a successful effort to add a historic preservation zoning overlay, supports efforts to keep commercial development on the perimeter of the neighborhood from expanding into the residential district.

Another positive feature noted by APA is the mix of housing: More expensive, larger single family homes around the lake and around the southern end of the neighborhood, a mix including smaller bungalows and brick apartment buildings through the northern half of the neighborhood. This is a neighborhood where you could find housing suitable for any stage of your life. The couple that spends $100 for dinner and drinks on Cherry Street lives in the neighborhood; so does their waiter and their bartender and the barista who makes the lovely designs on their after-dinner lattes.

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Historic preservation has helped to preserve that diversity of housing stock. You can see what happens without that protection by heading north of Cherry Street -- affordable bungalows and brick apartment buildings replaced by $300,000-plus townhomes (which are now selling at a deep discount from their peak prices). Speculation replaced affordability for which there was a demand with luxury which apparently lacks strong demand at the moment.

Note the balance in the APA's description -- walking distance of popular shopping districts is a good thing, but protection of the residential area against commercial encroachment is important, too, especially since new commercial development is likely to be larger in scale, be less attractive, require more off-street parking, and use lower quality building materials and techniques than the commercial development from the 1920s and 1930s along Cherry Street.

The APA specifically salutes legislative efforts to prevent that encroachment:

  • Organized in 1983, Swan Lake Neighborhood Association launched a successful campaign (1992) to list neighborhood in the National Register of Historic Places (1998)
  • City approves neighborhood petition for Historic Preservation overlay zoning for Swan Lake and adopts design guidelines (1994)
  • Residents support legislative efforts (2011) to close loophole permitting commercial development within boundaries of Historic Preservation Zoning districts
  • City council places a moratorium, to expire December 1, 2011, on use of planned unit developments to amend zoning in historic districts
  • As part of implementing its recently adopted comprehensive plan, PLANiTulsa, City allocates $300,000 to develop three small-area plans, including one that incorporates those parts of Swan Lake adjacent to commercial and medical corridor

I discussed the HP / PUD loophole at length back in May, when the City Council voted for the temporary change to the zoning code to close that loophole. The sunset clause was a vain attempt to placate the build-anything-anywhere lobby and keep them on the sidelines during the election. As I predicted, the Council's pusillanimity on this issue did not inoculate them from opposition and defeat, despite their hopes to the contrary. The new council, elected with chamber and developer money, is unlikely to remove the sunset clause or even to extend the moratorium.

It's probably too much to hope, but before the new council is seated the current council could, without going back to the TMAPC, vote to remove the sunset clause from the ordinance. (The TMAPC made a recommendation on the proposed ordinance back in May; they would not need to be consulted again.) It would be a positive legacy for the outgoing councilors -- protecting the integrity of a nationally recognized neighborhood, a jewel in Tulsa's crown, keeping speculators from killing the Swan that laid the golden egg.

If you want to know what the build-anything-anywhere lobby will do, given the chance, just look at Bumgarner's Folly, the big vacant lot south of 14th Street between Troost and Utica Avenues. Already, developers have eroded HP-zoned neighborhoods along Utica by razing protected homes for parking as part of PUDs for large office buildings.

Last week, at the Forest Orchard neighborhood association candidate forum, I asked Ken Brune, the Democratic nominee for the District 4 council seat, "Do you think the HP boundaries ought to be respected, or are they negotiable for the right project?" Brune's response: "I think it depends upon the project.... I think that those decisions have to be made on a case by case basis as to whether you make any changes with regard to the rules. The rules are there, the rules need to be followed, unless of course a certain project that there be an exception.... " His opponent, Republican nominee Blake Ewing, has made several clear written statements on the moratorium and on historic preservation in general:

Does he support the moratorium on PUD's in HP Districts?
Yes.

Will he vote to extend it if no small area plans are in place to protect HP District boundaries when it is set to expire in December?
Yes, though I really want to see us get to work on those small area plans.

I'm sad to say that Democrat voters in Tulsa's District 4 made my choice in the general election an easy one. Friends and supporters of incumbent Councilor Maria Barnes appreciate her commitment to defending neighborhoods against inappropriate encroachment, a problem in District 4 where modern-day commercial development (and its accompanying parking) demands much more space than traditional, walkable neighborhood commercial districts like Cherry Street. From her many years as a leader of the Kendall-Whittier Neighborhood Association and the Midtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, Maria understands how the zoning code works and how it affects the integrity of our neighborhoods.

With Maria's loss, her supporters are now wondering how to vote in the general election. This is particularly true of homeowners concerned about the integrity of their neighborhoods. In response to those concerns, Blake Ewing, the Republican nominee, has set out his position on historic preservation and infill development, republished here with Ewing's permission. (Click the link to read the thread on The Tulsa Forum, in context.)

Greetings,

I'm glad to post my thoughts regarding preservation. I'm perfectly fine with going on the record with these statements.

I'm a preservationist. I'm a developer. In midtown, those things have been mutually exclusive for some time, especially in our representatives. I'm excited about working to bridge that gap.

I'm confident that there are creative solutions to some of those problems that will allow developers to do the much appreciated work of infilling and creating the density in midtown and downtown that PlaniTulsa has called for, while also protecting our historic neighborhoods.

Developers and new home builders should not be allowed to destroy historic homes. Also, preservationists should understand that the commercial corridors and the hospitals that they appreciate require some understanding and cooperation. Find me the midtown preservationist who never eats on Cherry St. or who travels to St. Francis Hospital out of protest. They don't exist. We like Cherry St. We like St. Johns and Hillcrest. We just want those things to all play ball with each other. This has been made a black and white issue for so long and all that's done is cause developers to try to break (circumvent) the rules and preservationists to buckle down while pulling out their hair.

The historic neighborhoods are creating the value that the developers are attempting to cash in on. It's not appropriate for a developer to parasite off of the value creators and give minimal or no value back.

I had a conversation about this very thing last night and I came up with an analogy. I don't feel like the government should have the right to tell me what to do with my fists. They're mine. It's not their business, right? I do, however, understand them having a law that prohibits me from using them to hurt someone. The government does have a purpose to protect us from hurting each other, physically or financially.

In midtown's historic neighborhoods, the home values come from a few different places - their location, their history, their architecture, and their relationship to other similarly valuable homes. The midtown homeowners have bought into that value. They then work to maintain that value by keeping up their homes, forming strong home-owners associations, etc. In effect, these homes do a great deal to make midtown developments so financially valuable. From a financial standpoint, it's easy to understand why a developer would want to bulldoze existing structures to make room for new ones. These new structures benefit from their location and relationship to this large number of existing valuable homes. Over time, the neighborhoods lose value as the history is destroyed and replaced by modern day mediocrity.

To take advantage of the value those homes create, but provide no value in return is not acceptable. It's something the government should protect. A developer may be able to purchase that property and call it his own, but if he uses that property to damage the integrity of the very thing that helped make it valuable, an inequity is created that shouldn't be allowed. Simply, it should not be permitted to destroy homes in our historic midtown neighborhoods for the sake of the new development. I will say that I'm not a preservationist to the degree that I want arbitrary boards of opinionated "experts" legislating aesthetics. That's over the top.

Anyway, it is not okay that a home-builder is allowed to demolish a 90 year old home in the middle of Maple Ridge to build multiple new homes on the same lot. It's offensive to the residents of Maple Ridge and our money hungry developers should realize what they're slowly doing to Tulsa's history.

When developers were choosing to destroy our classic downtown theaters one at a time, I'm sure they had some great reasons. Now we'd love to have them back. We need a code that protects our historic neighborhoods while making development easy and accessible.

I think I'm the best candidate District 4 has had regarding preservation, because I'm a preservationist who actually has credibility with the developers. Also, I think I'm the best candidate District 4 has had regarding development, because I understand what's broken at city hall and will work to make development in Tulsa, and especially District 4, a more smooth, appealing and navigable process. I know it doesn't seem likely, but I'm confident that we can have a "win-win" district, despite the unique challenges. They should both support me. I understand development better than my opponent and I will not compromise on my commitment to protect historic homes.

The developers may have to stomach the reality that they can't go into a historic neighborhood and bulldoze homes in the night and build new smaller crappier homes on those lots. Preservationists may have to get comfortable with the idea of a couple of well designed and appropriately placed parking garages around Cherry St. :-)

Please call if you have any questions. 918.991.8252.

MORE: Here's some infill development by one of Democrat nominee Ken Brune's political allies. The portable storage container is a lovely touch:

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Here's the "before" for the photos above -- some of the homes and urban forest destroyed by Ken Brune's political ally in order to create a big lawn for his portable storage container (photos from the Tulsa County Assessor website and from Google Maps):

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CLARIFIED 2011/09/27: I referred to the property at 14th and Utica as owned by Ken Brune's political contributor. In fact, John Bumgarner was not listed as a contributor on Brune's pre-primary C-1 form, which means he had not contributed more than $200 prior to the end of the pre-primary reporting period 14 days prior to the election. Prior to the primary, however, Bumgarner's property did display signs advocating for the defeat of incumbent Councilor Maria Barnes, Brune's primary opponent, so I think it is fair to describe Bumgarner as Brune's political ally, and I have corrected the entry accordingly.

For more background, here is a link to the minutes of the July 23, 2008, TMAPC debate on the rezoning of this property from residential/low intensity office to high-intensity office.

Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission chairman Bill Leighty has an excellent op-ed in the latest issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly about the importance of historical preservation to Tulsa's future.

I'm tempted to quote the whole thing. The heart of the article is an account of a recent Preservation Leadership Training workshop put on by the City of Tulsa Planning Department.

In a nutshell, the training included an examination of the financial incentives and other economic considerations in redeveloping historic structures. It also explored how historic preservation as an intervention strategy and policy impacts local economic development. Participants followed the progress of prototype projects and applied this knowledge to demonstration projects located here in Tulsa.

In the course of the article, Leighty addresses the lack of support for historic preservation from Tulsa's political and business leaders and the personal impact of then-and-now photos of downtown Tulsa:

At one point in the slide show, a photo taken in mid 1970's looking north on Boston Avenue from high up in the tower of Boston Avenue United Methodist Church was featured. When it transitioned into the next photo, taken from exactly the same perspective about 35 to 40 years later, the entire audience let out a collective gasp at the dramatically changed landscape.

The first photo documented a vibrant, densely populated urban core that had been reduced to a barren sea of asphalt only a few decades later. The loss of so many historic structures obviously stunned everyone, even the locals. It was a pretty dramatic moment for everyone and it left me with a lump in my throat. I can honestly say it was a turning point for me. I get it now, I so get it.

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Photos of Tulsa's Boston Avenue, looking north toward the BOK Tower, in 1978 (left) and 2005 (right); from the Tulsa Preservation Commission's article about endangered downtown Tulsa.

Leighty goes on to catalog the documented economic and quality-of-life benefits of historic preservation, including the value of old buildings to new businesses:

The creative and adaptive reuse of historic buildings has proven to be remarkably versatile in meeting the demands of a wide range of uses. These buildings often provide affordable rent, thereby serving as incubators for entrepreneurs and growing small businesses which account for 85 percent of all the new jobs created in America. Properly executed historic preservation efforts are great examples of the physical sustainability of the built environment, and the functional sustainability of public infrastructure.

The fun, interesting places to be in Tulsa on a weekend night -- Brookside, Blue Dome, Bob Wills District, 18th & Boston, Cherry Street -- are all significant clusters of older buildings that were overlooked by urban renewal and spared from expressway construction. Blue Dome and the Bob Wills District owe a great deal to people like David Sharp, who started buying up buildings to keep them from being torn down for parking. These thriving districts were not developed with public funds.

Leighty points out that, while there are Tulsans actively engaged in adaptive reuse of historic buildings and advocacy for historic preservation, we need elected officials and business leaders to "buy into and support these initiatives" in order for historic preservation to gain traction.

When you look at successful historic preservation in other cities, you will find their efforts began with a group of influential people (often the wives of business tycoons) who were outraged by the demolition of a local landmark. San Antonio and Savannah are two such examples.

Here in Tulsa, business leaders have actively opposed historic preservation and tarred preservation advocates as naysayers enemies of growth, working to keep them off of the City Council, TMAPC, Board of Adjustment, even the Tulsa Preservation Commission.

The tide may be beginning to turn. It was encouraging to see a positive mention of preservation in the Tulsa Metro Chamber's 2011 city election manifesto:

While preservation of Tulsa's historic neighborhoods and structures is paramount, this also requires a transition from residence-only neighborhoods to multi-purpose building that intentionally preserves the character of the area.

The Tulsa Metro Chamber is willing to work toward a model of shared use which accommodates both the need for safe neighborhoods and the preservation of historic areas; while also providing its residents with retail possibilities, increasing walkability, and creating distinct centers of urban density.

The second half of Leighty's essay covers the demonstration project his team undertook as part of the workshop -- taking an underutilized building, examining possibilities for adaptive reuse, and proposing an economically feasible approach to reuse. His team of three proposed an indoor farmer's market for the old International Harvester Building on the southeast corner of 2nd and Frankfort:

The building is rather unassuming with minimum architectural details. I had driven by many times without so much as a second look. That changed the minute I walked into the building, which is basically divided into two sections, the former showroom in the front and the warehouse like space which formerly housed the service and parts department in the back. There are concrete floors, a barrel roof supported by intricate steel joists and super structure, and broad open expanses with skylights....

Our proposal includes financial projections indicating both relatively low total development costs and a healthy cash flow. In other words, it is not just a sound idea for a great addition to downtown Tulsa, but a very viable business opportunity.

As I said, read the whole thing, and say a prayer of thanks that a man of Bill Leighty's insight heads up our city's planning commission.

The organization TulsaNow will celebrate its 10th anniversary tonight, July 15, 2011, with a reception at Harwelden, 2210 S. Main. Refreshments and hors d'oeuvres from Lambrusco'z at 5:30, presentation begins at 6. The organization will unveil plans for the future and will hand out a few awards to the winners of a vote by members of the TulsaNow email newsletter list.

I've been involved with the group since before it had a name, although travel and other busy-ness has had me less involved in the last couple of years.

TulsaNow was organized in 2001 following the defeat of the "It's Tulsa's Time" sales tax increase in November 2000. Back in a 2007 UTW column, I detailed the history of the TulsaNow organization to that point:

TulsaNow has its origins in early 2001, with a gathering of friends who were discouraged about the defeat of another flawed civic improvements sales tax package. ("It's Tulsa's Time," November, 2000.) The four founding members were all active in community organizations, but none of them were in positions of power and influence. They began working their networks to find other Tulsans from all parts of the community who shared their sense of urgency to get Tulsa moving again.

I was invited to participate a few months later and have been involved ever since, for the last few years as a board member. (So there's that disclosure out of the way.)

TulsaNow attracted many people who were frustrated that Tulsa's elected officials and Chamber of Commerce leaders suffered from a cargo-cult-like fixation on building a new arena as the solution to all our problems, while places like Kansas City and Salt Lake City were using their long-term community visioning efforts to address neighborhood integrity, historic preservation, land-use policies, suburban sprawl, and revitalization of the urban core--all issues that matter to a city's livability and long-term vitality.

Members of the group were involved in the process that led up to the Vision 2025 vote, helping to facilitate the discussions and tabulate all the responses at Mayor Bill LaFortune's July 2002 vision summit and participating in various task forces. (The complete vision summit report--with the presentations and all of the responses from the participants--is still online at http://www.tulsanow.org/summit/index.htm.)

TulsaNow's October 2002 "Battle of the Plans" brought out big crowds to hear from enthusiastic Tulsans present their dreams for the city.

Although members differed as to whether the final package was worthy of our support, TulsaNow's involvement did at least encourage the inclusion of funds for downtown residential development, a trail of historical markers (the Centennial Walk), neighborhood enhancements, and river improvements. And TulsaNow hosted what was perhaps the most substantive debate during the sales tax campaign.

While many elected officials considered the passage of Vision 2025 to be the end of the discussion about Tulsa's future, TulsaNow's leaders saw much work to be done in shaping a genuine and comprehensive vision for the city, an attitude reflected in its mission statement:

"TulsaNow's mission is to help Tulsa become the most vibrant, diverse, sustainable and prosperous city of our size. We achieve this by focusing on the development of Tulsa's distinctive identity and economic growth around a dynamic, urban core, complemented by a constellation of livable, thriving communities."

My column went on to mention several of TulsaNow's public discussions, such as the 2005 "Passing the Popsicle Test" forum on form-based codes as an alternative to traditional use-segregated zoning and another forum on zoning and land use in September 2006. TulsaNow sponsored city candidate forums in 2002, 2004, and 2006, and a public debate on the 2007 county river tax proposal. In 2008, TulsaNow stole a march on the city's official, paid downtown promoters by launching the DowntownLive website, a catalog of downtown merchants and restaurants.

I think it's fair to say that TulsaNow, particularly through the public events the group has sponsored, helped stimulate public discussion about land use and planning, laying the groundwork for the successful PLANiTULSA process. PLANiTULSA's focus on public engagement wouldn't have worked without a large segment of the public that understands the importance of land use and planning to our city's ongoing quality of life and our city government's ability to pay its bills.

While the adoption of a new comprehensive plan represents a milestone toward the goals that drew many of us to TulsaNow, we still need the principles in the comp plan implemented in the zoning code, and we need a planning director, planning commission, and elected officials willing to be guided by our new plan. Perhaps TulsaNow still has a role to play in bringing these ideas to fruition.

Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel has added a cool new feature to his office's already very useful website.

It's a Google Maps application showing boundaries of Tulsa County subdivision plats filed between 2001 and 2010. A subdivision plat defines blocks, lots, and easements for streets and utilities. It establishes a simple way to define a parcel for purposes of establishing ownership, value, and tax status. Much easier to refer to Lot 5, Block 3 of Shady Acres subdivision than to use metes and bounds as the legal description for a piece of property.

Subdivision plats also serve as a useful proxy for new development. Clicking on the years in sequence reveals where the interest and activity has been -- and what areas have been passed over.

Most of the plats represent brand new subdivisions on previously unplatted land. Some represent resubdivisions of previously developed land -- for example, the gated communities or townhouse developments that have sprung up in the Midtown money belt replacing single-family ranch-style homes on large lots.

The application allows you to pick and choose individual years in any combination and whether to look at commercial, residential, or tax-exempt plats, or any combination of the three. The developer is to be commended for providing that degree of flexibility. Since it's a Google Maps app, you can zoom in and switch between satellite and map view.

Thanks again to Assessor Ken Yazel and his team for this increasingly helpful website.

FURTHER REFLECTIONS:

1. Despite all the development activity in the Midtown money belt over the last decade, and despite the fact that more often than not, new development appeared to be denser than what it replaced, Council District 9 lost population, which suggests that all infill development is not created equal when it comes to maintaining the city's population and sales tax base. My suspicion -- the new Midtown housing is much more expensive than what it replaced, targeted to DINKs and empty-nesters, out of reach for families with kids, particularly families paying private school tuition or homeschool expenses rather than moving to suburban schools. The discrepancy between plats and population could also mean that the new developments simply didn't sell.

Keep in mind that a plat is just a definition of lots; it doesn't guarantee that streets or homes will be built. Max Meyer (Lewis Meyer's "Preposterous Papa") platted part of his land near Kellyville in Creek County, but the imagined subdivision was never built. In the days before ubiquitous satellite map imagery and the Census Bureau's TIGER database, I could always tell the lousy map companies because they showed platted but non-existent streets in east Tulsa. (Some of the map makers even assumed that Mingo went all the way through between 11th and 31st St, likely mistaking the imaginary north-south section line for an actual street.)

2. The year-by-year table of plats and lots shows 2006 as the peak for new residential development, a 50% increase in lots over the previous year's level. The number of lots fell off by 20% sharply in 2007, but was still higher than the 2003-2005 plateau. I wonder if that rang any alarm bells in the development community. It certainly didn't seem to penetrate through to the budget planners at City Hall.

3. Most residential subdivision development in the Twenty-Naughty-Naughts occurred outside the Tulsa city limits, around Broken Arrow, Bixby, Jenks, and Owasso. This explains why homebuilder association support for a Tulsa City Council candidate should be viewed with suspicion. They don't necessarily have the City of Tulsa's best interests at heart. It also explains why homebuilders objected so vehemently to the Gang of Four's (Henderson, Medlock, Turner, Mautino) insistence that City of Tulsa resources should be used to build infrastructure to develop the City of Tulsa.

Tulsa Public Schools is holding a public forum on Tuesday, July 12, 2011, 6 to 7 pm, regarding the sale of Wilson Middle School, one of 14 school buildings closed at the end of the last school year as part of the district's cost-cutting plan. The forum will be held at Kendall-Whittier Elementary School, 2601 E. 5 Pl. Here's the news release with the details:

Wilson_MS.jpgFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PRESS RELEASE: Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What: TPS to host 'Neighborhood Connection' forum to discuss sale of Wilson building
When: Tuesday, July 12, 2011, 6-7 p.m.
Where: Kendall-Whittier Elementary School, 2601 E. 5 Pl.
Contact: Chris Payne at 918-858-4680 or cpayne@saxum.com

TULSA, Okla. - Tulsa Public Schools has announced it will host a Neighborhood Connection meeting to open dialogue with the community regarding the sale of the former Wilson Middle School property located at 1127 S. Columbia Ave. The meeting is open to TPS parents, students and the community at large and will take place Tuesday, July 12, from 6-7 p.m., in the media center of Kendall-Whittier Elementary School, 2601 E. 5 Pl. in Tulsa.

Wilson is among the 14 properties that have been or will be closed as a result of Project Schoolhouse. Proceeds from the sale of these closed properties will add to the projected $5.6 million in savings from Project Schoolhouse and will help the district weather recent cuts to educational funding by the state legislature.

"As we look at the potential sale of some of these school buildings, we want to have a dialogue with the community to ensure we are protective of these neighborhoods," said Dr. Keith Ballard, superintendent of TPS. "It's important that we get feedback and input regarding potential uses from TPS parents and homeowners at the Neighborhood Connection forums. We look forward to hearing what the community has to say, as we investigate the possibilities regarding the sale of Wilson."

Trish Williams, TPS chief financial officer, and Millard House, deputy superintendent, will represent TPS at the July 12 forum. They will explain the bidding process as mandated by state law and the general category of prospective buyers that are participating in the bid process for the Wilson property. They will learn the public's wishes through the discussion and will answer questions. Consultant Chuck Jackson will serve as facilitator of the forum.

The other properties that have been or will be closed as part of Project Schoolhouse include Addams, Alcott, Bunche, Cherokee, Chouteau, Barnard, Franklin, Fulton Learning Academy, Grimes, Lombard, Roosevelt and Sandburg elementary schools, and Cleveland Middle School.

For additional information about Tulsa Public Schools, please visit the TPS website, www.tulsaschools.org.

(Photo retrieved from the Wilson Middle School website.)

Although I didn't go to school there, the building holds fond memories for me, as the cafeteria was where I participated in my first forum as a candidate for City Council in 1998, hosted by the Renaissance Neighborhood Association. I returned for other neighborhood association and coalition meetings and candidate forums there over the next several years.

As you can see from the photo above, Wilson is an impressive building. While its playgrounds border an arterial (11th Street, historic Route 66) and a neighborhood collector (Delaware Ave), the main entrance is on Columbia Ave, in the heart of Renaissance Neighborhood.

It is my hope that TPS would make preservation and adaptive reuse of the main building a condition of sale, along with an insistence (perhaps in the form of a covenant that runs with the land) that the future use would be compatible with its location in the heart of a single-family residential neighborhood. It would be a wonderful location for a charter school, a great new home for a private school, or a permanent home for some newly planted church. With the passage of the Oklahoma Opportunity Scholarship program, there's an opportunity to fill attractive, historic buildings like Wilson, Barnard, Roosevelt, and Franklin with excellent and affordable private schools that will help draw families back to Midtown, an area that, despite its revival in many regards, has lost population over the last decade as Midtown families have moved to suburban school districts.

While it would be nice to keep the property in one piece, It might be appropriate to allow mixed-use or neighborhood commercial development (think Cherry Street) on the fields that face Delaware. Here again, TPS could insist on design guidelines to ensure neighborhood compatibility.

I hope TPS board members will keep in mind that the neighboring property owners bought with the expectation that this land was a school and would remain so into the distant future. Replacing Wilson Middle School with another big parking lot or warehouse for Bama or TU would add insult to the injury neighbors have suffered with the school's closing.

Had hoped to write about Saturday's Oklahoma Republican Convention, Blake "Joe Momma" Ewing's announcement of his candidacy for Tulsa City Council District 4, and the disappointing State House redistricting map, but instead I solved an internet connection problem, monitored and prodded the oldest through his homework, did laundry, and organized digital photos of our homeschool coop. So here's something that was a bit easier to put together, but still interesting, I think.

Many years ago, I was involved in the Midtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, serving several years as the group's president. The story of that organization and my involvement in it deserves fuller elaboration at some point, but for now, here's an artifact to which I alluded in the previous entry.

For the 2000 Tulsa City Council elections, I wrote and, with the board's approval, sent to all City Council candidates a paper describing proposed zoning reforms and a questionnaire asking the candidates to respond to the proposals. (That link goes to a mirror of the Midtown Coalition's website -- hosted by Geocities!! -- where you can read responses from the candidates, including councilors Randi Miller, Gary Watts, Anna Falling, and Clay Bird, and current school board member (then a District 7 council candidate) Lois Jacobs.

The point was to get council candidates thinking about these issues and to see which candidates were committed to finding better ways to protect midtown neighborhoods against commercial encroachment into residential areas. Eleven years later, some progress has been made -- some neighborhoods that were upzoned but which remained single-family residential have since been downzoned -- but not as much as I'd have hoped. Only recently, after over a decade, have any of the three pilot neighborhood infill plans turned into actual changes to the zoning code -- the Pearl District pilot form-based land use code. With the passage of PLANiTULSA, we may finally begin to see "new [land use] categories for areas [like Cherry Street] that don't fall neatly into existing categories."

Here's the text of the cover letter and backgrounder from January 18, 2000:


18 January 2000

Dear City Council candidate:

On behalf of the Midtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, thank you for your willingness to run for public office. As someone who ran in 1998, I can appreciate the hard work involved - tired feet, tired voice, running here and there, all the while trying to keep up with the demands of home and work. Here's wishing you good weather and good health!

The Midtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations seeks to put neighborhood issues in the forefront of this campaign, and so we are asking each council candidate to consider and respond to three specific proposals for zoning reform:

  1. Establish a procedure to allow neighborhoods to create formal neighborhood plans, setting standards for new development and redevelopment, which would be drawn up by neighborhoods, with the help of planning staff. These plans would become a binding part of the zoning code.
  2. Reverse the misguided planning policies of the 1960s by "down-zoning" land to reflect the way it is actually being used and to prevent it being converted to the high-intensity uses permitted under existing zoning, which are undesirable near residential areas. In the process, create new categories for areas that don't fall neatly into existing categories, such as the pedestrian-oriented neighborhood shopping areas along Peoria, 11th Street, 15th Street, and elsewhere.
  3. Create some breathing room to consider and implement the first two changes by putting a temporary hold on zoning changes involving the expansion of commercial activity into residential areas.

We are asking all candidates for City Council in 2000 to respond to these proposed reforms. The week before the primary election, the Midtown Coalition will publicly announce the positions taken by the candidates on these three proposals. In addition, your response to the attached questionnaires will be published on the Coalition's website (see address above). Please note that the Midtown Coalition will not be endorsing specific candidates, but merely reporting each candidate's position on zoning reform.

The intent of these proposals is to give every Tulsa neighborhood the power to shape its own future. That is why we are asking candidates in every district, even those beyond Midtown, to take a position on these reforms. Eventually, every neighborhood will face the conflicts brought by redevelopment. Action taken on these proposals this year will help the neighborhoods in your district in years to come.

Please read the attached article explaining the proposals and reply by returning the attached questionnaire to the address above. You may also reply by e-mail to tulsa_midtown_coalition@yahoo.com - an electronic version of the questionnaire can be downloaded from the website. Please make sure we receive your reply no later than Tuesday, January 25.

If you have any questions, please contact me at the above e-mail address, or evenings at 749-7816. Thank you for taking the time to read this and respond.

Sincerely,

Michael D. Bates
President


BACKGROUND ON THE PROPOSED ZONING REFORMS

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Tulsa's zoning ordinances were oriented toward new suburban development. Our historic, traditional neighborhoods were relegated to the past. Older Tulsa neighborhoods were expected to decline in popularity as young families moved out, never to return. The shopping streets that served as "Main Streets" for these neighborhoods were also considered outdated and were rezoned to encourage their redevelopment for high-intensity commercial activities, such as used car sales, auto repair, and warehouses. At the same time, some residential areas were rezoned for office and industrial redevelopment.

In the 1990s, large numbers of Tulsans rediscovered the pleasures of urban living, and traditional neighborhoods have become increasingly popular with homebuyers. Many Tulsans are attracted by shady streets, traditional architecture, sidewalks, and the variety of things to see and do within walking distance of home. Neighborhood shopping streets like Brookside and Cherry Street have come alive, attracting shoppers from all parts of Metropolitan Tulsa as well as those living nearby. Retailers are anxiously seeking good Midtown locations to take advantage of this growing market.

Unfortunately, the misguided zoning policies of the 1960s are still in place, grounded though they are in assumptions that have proven false. While Midtown residents welcome the expanded choices brought by new merchants, they worry that redevelopment will destroy the very qualities that brought them to Midtown. Over and over again, developers have manipulated the system to bring suburban-style development to Midtown: enormous buildings and enormous parking lots that dwarf their surroundings. The inappropriate designation of small retail and office buildings as "high intensity commercial" allows developers to rezone nearby residences as commercial by lumping the commercial and residential areas together, all the while claiming to do the neighborhoods a favor by reducing the overall intensity of development. The result is that homes are demolished, and the homes that once overlooked houses and yards are left to overlook loading docks and parking lots. Whole neighborhoods have been demolished to make way for supermarkets and sports facilities. Streets once pleasant to walk along have become hostile environments for people on foot.

Neighborhood leaders have often tried to fight these damaging changes before the Planning Commission and the City Council, but rarely with any success. Although we have the right to speak, our voice carries no weight. Neighborhoods should have a formal role in the planning and zoning process - the ability to establish a neighborhood plan, which becomes part of the zoning code, and the right to review proposed changes to that plan. A proposed ordinance for neighborhood plans was discussed by the Mayor's Task Force on Infill Development, which completed its work nearly a year ago, but little has been done to make it a reality. (Last November, three neighborhoods were selected by the Mayor for development of pilot plans, but there is no timeline for changing the zoning code so that such plans can be made formal and binding.)

Oklahoma City neighborhoods have had this sort of protection for nearly 20 years. Neighborhoods covered by their "urban conservation districts" include older neighborhoods in central Oklahoma City, commercial districts, and newer, more suburban neighborhoods. Special districts encompass the historic Bricktown and Stockyard City areas. The neighborhood plans set standards for building height and scale, style, setbacks, permitted uses, and parking.

Developers and neighborhoods would benefit from neighborhood plans. Expectations would be set out in writing, so developers would know in advance what kind of development is allowed in an area. A neighborhood would be able to encourage compatible commerical development while protecting the characteristics that make the neighborhood special.

Some might claim that neighborhood plans with firm design and development standards would keep national retail chains out of Midtown, resulting in a loss of jobs and a loss of shopping variety and convenience. While it is true that chain retailers prefer to use their standard floor plans whenever possible, they have been willing, in cities throughout the nation, to adapt to local standards, where standards exist, in order to have access to a particular market. Tulsans need to set forth with confidence our vision of what our neighborhoods should be. The retailers want to sell to us, and they will work with us.

If the zoning code is to serve the interests of neighborhood residents throughout Tulsa, reform is necessary. The institution of the neighborhood plan process is an important step toward meaningful reform. Oklahoma City has had neighborhood plans for nearly 20 years - when will Tulsa catch up?

Additionally, the "up-zoning" that occurred in the '60s and '70s needs to be reversed. Land that is zoned for a higher intensity than its current use are like timebombs that could go off at any second. For example, the neighborhood north of the Broken Arrow Expressway, between Utica and Lewis is zoned for medium-intensity office use. If you lived in that neighborhood, you could wake up one morning to find the house next door demolished and a drive-in bank, a funeral home, a copy shop, or a travel agency being built. The developer would not need to go before the Planning Commission, the Board of Adjustment, or the City Council for approval, because those are all "uses by right" in a medium-intensity office district.

The relics of the misguided planning policy of the past should be replaced with zoning that reflects the reality of Midtown at the turn of the millennium. CH (commercial high-intensity) zoning in neighborhood shopping areas should be replaced with a new category for pedestrian-friendly, neighborhood commercial and office uses, which allows only uses compatible with nearby residential areas, and encourages new development to be consistent with existing buildings along the pleasant, walkable shopping streets Tulsans enjoy. Residential zoning should be restored for those neighborhoods which are still residential but had been rezoned for commercial, office or industrial uses. Part of the Riverview neighborhood, south of downtown, was recently down-zoned in this way.

It will take some time to put these reforms in place. In the meantime, developers will continue with business as usual, and Midtown neighborhoods will continue to be at risk. Developers may even seek to defeat these reforms by encouraging never-ending delays in the process of considering and implenting them. Neighborhoods will continue to lose battles while waiting for reforms to be studied and restudied. To protect neighborhoods in the interim, the City Council should put a hold on all zoning changes involving the expansion of commercial activity into residential areas. This includes PUDs which combine residential land with commerical land to create a bigger commercial area, as well as simple up-zoning from residential to other categories. The Council can simply table (postpone) such zoning applications until the reforms are in place. The hold should be long enough to allow some neighborhood plans to be drawn up and incorporated in the zoning code. This temporary hold will encourage developers to support timely implementation of these reforms by the Planning Commission and the City Council.

NOTE

This mailing was approved by the board of the Midtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations. The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of each neighborhood association in the Midtown Coalition or of each individual resident member of each neighborhood association.

Updated, May 9, 2011: Scroll down for commentary on the outcome of the vote.

Tomorrow night, Thursday, May 5, 2011, the Tulsa City Council will vote on a very simple, crystal clear, eleven-word-long amendment that fixes a loophole in our zoning code, a loophole that endangers the investment that homeowners have made in Tulsa's beautiful historic neighborhoods.

Nearly all of the current city councilors were elected with strong grassroots and homeowner support, often in the face of opposition well-funded by the development lobby. So you would think that these councilors would understand the importance of plugging this loophole and would be resistant to the lobbying efforts of these developers, some of whom are the perpetrators of notable Midtown eyesores. The City Council's job is to consider the long-term health of the city, not just someone's opportunity to make a quick buck flipping real estate.

Instead I'm hearing that certain developers who hope to exploit this loophole are leaning heavily on councilors, and it's having an impact. The election is later this year, and the councilors already know they're going to be targeted by allies of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, already recruiting candidates to run against them. Some may be tempted to believe that, if they give the build-anything-anywhere bunch what they want, they may forestall a primary challenger, or they may have a better chance of raising money for re-election. That would be a grave political miscalculation.

Let me try to explain, briefly, the reason why fixing this loophole matters, why this issue is so important to certain developers, and why it would be a mistake for councilors to cave into developer pressure.

Here's an example, a bit simplified, but it represents developments that have actually been approved in Tulsa:

Let's say you've decided you want to live in a historic home, and you want to live next door to and across the street from other historic homes. You carefully research the zoning and find a house to buy in a historic preservation overlay (HP). The houses across the street are in the HP district too, albeit right on the edge, backing up to properties that are zoned office or commercial. So you have every reason to believe, based on the zoning map, that your house will remain surrounded by other historic homes indefinitely.

But then a developer buys the HP-zoned houses across the street, then goes to the planning commission with a zoning change proposal for a planned unit development (PUD), to include the historic residential lots across the street and the commercial lots on the same block. Under the zoning code, a developer can use a PUD to group together lots with different zoning classifications, and then move the uses permitted in those zoning classifications around within the PUD. So in a PUD encompassing a couple of residential lots, a couple of lots zoned commercial, and a lot zoned office, the developer could put a restaurant where the houses used to be, and put parking on the area zoned for offices and retail.

Suddenly, your historic home no longer faces other historic homes, as the zoning map led you to expect. Instead your front porch looks out over a dumpster, a surface parking lot, or, perhaps worst of all, a blank screening wall where the sidewalk used to be. Your investment in a historic home in a historic neighborhood has been significantly undermined. The HP zoning you thought would protect your investment turns out to be worthless.

The zoning code amendment, item 7.a. on Thursday's agenda, closes the loophole. A developer still might buy the houses across the street, but anything that replaces those houses would have to be residential and would have to conform to the customized rules that apply to that particular HP district.

Tulsa doesn't have many historic neighborhoods, and many of the handful that remain have been damaged by urban renewal, expressway construction, up-zoning, and commercial and institutional encroachment. Still, these graceful, tree-canopied neighborhoods are some of our city's most attractive assets.

Only five of our historic neighborhoods have historic preservation (HP) zoning to protect homeowners' investments against inappropriate redevelopment. These HP districts are quite small -- less than 1/4 sq. mile each -- the loss of even a few lots to commercial redevelopment on any side would have a big impact on the cohesiveness of the remaining neighborhood. And it sets a precedent: Over time, a large portion of a historic neighborhood could be eroded away, one row of houses, one block at a time.

There are complaints (mainly from the same developers fighting this current zoning code amendment) that HP district rules are too onerous. In fact, they are quite weak compared with those of other cities our size. A more flexible type of protection for cohesive, historic neighborhoods -- neighborhood conservation districts -- has met with vehement opposition from the very same development lobbyists.

I'm happy to say that I endorsed eight of our current set of nine councilors, and as far as I know, I'm now on good terms with all nine. Seven of them were elected thanks to grassroots support, despite a heavy financial advantage for their Cockroach Caucus-backed opponents.

Councilors will be tempted to succumb to lobbyist pressure, thinking they may gain an ally against a candidate backed by the Chamber-affiliated PAC. More than likely, the developers will back the Chamber Pots' designated candidates. Councilors who cave on this issue will not only fail to gain the affections of the special interests, but they'll also lose the support of the people who knocked doors, talked them up to their neighbors, and gave small contributions in hopes of having a true representative at City Hall.

Our current crop of councilors are good people. I'm hopeful that they'll "dance with who brung them" and continue to work for the benefit of all Tulsans, not just a favored few.

MORE: A reader calls my attention to a Tulsa World database story from April 17. The reader points out that homes in HP zoning districts appreciated two to three times as much the county average between 2006 and 2010, and in most cases appreciated faster than neighboring non-HP neighborhoods. For example, property values in the Orcutt Addition, which makes up the northern part of the Swan Lake HP district, increased by 27.4% vs. 8.62% county-wide. The number 1 and 2 subdivisions in the county in property value increases are both in the Yorktown HP district -- Weaver Addition (39%) and Maywood Addition (34%).

UPDATE 2011/05/09: As you may have heard, the City Council approved the amendment, but with a December 1 sunset clause. District 4 Councilor Maria Barnes and District 6 Councilor Jim Mautino were the strongest supporters of the zoning code amendment, but voted "no" on the final version because of the built-in expiration date.

As disappointing as the sunset clause may be, I can remember the cries of outrage way back in 2000 when a Midtown Coalition questionnaire asked Council candidates, "Will you support a temporary hold on zoning changes which increase commercial encroachment into residential areas, in order to encourage speedy adoption of [zoning code] reforms and to protect neighborhoods until the reforms are in place?" At that time, simply asking for a temporary hold was enough to get someone labeled as anti-growth. That this could get passed, even with a sunset clause, is a sign of progress, slow though it may be.

Charles G. Hill of Dustbury.com has made the controversy the subject of this week's Vent:

The argument was made that this would buy the city some time to hire a new planning director and to implement further changes in the comprehensive Tulsa Plan. Cynics might say that this buys developers some time to develop a counterstrategy.

Does this herald the second coming of what Bates called the Cockroach Cluster? Not necessarily. But the days of Business As Usual are far from over in America's Most Dutiful City.

There's a good article by Mike Easterling in the brand new edition of Urban Tulsa Weekly about the possibility that the City of Tulsa will establish its own in-house planning capability to replace the work it currently outsources to the Development Services department of the Indian Nations Council of Government (INCOG).

Easterling spoke to Tulsa City Councilors John Eagleton, Bill Christiansen, and G. T. Bynum, INCOG executive director Rich Brierre, urbanist / developer Jamie Jamieson, city Chief of Staff Terry Simonson, County Commission deputy Mark Liotta, TMAPC chairman Bill Leighty, former TMAPC member Elizabeth Wright, and me.

What was striking about the story was how often people who should know better confuse the TMAPC and INCOG, and confuse the various roles that INCOG fulfills with respect to the City of Tulsa. If I weren't a trusting fellow, I might think that those who wish to preserve the city's contract with INCOG for planning services were deliberately trying to confuse the issue.

Last March, I wrote a detailed explanation of INCOG's multiple roles, its relationship with the TMAPC and the City of Tulsa, and how that arrangement differs from the situation in other cities. It's worth reading in its entirety, but here's the gist:

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.

So keep that in mind as you read the comments of Brierre and Liotta, both of whom make frequent reference to the TMAPC, which is not the organization under discussion.

Both Liotta and Brierre suggest that the current arrangement is a good deal for the taxpayers of the City of Tulsa. But if that's true, it's a rotten deal for the taxpayers of the Tulsa County residents of Broken Arrow, Skiatook, Owasso, and the other municipalities, all of whom are not only paying for their own planning staff and planning commission, but they're paying for the City of Tulsa's as well, with no benefit to themselves.

Liotta said the issue may be worth examining, and he said the county is certainly to open to anything that saves the taxpayers money. He just doubts that would happen in this instance.

"Probably not, would be my guess," Liotta said. "But that's something they need to study before they make that decision."

Brierre believes the city receives great value for its money under the current arrangement.

"If you look at (financial) support, it's a bargain for the city of Tulsa," he said. "The vast majority of the caseload is the city of Tulsa, but at this time, the county of Tulsa is providing the majority of funding to support the TMAPC.

Brierre said the city's share of the funding for the Planning Commission comes to only 40 percent, though approximately 90 percent of the cases that come before the TMAPC concern sites in the city.

If Liotta and his County Commissioner bosses are looking out for Tulsa County taxpayers, they should end this subsidy immediately, and they should be glad that the City of Tulsa wants out.

Thanks to Urban Tulsa Weekly staff for their kind words in naming me once again to the paper's annual "Hot 100" list. I'm pleased, too, to see great Tulsans like restaurant entrepreneur Blake Ewing, developer/urbanist Jamie Jamieson, and architect Shelby Navarro on the list. Tulsa city planner Theron Warlick is the second name on the list, a well-deserved honor for his hard work and leadership with PLANiTULSA (which has its own spot on the list). Theron would make a great city planning director, don't you think?

Speaking of the city planning director position and the development of a new zoning code consistent with the PLANiTULSA comprehensive land use plan, UTW's Mike Easterling has a story about the disagreement at City Hall over how to fund these needs.The mayor wants to use one-time money, the Council wants a stable funding source to pay for a permanent position.

Also in the current issue, soon-to-be-former planning commissioner Elizabeth Wright talked to Mike Easterling about her term on the TMAPC, possibilities for the future and why she thinks she rubbed some people the wrong way:

As for the perception that she had become a bit of a lightning rod for controversy as a planning commissioner -- a job not generally regarded as a high-profile position in local political circles -- Wright acknowledged that her style may have ruffled some feathers.

"If anything, I'm more blunt than anything else ... I think there are times that we come across as being rude, and we're not trying to be rude," she said, recalling a Planning Commission case in which a developer appearing before that body became upset with her because of her questions over the project's lighting. Wright said she regards asking such questions as part of her job and said many developers simply aren't used to having to go into such detail.

"There were some developers that were accustomed to doing business the way it had always been done," she said. "They were used to not having someone question what they were doing or saying, and not putting together the pieces to what they were doing....

"Things don't have to be done the same old way every time," she said, explaining that storm water runoff on development projects -- and its impact on surrounding properties -- is one such issue that has been ignored or neglected by the TMAPC for far too long.

"The Planning Commission should stand up and be responsible and quit passing the buck," she said.

Wright's willingness to speak up on such issues is a big part of what has earned her the resentment of some members of the development community. To an extent, she regards that as a natural product of the changing atmosphere in Tulsa.

"We're in a shift, so, yes, it's going to be abrasive," she said. "When you're going through times of change, some people want it, some people don't, and there are going to be clashes."

Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith has appointed a new Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) member, but his home and neighborhood are not within the TMAPC's jurisdiction.

Keith's appointee is Ryon Stirling, a City of Sand Springs homeowner. His property is unaffected by the decisions of the TMAPC. The TMAPC's jurisdiction is the City of Tulsa and unincorporated Tulsa County; the City of Sand Springs has its own municipal planning commission "responsible for the administration of planning and zoning ordinances and the comprehensive plan for the City."

Stirling replaces Elizabeth Wright, a City of Tulsa homeowner (and thus a resident within the TMAPC's jurisdiction). Wright's three-year term will expire on January 18. About a year ago, Keith made an ill-considered and unsuccessful attempt to force Wright from office.

In the daily paper's story on the appointment, Keith is quoted as saying she "was just following through with [her] commitment to get someone from west of the river." Stirling lives on N. Main St. in Sand Springs, which is north of the river, on the opposite side of the river from west Tulsa.

UPDATE 2010/01/05: Is Stirling's appointment legal? Yes, because he's a Tulsa County resident being appointed to a Tulsa County seat on the TMAPC. It is, however, an offense to the idea of representative government and self-determination to have a planning commissioner who will be unaffected by the decisions he makes.

The City of Sand Springs has absolutely no relationship with the TMAPC. The same is true of Broken Arrow, Skiatook, Bixby, Jenks, and every other Tulsa County municipality (with the lone exception of the City of Tulsa). Each of the suburbs has its own Title 11, Article XLV, municipal planning commission, which performs roughly the same functions that the TMAPC performs for Tulsa: holding hearings and making recommendations on zoning changes, zoning code amendments, lot splits, subdivision regulations, and comprehensive planning to the city council.

Last year, I posted a list of the eight types of planning commission authorized by Oklahoma statute. The TMAPC is the sole example of a Title 19, Section 863, joint city-county metropolitan area planning commission for counties over 180,000.

The TMAPC was established at a time when most of Tulsa County was unincorporated, the City of Tulsa was completely contained within Tulsa County, annexing land gradually, as new subdivisions were developed. Today only a tiny amount of land is unincorporated, and most of that is surrounded by a city's fenceline as a reserve for future annexation. The City of Tulsa now extends into four counties. It would make more sense for the City of Tulsa to have its own planning commission, like Oklahoma City has, and for a county planning commission to have jurisdiction over the shrinking amount of unincorporated territory. Each entity already has its own comprehensive plan, zoning code, subdivision regulations, and Board of Adjustment; why not separate planning commissions as well?

MORE: Reader "The A Team" sent me a link to Ryon Sterling's 2007 thesis for his OU master's degree in Architectural Urban Studies. The thesis was a study of Tulsa's neighborhood associations based on survey responses. It's an interesting read. Stirling calls for city-defined standards for neighborhood associations:

I am confident that it is necessary for the City of Tulsa to reexamine the current guidelines regarding Neighborhood Associations and proceed by establishing a definition for the Associations to clarify and standardize what it means to be a Neighborhood Association--from boundaries, to membership, to by-laws. I suspect this will be a challenge since the Neighborhood Associations have been able to self define, in some cases for decades, but it is essential if Neighborhood Associations are to be used in a large way for planning purposes in the update to the Comprehensive Plan and are eligible to receive public dollars from Vision 2025 funds or future neighborhood funding measures. It has been suggested by this committee that a tiered system be examined as one possibility to attend to these concerns.

Recent articles of interest on urban policy, both in Tulsa and elsewhere:

TU in 2010

Daniel Jeffries posts a map of the present-day University of Tulsa campus, comparing it to a map from the 1960s, showing the removal of the street grid over the last half century, and adding this comment:

TU continues to degrade the surrounding urban neighborhoods by destroying access points to the campus, reducing the number of streets within the campus itself, built an 8-foot-tall fence around the entire campus, tearing down homes and forcing traffic onto just a few streets.

This mindless policy of destruction serves no good and shows a huge lack of forethought, planning, and is extremely reckless.

It should be noted that the expansion of TU, a private university, has been greatly facilitated by the City's use of eminent domain.

Along the same topic of street connectivity: Redsneakz commented here a while back on my link to an op-ed about transit-oriented development around Tysons Corner in Fairfax County, Va. He's written two posts: The Problem with Tysons Corner and More on Tysons and central Fairfax. The Metro extension, he writes, won't fix what's wrong:

What we don't have in our "fair city" is cross streets. What we do have are large loop roads circling the area. They're almost all four lane roads, with relatively few traffic signals, all of which leads to traffic traveling at fairly dangerous (to pedestrians) speeds. The office buildings are all "campus style," which means that the developers made large buildings with extensive above-ground parking areas and largely uncontrolled egress onto these surface roads, with some amount of greenspace thrown in for aesthetic reasons. The greatest number of these office buildings is north of Route 7.

Part one of the redesign plan is to extend Metro out as far as Dulles Airport, with an initial phase having four stops within Tysons. This seems like a pretty good idea, because you can basically eliminate a couple of thousand cars per day entering the traffic sink that is Tysons, and people can actually walk to their jobs... uh, hold on. Walking around the area is incovenient at best, and dangerous at worst.

In the second piece, he notes that NoVa's traffic problems are out of proportion to the area's population:

For sheer number of traffic jams, neither LA nor New York can really be beat, at least here in the US.... But here's the thing; the New York Metro Area has something on the order of 19 million people living there; Los Angeles Metropolitan area, 17 million....

Metropolitan DC, by contrast, has a population of 4 million or so, yet the traffic here is infamously bad. Every workday, without exception, the western and northern quadrants of I-495 are pretty much rock solid bad traffic. Unsurprisingly, the focus of the bad traffic, on this section of highway, is Tysons Corner....

Poor planning is a big part of the problem. One possible relief route across the Potomac was eliminated by default:

Policy decisions, though, allowed subdivisions to be created on the Virginia side nearly up to the 100 year flood mark, and a golf course on the Maryland side, right at the optimal crossing point. That bridge could have been the anchor of a long dreamed of Outer Beltway, linking Maryland Route 28 to the Fairfax County Parkway.

Oops.

Speaking of planning, Oklahoma City's Blair Humphreys has a piece in the Oklahoma Gazette about the launch of Oklahoma City's comprehensive plan update, called planOKC.

The most recent plan, created in 1977 and last updated in 2000, set out to preserve and revitalize existing neighborhoods and improve the efficiency of the continued outward suburban growth. And the most recent update in 2000, perhaps following the lessons learned from MAPS, added a commitment to revitalizing the city's central core.

While these plans have certainly had an impact on Oklahoma City's growth and development, there is a significant difference between what we have planned to do, and what we have actually done.

For instance, although the 1977 plan focused on preservation and called for efficient growth, the development that has occurred over the past 33 years ostensibly runs counter to those objectives. Since 1977, our population has increased by 40 percent, but land development has occurred at approximately two-and-a-half times the rate of population growth. And in order to provide "convenient" access to this scattered development, we have expanded our street network at a frenetic pace, increasing the amount of paved right-of-way by 275 percent during the same period.

Brian J. Noggle starts with wayfinding signs in Springfield, Mo., and winds up with a comment on the propagation of urban improvement fads and the irony that proponents of local exceptionalism are often advocates of copycat solutions:

I can't be the only one to notice that candidates for office often stress that they've lived in an area all their lives and know the solutions the region needs, and then they go on a junket-I mean fact-finding mission or conference trip-to some fabulous location and come back with a bunch of imported ways to spend money to make this city look like thatcity.

Charles G. Hill links to Noggle's item and notes:

We have no shortage of would-be hipster urbanists who want this town to look exactly like [fill in name of municipal role model] -- only completely different.

Amy Alkon features a video about an unattended, automated parking garage in Budapest. Very cool, and something similar was built in Hoboken, New Jersey, some years ago; local blogger Mister Snitch covered at length the political complications affecting the project. And here's a story on NJ.com about a 2009 malfunction at the garage.

There's a tube station on the 3rd floor of a London office building, part of a training center for London Underground.

Today at 4 at Tulsa City Hall is what may be the final session of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission's public hearing on the PLANiTULSA comprehensive plan. (You can download the June 2010 Final Draft of the PLANiTULSA policy documents here.) Work obligations preclude me from attending today, but I have submitted the following comments to the TMAPC via e-mail:

In general, this is a solid plan that should be moved forward to the City Council. Rereading the plan again, I was pleased by the emphasis on connectivity (something sadly neglected in the build-out of south Tulsa, to the detriment of traffic flow), walkability, and a much more sensible approach to parking, including shared parking districts and realistic parking ratios. I'm pleased to see an important role for historic preservation, particularly in the downtown area. I applaud the inclusion of "protects and stabilizes existing neighborhoods" in the list of criteria to guide zoning decisions (Land Use Policy 5-7, p. LU-80).

That said, I have several concerns, particularly with the land use chapter, and I urge the TMAPC to amend the document to address these issues:

* While the Land Use plan sets out a new "policy structure" for land use planning (p. LU-56), it also seems to provide several large loopholes that seem to undercut the new policy structure and keep Tulsa in the mode of reactive, spot "planning."

For example, p. LU-62: "Small area plans need not be used for more routine planning actions, such as developments or subdivisions of land under single ownership. In these instances, a subdivision, zone change, PUD or other process under the zoning code is sufficient." Surely there should be a size limit on this exclusion. This loophole would seem to allow some very large developments to bypass any scrutiny of connectivity, walkability, and fit with the overall plan.

Then on p. LU-75, these statements would have Tulsa continuing to zone first and plan later, retrospectively correcting the comprehensive plan to reflect zoning decisions made in conflict with the plan.

"[The Land Use Plan] should be amended to conform to zoning changes.... Housekeeping updates and maintenance to reflect development approvals should be made annually."

Instead, a zoning change proposal in conflict with the comprehensive plan should trigger a review of the plan for the surrounding area. If a small area plan is in place, it should be reviewed in light of the proposed change. If there is no small area plan, a zoning change proposal in conflict with the overall land use plan should lead to the creation of a small area plan for the area of the proposed change and its environs. Land development doesn't happen in isolation, and good planning requires consideration of the impact of a proposed zoning change on the surrounding area.

Under our current system, INCOG staff treats a zoning change in conflict with the plan as if it were isolated from its surroundings, and so they only propose a spot change to the comprehensive plan. That's not planning; it's bookkeeping. The language I quoted above from pages LU-62 and LU-75 seems to suggest that this spot planning approach will continue indefinitely, to the city's detriment.

* The paragraph on Existing Residential Neighborhoods (p. LU-33) should merge the language of the previous version with the June draft, in order to make it clear that the goal of the "clear and objective ... development standards" is to ensure that infill in a stable neighborhood is consistent with character of the neighborhood. I propose the following substitute for the third sentence of the paragraph:

"Development activities in these areas should be limited to the rehabilitation, improvement or replacement of existing homes, and small-scale infill projects, as permitted through clear and objective setback, height, and other development standards of the zoning code. These clear and objective development standards in the zoning code should be designed so that infill development complements the character of the neighborhood and is consistent in form, scale, rhythm and proportion as seen from the street."

This language is consistent with that on p. LU-54 which discusses "older neighborhoods that are looking for new ways to preserve their character and quality of life" and mentions Florence Park as a neighborhood where the aim is to "maintain present character."

* Statements specifying the Tulsa Metro Chamber (p. LU-20, p. LU-67) as a partner in economic development should be changed to refer to the business community generally. Over years and decades, how the business community expresses itself organizationally may change. Long-time organizations may fail to adapt to changing conditions and may be supplemented or supplanted by newer expressions of business-to-business cooperation. New organizations may be more or less formal, may be focused on specific neighborhoods or regions of the city on on particular market segments. City government should plan to work with all of them.

It is imprudent for a flexible, future-oriented comprehensive plan to prescribe a fixed, privileged position for a controversial organization of questionable effectiveness. Such rigidity interferes with the dynamism we need in Tulsa's business community. Business organizations, just like individual businesses, should prove their worth in the free market, rather than using privileged government connections to protect themselves against competition. It is especially inappropriate to specify a privileged position for the Tulsa Metro Chamber in a land use policy plan. That the Tulsa Metro Chamber felt it necessary to insert themselves into a land use policy document only demonstrates their weakening political position and organizational confusion.

I note that the economic development chapter appropriately lists the Tulsa Metro Chamber as only one among many potential business-community partners for the city (e.g. p. ED-8). Priority 2, Goal 3 (p. ED-18) should, however, be changed to begin "The City and the business community work closely with institutions of higher education...."

* Finally, a technical comment about the quality of the online PDF documents: The maps and charts are almost illegible, because of the image compression method used to reduce the document size. Zooming in to get a closer look reveals pixelation and other artifacts, blurring details. Often, the colors used in a map's legend don't match the colors that appear in the map (e.g. the transportation map). I urge the PLANiTULSA team to make higher resolution versions of the maps and charts available to the public, using non-lossy compression methods such as PNG. JPEG compression is designed for use with photos, not for maps or graphics that use a small number of distinct colors with sharp boundaries.

I would also urge making documents, maps, and charts available in the native format in which they were originally laid out (e.g., Photoshop, GIS, AutoCAD). Those Tulsans with the appropriate software would be able to download the files and turn layers of content on and off to see the details more clearly.

No, I haven't gotten completely absorbed in the upcoming elections. I haven't forgotten PLANiTULSA. But my last few nights have been short, so I'll keep this short and get some sleep.

The final draft of the PLANiTULSA comprehensive plan was released earlier this week. There are actually nine separate PDF files to download:

  • Our Vision for Tulsa
  • Policy Plan Chapters
    • Land Use
    • Transportation
    • Economic Development
    • Housing
    • Parks, Open Space, & Environment
    • Appendix
    • Stability and Growth Map
    • Land Use Map

You can also download KMZ (Google Earth) files of the two maps and the Discussion Change Log and Consent Change Log.

What is possibly the final session of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) public hearing on PLANiTULSA will take place next Tuesday, June 15, 2010, at 4 p.m., in the City Council chambers at Tulsa's City Hall (2nd & Cincinnati). This PDF explains the procedures for the PLANiTULSA public hearing. If you can't be there in person, you can submit PLANiTULSA comments online. (That link also lets you read previously submitted comments. More about the PLANiTULSA adoption process and calendar here.)

I will take some time over the next few days to review the final plan and call your attention to anything notable. I hope you'll do the same.

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr's nomination of ousted City Councilor Eric Gomez to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission is on tonight's City Council agenda. The nomination is likely to be defeated by a supermajority, based on public statements by the councilors, but it's still worth expressing your concern to your councilor, particularly if your councilor has expressed support for Gomez's nomination. If you're wondering why you should be concerned, please read my earlier entry on Eric Gomez's TMAPC nomination, which links to earlier evaluations of his record on zoning and development issues.

By the way, I notice that the agenda for tonight's meeting includes no backup information on Eric Gomez or the other mayoral nominees being considered tonight. The Council usually gets a fact sheet on each nominee, with a resume. Certainly a prospective planning commissioner's sources of income would be a matter of public interest, and in this case there are rumors of a connection between Gomez and a developer who is notoriously hostile to homeowners; those rumors need to be either confirmed or dispelled.

"He is either totally clueless or absolutely in your face, one of the two."

"I guess he wants everybody mad at him."

"He's appointing a councilor that threatened to sue one of his constituents over a planning issue to the planning commission?"

Eric Gomez, former Tulsa City CouncilorThose were the instantaneous reactions of my lovely bride to the news that Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr has nominated former Councilor Eric Gomez to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission. ("He" meaning Mayor Bartlett Jr.)

At this moment, the TMAPC is considering whether to approve a new comprehensive plan, deciding whether to substantially approve the plan that came out of the two-year-long PLANiTULSA process or whether to remodel it to suit a couple of squeaky-wheel developers named John Bumgarner and Joe Westervelt -- developers who happen to have donated to Eric Gomez's recent unsuccessful campaign for City Council. Bartlett Jr's nomination of Gomez sends a clear message to the thousands of Tulsans who invested their hopes and energy into the PLANiTULSA process: It's going to be business as usual -- a continuation of the bad land use planning decisions of the past -- if Bartlett Jr gets his way.

Before last fall's election, I set out a long list of bad decisions by Eric Gomez during his brief, single term of office. One prime example: Approving Bumgarner's Folly -- a straight rezoning of most of a large, formerly residential block near Cherry Street, a block that is now vacant and apparently will be for a long time:

During his term of office, Eric Gomez has offered no resistance to bad development plans that set bad precedents. Now we're stuck with an ugly open lot at 14th and Utica where there used to be homes and sturdy brick apartment buildings. Gomez voted to rezone that land to OH -- Office High Intensity. It was a straight rezoning, not a PUD, so (under our outdated zoning code) there are no requirements to encourage compatibility with the investments of neighboring property owners. Gomez accepted the developer's proposal to put development conditions in a covenant, which could only be enforced by the city filing a lawsuit, rather than a PUD, which can be enforced by administrative action.

Gomez voted for the PUD for the Bomasada development on 39th east of Peoria, despite the project's violation of the very recently adopted Brookside Infill Plan, which is officially part of our Comprehensive Plan.

Both projects have been halted by the economy's decline, but we're stuck with the bad zoning decisions regardless, and the precedents they set to put development conditions in hard-to-enforce covenants and to ignore a recently crafted and adopted portion of the Comprehensive Plan.

As I wrote in endorsing Eric Gomez's defeat last November:

One of the key issues at this point in Tulsa's history, as we move toward adoption of a new Comprehensive Plan, is whether we have land use rules that are fair, clear, consistently applied, and that encourage compatible new development or whether we continue to allow developers to warp those rules and to build in ways that undermine the investments of neighboring property owners. Maria Barnes is on the right side of that issue. Eric Gomez is on the wrong side.

And as my wife noted, Eric Gomez is emphatically on the wrong side of the related issues of (a) keeping homeowners in the dark and (b) threatening to sue someone for criticizing his political actions.

While I supported Gomez in 2004, when he ran as a neighborhood advocate against the development lobby's pick -- incumbent Tom Baker -- he's changed since then. Now a developer himself, he's wholeheartedly adopted the agenda of the "build anything I want anywhere I want" development community, and he's attacked even mild, watered-down versions of the kinds of laws our peer cities use to allow change to occur in a predictable way that protects the stability and character of neighborhoods.

In answer to the question in the title of this post: No, I don't think Mayor Bartlett Jr is serious about his nomination of Eric Gomez. Gomez has at most three supporters on the council, and I suspect those three are mainly a matter of friendship rather than endorsement of his planning philosophy. This nomination is a delaying tactic, I believe, to reset the 60-day clock and prevent the City Council from appointing Al Nichols, a long-time neighborhood leader from east Tulsa who would bring both geographical and (as someone not involved in real estate or development) professional balance to the TMAPC.

A political friend of mine opined that Councilor Maria Barnes (who was beaten by Gomez in 2008 and beat him in 2009) would "show her [posterior]" over this appointment -- in other words, make a fool of herself by loudly opposing the nomination of her political rival. I disagreed. She doesn't have to say a word and likely won't. A majority of her colleagues are already well aware that Eric Gomez is the wrong choice for the TMAPC, particularly at this crucial time in the development of a Tulsa's first comprehensive plan in a generation.

MORE: Here's an example of Eric Gomez's philosophy of zoning from a 2008 candidate forum:

"Doesn't all zoning infringe on property rights, and if so, why is the idea of conservation district different from that? Why is it a further infringement on property rights that are already infringed by zoning?"

Gomez's verbatim reply: "We already regulate land use. We already regulate what you can and cannot do with your property. When people buy a property, they look at what the policies are, they understand what the zoning is, and if that should change, there has to be a--it's a fine line, I believe, between private property rights and zoning, and absent of covenants that are not easily enforceable, when you buy a property in an older neighborhood--I live in an older neighborhood--you do understand that these things may happen and it, um..." As his voice trailed off to a mumble, he sat down.

AND FINALLY: At a candidate forum last fall, Eric Gomez responded to a question (click for video) about public officials suing their constituents, as he threatened to do, but he wasn't too excited about his response being recorded for posterity.

Cato Institute senior fellow Randal O'Toole will speak in Tulsa on Saturday, April 24, 2010, 1:30 p.m., on the topic of comprehensive planning. The talk is sponsored by Oklahomans for Sovereignty and Free Enterprise (OK-SAFE) and will be held at the Hardesty Library, 8316 E. 93rd St. The event is free and open to the public. Here's their blurb about the event:

Heard a Lot Lately About:

A Tulsa Without Cars...A Light Rail System...
New Urbanism...MAPS 3 and PlaniTulsa...

Wondered What it's All About?

Randal O'Toole, senior fellow with the Cato Institute and author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future and Gridlock: Why We're Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It, discusses how government attempts to do long-range, comprehensive planning inevitably do more harm than good by choking American cities with congestion, making housing markets more unaffordable, and sending the cost of government infrastructure skyrocketing. Does this effect how, and whether, churches are built?

O'Toole will also speak in Oklahoma City on Monday, April 26, 2010, at 6:30 pm at the Character First Center, 520 W. Main.

While I disagree with OK-SAFE's opposition to PLANiTULSA, I respect the fact that it is grounded in principle. (That's in contrast to groups who are trying to derail or mutilate Tulsa's first comprehensive plan in a generation in order to serve their own institutional and commercial self-interests.) It's certainly reasonable to be skeptical about large scale, long-range government planning. A good deal of the sprawl and urban destruction of the past fifty years was the product of a previous generation of government planning. And the places that urbanophiles hold most dear were built before zoning and planning took hold of our cities.

It should be said, however, that developers of that era had a sense of self-restraint -- think of the long-standing gentleman's agreement that no building in Philadelphia would be taller than the William Penn statue atop City Hall. And the way development was financed in that earlier era encouraged permanence. Typically, you were building for yourself, not building something to flip as quickly as possible. At some point construction shifted from being a craft performed as a service and turned into a commodity-producing industry.

As Paul Harvey used to say, self-government won't work without self-discipline.

I would urge OK-SAFE members to look at the PLANiTULSA documents, what they actually say, as opposed to what someone calling himself a new urbanist said on a website somewhere. What they'll find, I think, is something very different from the large-scale, overly-prescriptive comprehensive plans of the '50s and '60s. They won't find anything calling for a "Tulsa Without Cars." Existing single-family residential developments are labeled as Areas of Stability (much to the chagrin of the development industry). If implemented, PLANiTULSA would allow for types of development that are currently very hard to do under our existing zoning code. Parking requirements would be reduced, so you wouldn't need to buy as much land to put up a commercial building.

As long as you have people living in close proximity, you're going to need rules, since what I do with my property affects my neighbor's enjoyment of his. As long as local government is involved in building and maintaining streets, water lines, and sewer lines and providing police and fire protection, local government is going to need to be involved in urban planning. The question then becomes whether your planning process and philosophy reflects your city's values and an accurate understanding of how people interact with the built environment.

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. § 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.

I wasn't able to attend the March 23, 2010, TMAPC hearing in person, but I watched the last hour or so of the hearing on TGOVonline.org. The on-demand version should be posted in a couple of days.

I submitted an email comment in response to an impassioned speech that seemed to be suggesting we could have a unanimously shared comprehensive plan if only we jettisoned the particulars that might upset one faction or another. Here's what I said:

"It is not possible to draft a plan with meaning and substance that will satisfy everyone. Surely [the speaker] would not want to delete all language in PLANiTULSA about sustainability and mixed-use development to satisfy conspiracy theorists who believe these terms mean Tulsa would be enslaved to the whims of an oppressive, UN-led one-world government. Likewise, we shouldn't begin jettisoning key components of this plan or severely limiting other components just to calm the irrational fears of some excitable members of Tulsa's development community.

"As a planning commission adopting a master plan for Tulsa's future development, you would be failing Tulsa if you allow this long-term vision and plan to be held hostage by a few voices motivated mainly by their own short-term gain.

"I agree strongly with homebuilder Will Wilkins' comments that Tulsa's development community can work successfully within this new plan, just as they have worked successfully under our existing comprehensive plan. There isn't any planning or land use concept in PLANiTULSA that hasn't already been successfully implemented in many other cities in the US."

Further arguments against jettisoning parts of the plan in hopes of unanimous consensus:

At this point in the process, anything TMAPC changes to make one faction happy is likely to make another faction upset.

There is an interconnectedness to elements of the plan, an internal consistency and cohesion. If key elements of the plan are removed, that cohesion begins to unravel.

I truly believe that, despite the fears of the homebuilders, the plan as released is a win-win for developers along with the rest of Tulsa. It opens the door to types of development not currently possible, and it reduces burdensome process and regulation.

I thought back to a comment by a developer during the 1998-9 infill task force. It may have been Joe Westervelt, who was at the time one of Susan Savage's appointees to the TMAPC. The gist of the comment was that if Tulsa had design guidelines for commercial districts like Brookside, national retailers wouldn't want to locate here. They have a standard building and site plan and that's all they want to build -- so the thinking goes.

But anyone who has traveled has seen national chains that have adapted their stores to meet the required characteristics. I've seen examples of McDonalds, Walgreens, Barnes and Noble, Wendy's, Kroger, Publix, and CVS designed to fit into a walkable urban environment. Tulsa needs to have as much self-esteem as our peer cities.

Regarding the plan to reopen public comments following a March 31 meeting by the TMAPC: The Tulsa Metro Chamber is trying to claim credit, but they had nothing to do with it. In fact, this is good for ordinary Tulsans, since before the public hearing is reopened, we'll see what kind of amendments to the plan the TMAPC will approve. Then we'll have the opportunity to persuade and rebut after those amendments are on the table.

Tonight, March 23, 2010, starting at 6 pm, is what may be the final session of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission's public hearing on PLANiTULSA, Tulsa's first comprehensive plan in a generation. If not everyone can be heard who wishes to speak, the TMAPC has the option to continue the public hearing on a later date, as they did following the March 10 session, but the members seem antsy to move on to the deliberation phase. If you have a comment on the plan and you can't be there in person, you can complete an online comment card or email your comments to planning@cityoftulsa.org and TMAPC@incog.org.

The application of small-area planning -- a key component of PLANiTULSA -- continues to be a point of controversy, with the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa requesting that the use of the small-area planning process be restricted to "Areas of Change." It appears that the HBAGT wishes to preclude any planning process that might lead to adjustments in zoning for an area that they see as a target for redevelopment. The HBAGT also objects to using small-area planning in greenfield areas. Here (PDF format from original Microsoft Word file) are the HBAGT's comments on PLANiTULSA submitted by Paul Kane, CEO of the HBAGT, back on March 8, 2010.

In a nutshell, it would seem that the HBAGT doesn't want PLANiTULSA to change anything about the way they do business. It would seem that the HBAGT has no problem with other aspects of PLANiTULSA -- mixed-use development, redevelopment in north Tulsa and areas like the Pearl District, new, denser types of residential development -- because they don't have any plans to participate in those types of development.

Here is a link to the consolidated log to which Kane refers. (This link takes you to a collection of links to all submitted PLANiTULSA comments to date.)

I can't be at tonight's meeting, but I submitted a comment today urging the TMAPC to retain the original PLANiTULSA language regarding the use of small-area plans and not to accept language that would limit their use only to areas the HBAGT doesn't care about:


I am writing again to urge adoption of the PLANiTULSA vision and policy documents as our city's new comprehensive plan and to urge that they be adopted without substantial modification. If you choose to make substantial modifications, I urge you to forward both the original version (with minor scrivener's errors corrected) and the TMAPC-modified version for the City Council's consideration.

I am writing specifically to object to any modification that would rule out the use of small-area planning for Areas of Stability. Tulsa has already used the small-area planning process to develop an infill plan for Brookside, which covers an Area of Stability (residential) and the Area of Change (the business corridor along Peoria) it surrounds.

The same process would be useful for both Areas of Change and Areas of Stability: Define an area, identify the area's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, define the desired development for the area, define an implementation plan (zoning, infrastructure, capital improvements, incentives, etc.), approve the plan (via TMAPC and City Council). The process may be simpler and require less planning manpower for an area of stability than for an area of change, but the same general steps would be involved.

On p. 62, the PLANiTULSA Land Use document says, "A small area plan is any plan that addresses the issues of a portion of the city." Saying we will only use small area plans for Areas of Change would rule out the city's ability to work with area stakeholders to define such a plan to protect the desirable characteristics of a stable area from being undermined by destabilizing influences.

Blueprint Denver, a comprehensive plan developed by Fregonese Associates, identifies as criteria for selecting areas for Small Area Plans "stabilizing conditions that threaten Areas of Stability" and areas where there are "opportunities for substantial infill or redevelopment." Clearly, there are Areas of Stability in Tulsa where there are opportunities for substantial infill and where there are conditions that threaten stable areas. It is appropriate in such circumstances to gather area stakeholders and work with them to define the area's challenges and strengths, define the area's desired characteristics, and define an implementation plan to achieve those characteristics.

How small area plans for stable areas would be implemented in zoning is a matter for discussion and refinement during the implementation phase of PLANiTULSA. It is crucial, however, that at this phase we do not remove a useful tool -- small area plans -- from our planning toolbox and that we not restrict its use.
I also urge retaining the ability to use small area plans for greenfield development. It is crucial for traffic flow and for pedestrian and bicycle access to consider the development of new subdivisions in the context of abutting development, rather than in isolation. Tulsa has suffered from disconnected subdivision development patterns which force local traffic onto arterial streets and make it impractical for people to walk or bike to shopping, jobs, and recreation.

I regret that I will not be able to attend tonight's meeting in person. I would welcome the opportunity to answer any questions you may have.


I also made a suggestion for clarifying language regarding the use of small area plans in Areas of Stability. These ideas are scattered throughout the plan, but rather than be coy about these aims, we should say plainly what our goals are and how small area plans can help us reach those goals in a way that is predictable and stable for both homeowners and developers.

"We value our walkable traditional neighborhoods and commercial districts. Not only do we want to build more of them, we intend to protect the handful that have survived from before World War II and the dominance of auto-oriented development. We also value the stable, mature residential areas that have given Tulsa claim to the title 'America's Most Beautiful City.' Although these are in Areas of Stability, they are vulnerable to destabilizing influences.

"We intend to define objective design standards for infill development in these areas, standards that allow new development while protecting the attractive characteristics of these areas, and to incorporate those standards into our land use ordinance. We will use the small area planning process, involving area stakeholders at each phase of the process, to develop infill standards for these areas. Because these areas are developed and stable, an abbreviated version of the small area planning process will be used to plan these areas, which will not be as lengthy, intensive, or demanding on city planning resources as small area plan development for Areas of Change."

Before coming to Tulsa, Fregonese Associates consulted on a new comprehensive plan for Denver, called Blueprint Denver. It's interesting to see that some of what the homebuilders want excised from PLANiTULSA was adopted in Denver. On the main Blueprint Denver page, the following is listed as the first of three major themes (emphasis added):

Blueprint_denver_Cover.jpgAreas of Change and Areas of Stability. Direct growth to Areas of Change while preserving the character of Areas of Stability. Areas of Stability include the vast majority of Denver and are primarily the fairly stable residential neighborhoods where no significant changes in land use are expected over the next twenty years. The goal is to maintain the character of these areas and accommodate some new development and redevelopment that maintains the vitality of the area. The majority of new development will be directed to Areas of Change; areas that will benefit from, and thrive on, an infusion of population, economic activity and investment. These areas include the new growth areas of Lowry, Stapleton, the Gateway area, downtown, around transit stations, and along major street and/or transportation corridors.

From the Small Area Plan page (emphasis added):

A small area plan is any plan that addresses the issues of a portion of the city. Small area plans can cover three different geographic scales -- neighborhood, corridor, and district. They can cover as few as 10 acres or as many as 4,500 acres. Small area plans cover a specific geography that often has a cohesive set of characteristics. The result can be a richly detailed plan that addresses the area's unique issues with tailored solutions.

There are three major types of Small Area Plans:

  • Station Area Plans (learn more at www.denvergov.org/tod)
  • Neighborhood Plans
  • Corridor Plans
Criteria for selecting areas for Small Area Plans:

  • Evidence of disinvestment, deteriorating housing, and high vacancy, unemployment and poverty rates.
  • Significant change is occurring or anticipated.
  • Public facilities and/or physical improvements need to be addressed.
  • Opportunities for substantial infill or redevelopment are present.
  • Opportunities arise to influence site selection, development or major expansion of a single large activity generator.
  • Transit station development opportunities.

Also important are criteria that more specifically address the goals of Blueprint Denver:

  • Creating opportunity for appropriate development in Areas of Change.
  • Stabilizing conditions that threaten Areas of Stability.
  • Promoting public investment that increase transportation choice.
Chapter 8 of Blueprint Denver covers Small Area Planning in depth. The idea is to have a standardized process and set of tools to handle planning for a specific area. Pp. 154-155 describes a list of tools for implementing small area plans, including regulatory tools:

Zoning

  • Zoning tools include:
  • Keep zoning as is
  • Amend language in code
  • Rezone selected parcels to a new district
  • Apply fundamental overlay zones -- e.g. transit or pedestrian overlay
  • Utilize a specific overlay zone district
  • Evaluate the need for additional development guidelines review

Landmark district

For those buildings or districts with architectural, historical or geographical significance, a landmark district may be recommended to provide protection from demolition or inappropriate remodeling.

View protection

A view of downtown or the mountains from a point in an important public place can be recommended for protection through a view preservation ordinance.
Denver is a growing, healthy city, and it seems to be doing all right with a small area planning process that can be applied (by means of zoning) to both areas of change and areas of stability.
bates-TMAPC-20100310-4.pngHere is the text of my email to the TMAPC, submitted prior to the March 10, 2010, public hearing on PLANiTULSA. I also spoke to the TMAPC at that hearing, which you can view at TGOV Online. My remarks begin at 2:46:30.

My list of five key qualities of an ideal land use planning process is an condensed version of my April 19, 2006, column.



I am writing to urge adoption of the PLANiTULSA vision and policy documents as our city's new comprehensive plan and to urge that they be adopted without substantial modification. If you choose to make substantial modifications, I urge you to forward both the original version (with minor scrivener's errors corrected) and the TMAPC-modified version for the City Council's consideration.

As a member of the PLANiTULSA citizens' team, I have watched the process unfold since its beginning. City of Tulsa planners Theron Warlick and Martha Schulz and the Fregonese Associates team have produced a plan that reflects the vision of the people of Tulsa. As Bob Sober observed, Tulsans spoke and the planners listened.

I've watched Tulsa's planning process for nearly two decades, and I've seen its flaws -- the conflict and uncertainty that our current system creates and the unnecessary limits it imposes. An ideal land use planning and zoning system would have five key qualities:

1. Protect the investments of all property owners, homeowners as well as investors and developers.

2. Be predictable: Clear, objective rules to produce a high degree of certainty about what you can and cannot do with your property and what your neighbors can and cannot do with theirs, not dependent on the whim of city officials or on hiring a expensive zoning attorney.

3. Regulate what matters and leave the rest alone: Stop "protecting" us against situations that really aren't problems, stop getting in the way of creative ideas that would enhance a neighborhood, but do protect us against 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. Accommodate a variety of neighborhood and development types in order to meet a variety of needs and interests. There needs to be a place in Tulsa for an urban, densely developed downtown, for big-box retail, for mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods where car-free living is possible, and for auto-oriented development and residential-only neighborhoods.

5. 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.

PLANiTULSA meets those criteria. The PLANiTULSA Policy Plan does an admirable job of accommodating growth and redevelopment while protecting the qualities that make most of Tulsa's neighborhoods desirable places to live, shop, play, and work. If the plan's recommendations are adopted and ultimately implemented in the City of Tulsa zoning code, the result will be clear, objective standards and a predictable environment for all stakeholders, including both property owners and developers. That predictable environment will help to reduce conflicts, uncertainty, and costs in redevelopment.

Areas of stability and small-area planning are key components of PLANiTULSA, not mere add-ons. These concepts didn't emerge out of thin air but in response to feedback from Tulsans during the PLANiTULSA process. Tulsans want to see new development, but they don't want it to destroy the qualities that make our best neighborhoods and commercial districts attractive. Designating areas of change and areas of stability reflect that desired balance.

Small-area planning, with the ability to customize rules to the neighborhood, is a tool that nearly every one of our peer cities has under one name or another. Small-area planning is important both to areas of change and areas of stability. In areas of stability, the process can be used to establish objective standards, appropriate to a given neighborhood, for new infill development. Once a small area plan is complete and implemented in the zoning code, as PLANiTULSA recommends, developers would be able to build in accordance with the plan by right without needing a zoning change or a variance or to come before any other board or committee.

The last time I spoke to the TMAPC was to support Jim Glass's Eastbrooke townhouse and office development on 35th Place east of Peoria. I had no personal interest in the project, but I spoke in favor because Glass's proposal was in accord with the Brookside Infill Plan, and I believed it was important to the integrity of our city's planning process for this recently adopted component of the comprehensive plan to be followed. Had the PLANiTULSA approach been in place at that time, corresponding zoning rules would have been adopted to match the small-area plan, and Mr. Glass would have been able to proceed to construction without the delays of going through the TMAPC and the City Council.

Ironically, this approach might have already been in place, but developers successfully lobbied to water down a 1999 task force report dealing with infill development. Small-area planning coordinated with zoning was originally to be included in the task force recommendations, but the development lobby wanted it taken out, and so it was watered down to three pilot infill studies with no promise of future action. More than a decade later, we are still waiting for any of those small area infill studies' recommendations to be reflected in the zoning ordinance.

Back in 2008, at the beginning of this process, PLANiTULSA conducted in-depth interviews and polled a sample of 1000 Tulsans. The survey revealed deep cynicism about the outcome of any planning process. Robin Rather, the pollster, said "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." 70% of those polled agreed with the statement, "I'm concerned the plan will be too influenced by those who have a lot of money."

The open, collaborative approach taken by the PLANiTULSA team has done much to allay those fears. The planners listened to what Tulsans wanted, and it's reflected in this plan. But if the TMAPC takes PLANiTULSA, which was developed with the input of thousands of Tulsans, and removes key components to make a powerful special interest group happy, it will reignite that earlier cynicism. It will confirm the fears that at the end of the day, the big shots always get what they want in Tulsa.

In the normal course of business, the TMAPC deals with people who want to change something -- developers who are seeking some deviation from the existing zoning laws in order to build something new. But as you consider this comprehensive plan, remember that its purpose is not only to benefit Tulsa's small community of developers, but all Tulsans, including the vast majority of homeowners who are quite content with the character of the neighborhoods where they live. These homeowners, who have invested both money and love in their homes and neighborhoods, are happy to see a new development replace a run-down building, as long as the new development is generally consistent with the neighborhood.

It is regrettable that, rather than participate in the collaborative PLANiTULSA process and the give and take of citizens' team meetings to raise their concerns, the developers' lobby has opted to try to push its preferences through at the last minute, presuming upon using its influence with the TMAPC. It appears that the developers' lobby's hope is to get the TMAPC to strip out aspects of PLANiTULSA they don't like. These deletions, combined with the TMAPC attorney's opinion that the City Council cannot amend by adding to the plan forwarded from the TMAPC, would, they seem to hope, deprive the City Council of the chance to adopt these aspects of the plan.

The PLANiTULSA policy plan reflects the consensus view, expressed in citywide and small area planning workshops, in citizen team meetings, and in comments from the public, that healthy, stable neighborhoods should be protected against development that would radically change their character, and that small area planning is the best way to develop objective standards for new development in established areas. Removing those ideas from PLANiTULSA effectively destroys the careful balance in the plan.

I urge the TMAPC to forward the PLANiTULSA documents to the City Council as originally presented, with the minor scrivener's errors corrected. If you choose to make significant changes to the documents, I would ask that you forward both the original version (with the minor errors corrected) alongside your modified version, giving the City Council the option to choose between the two plans, rather than seeking to limit the City Council's options as the development lobby seems to want. The councilors are, after all, the elected representatives of the people, and the City Council is our city's legislative body, entrusted with making policy decisions on behalf of Tulsa's citizens.


IMG_0832

In addition to the lovely winter storm we're enjoying on the first day of spring, there's a storm swirling around PLANiTULSA, Tulsa's first comprehensive plan since the late '70s.

After almost two years of public input from thousands of Tulsans, the PLANiTULSA policy plan, vision document, and land use map have been submitted to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC). The TMAPC is in the midst of a public hearing on PLANiTULSA, with the third and possibly final session of that hearing this coming Tuesday, March 23, 2010, at 6 p.m. in the City Council chambers. After the public hearing is closed, the TMAPC will stop taking public comments and will deliberate, possibly making significant modifications to the plan. They will then forward the plan to the City Council for final approval, at which point there will be another public hearing.

Here at the end of the process, several groups -- traditional Tulsa power brokers with declining influence -- have emerged asking for significant, even radical, changes to the plan and are asking for an extension of the public comment period to give them more time to twist arms for their pet provisions. They were given a seat at the table, had representatives on the citizens' advisory team, and even had private meetings with the PLANiTULSA consultant team. Now they claim they haven't had enough time to read and evaluate the plan, and they're presenting changes that would unbalance the plan to suit their self-interests.

Jim Beach, a former INCOG land use planner and now a land use consultant for Wallace Engineering, has a blog post asking these groups, "Where have you been the last two years?"

Over 6,000 individual Tulsans took their opportunity seriously when invited to attend numerous workshops and have their opinions heard openly during the past two years of PLANiTULSA. The result is a world class Comprehensive Plan proposal that an unprecedented number of people have helped create in a healthy, open, engaging, and democratic process. It has been inspiring and refreshing.

This process didn't happen behind closed doors. It's not the product of special interest deal making. It didn't happen by following the old familiar back scratching methods we're all familiar with and with which many are vaguely uncomfortable but generally accept as "the way it's done."

If you are a member of one of the groups just now opening your door and coming out to delay, derail, or dilute the work of thousands of people over thousands of hours, you are demonstrating exactly the behavior that creates a vast divide between "us and them".

Read the whole thing. (And you'll also want to read his remarks to the TMAPC, urging approval of PLANiTULSA.)

Beach points out that what's at stake is not just the substance of the plan but also how we handle major public decisions in this town. If you've been involved at all in Tulsa civic matters, you know the old pattern of task forces and vision processes: a public input phase, followed by the special interests hijacking the process for their own purposes, with the resulting conclusion being whatever the powers-that-be wanted in the first place. PLANiTULSA -- so far -- is a complete break with that pattern, but we need to show up and speak out if we don't want a relapse to occur:

If left unchallenged, the old methods will continue to be effective in their tried and true, subversive ways.

Part of the paradigm shift that has already occurred through the PLANiTULSA process includes fundamental changes in how we approach the process of public engagement. There is a renewed expectation that everyone has a place at the adult table and if you want to be part of the discussion, you need to show up on time and have your say.

It is absolutely crucial that as many of us as possible make it clear to the TMAPC that we want them to recommend approval of our new Comprehensive Plan - as we created it, with a solid and well documented background of vision development and citizen input.

My intention is to write something specific today about each of three groups who feel threatened by PLANiTULSA and are trying to alter the plan for their own purposes. I hope to explain why the points of the plan they are challenging are worth defending. (Will I get that done? I'm trying to juggle time with family and the hectic final stages of a major project at work -- the job that actually pays the bills -- with staying engaged on this important process through its conclusion.)

But even before we get to the the 11th-hour complainers and the substance of their complaints, the integrity of the PLANiTULSA deserves to be defended. The city planners running PLANiTULSA and the consultant team have been committed to an open and above-board process, driven by public input. We shouldn't sit complacently while traditional power brokers with a sense of entitlement try to remake our plan to serve their narrow interests.

I spoke at Wednesday's TMAPC public hearing on PLANiTULSA, Tulsa's first comprehensive plan in a generation. I haven't had time to write my thoughts on the event, but my friend Jamie Jamieson copied me on an email to a Pearl District neighborhood leader. He did a fine job describing yesterday's PLANiTULSA hearing at the TMAPC and analyzing the undercurrents among the special interest groups seeking to delay the process and dismember the plan. With his permission I'm publishing it here.

At the end of the meeting, the TMAPC decided not to end the public hearing, but to continue it until March 23, at 6 p.m. The public will again have the opportunity to speak, and comments may be also submitted online between now and the end of that meeting (unless the commissioners decide again to extend the time).

Let me underscore what Jamie says about the need for ordinary Tulsans to make your voices heard. If you participated in PLANiTULSA, in the citywide workshops, the small-area workshops, the survey, or some other way, if you want your input to matter, you need to express your support for the plan to the TMAPC.

I will be [unavailable for the March 23 meeting]. I delayed [an event] so that I could be present at and speak at yesterday's meeting, which I believed would be the last such hearing. As it was, so many people spoke - at length and to good purpose - that I didn't get to speak. It was a well-run hearing in that many people had their say and the Commissioners took time to engage closely with speakers in detail. The Commissioners handled it pretty well, particularly Bill Leighty and Liz Wright who both asked incisive questions. All the fog of misinformation circulated in recent days evaporated after a series of close questioning by BIll Leighty at the very outset of the hearing. I think it is imperative that the official voice of the Pearl District is heard, from the President at the next hearing. Christine [Booth] did very well, at short notice at the first hearing, and I spoke at that meeting too. We both sat through yesterday's 3.5 hour hearing, when we could have been doing our day jobs. We now need others to take up the slack.

It's starkly clear that the homebuilders, realtors and the Chamber, all of whom showed up to complain yesterday, are mounting a serious effort to torpedo key features of PLANiTULSA. They give the impression of having lain in wait for two years.

It looks as if the strategy is to drag out, obfuscate, confuse, conflate, alienate, discredit and ultimately emasculate the Plan to suit a myopic view of their own narrow interests, at the expense of Tulsa and Tulsans. A tactic in this is (i) to show up at the tail-end of the process when normal people have made their contribution to the process, and are at their day jobs, (ii) to gradually wear everyone else out to a point where no one else shows up except them, and (iii) to connive and lobby behind closed doors. They are now variously asking for a 60 or more days delay for their 'members' to consider PLANiTULSA's 200 pages. Never mind that everyone else has already read it. Perhaps - being charitable - they're just slow readers.

The Chamber, of which I am a long-time and slightly embarrassed member in particular made itself look hopelessly out of touch: it sent a new and floundering employee along to ask for a delay with the flimsiest of rationales. It seemed pretty clear that it's been 'got at' by the Home Builders, who merely succeeded in making the Chamber look stupid - to the extent that the audience laughed at the Chamber's first utterances. Their representative left early. 'Mission accomplished'. Engagement Over.

It seems to have escaped these organizations' notice that their respective, individual members are also Tulsans, who have had the opportunity to engage at any point in the last two years with PLANiTULSA. In fact many individual members such as I have actually done so. I am hoping that the Commissioners, who are an intelligent group of mature people, see through this for the sham - and shame - that it is.

While these respective groups have every right - and indeed duty - to speak at hearings, their seemingly calculated absence from the PLANiTULSA discussion process until the last minute is at best negligent, and at worst cynical, irresponsible and reprehensible. Up to 6,000 other Tulsans like them spent more than two years working on this project, as individuals. Now these organizations think they can come in and over-ride it at the last minute with a torrent of proposed corrections (most of which have actually been accommodated - almost to a fault - by the PLANiTULSA team).

An inspired, progressive, constructive, mature, public process is threatening to turn into a tedious yet predictable struggle of unimaginative, vested interests wishing to preserve a crumbling status quo (characterized by back-room deals, with scant regard to the real world) versus Tulsa's residents and the true interests of Tulsa and its economic and fiscal viability.

It's enough to make me want to move to Portland, along with everyone else under 30: the vocabulary there is about progress, adaptation to a radically changing world, innovation, new ideas. Our public policies here in contrast seem orientated around protecting the interests and personal feelings of a bunch of good ole boys whose time has... gone. The intellectual and policy high ground has transferred to the neighborhoods and to hitherto sidelined planners. Philanthropists and tax-payers meanwhile pay for the intellectual deficit - in hard cash.

So I trust you and other neighborhoods will show up and speak on March 23. Whilst the critics of PLANiTULSA were heavily out-numbered yesterday some opponents still haven't spoken, and will take up their right to do so at the next - and, I trust, final - hearing.

This is, sadly, a fight that in my view will determine whether Tulsa has much of a future.

As Jamie says, the hearing was very well handled. I felt I was heard. At many public hearings of this sort, the committee or board hears the speaker without response or interaction, and the speaker doesn't know how the members will process the information until the board discussion has begun, at which point there's no opportunity to clarify or rebut. After I spoke at Wednesday's hearing, however, a number of TMAPC members asked me questions that indicated they'd been paying attention and that gave me a chance to clarify and expand on my prepared comments. They did this for all the speakers, and that's why it seemed to take 20 minutes to hear each person, despite the 5 minute time limit.

As for the special interests asking for a delay and/or at the last minute requesting massive changes to the plan: These groups all were given a seat at the table. Home Builders Association executive VP Paul Kane and homebuilder Ken Klein were both members of the Citizens Advisory Team for PLANiTULSA, as was Al Unser, the head of the Greater Tulsa Association of Realtors, and Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Metro Chamber. Many more people connected with the Chamber and the development industry were appointed by Mayor Taylor to those committees. (I was rather worried about it. I needn't have worried, apparently, as they opted not to participate actively. The two-tier distinction between advisers and partners was quickly collapsed into the single tier of the citizens team.)

These interest groups should have been following the process all the way through and should have raised their concerns earlier on, to be discussed by the Citizens Team. If they came to the meetings, they never seemed to have much to say. It's as if they thought it beneath their dignity to have their concerns aired amongst οἱ πολλοί. The concept of "Areas of Change and Stability," the issue that has the Home Builders Association upset, has been under discussion since spring 2009. It was included in the online background material for the "Which Way Tulsa" survey, issued in May, and it was in the draft Vision document issued on September 15, 2009.

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 planning@cityoftulsa.org and TMAPC@incog.org

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.

URGENT UPDATE: I've heard that Ms. Cobb sent an email blast that's generating some panicked comments attacking PLANiTULSA. If her email is as misinformative as her remarks to the TMAPC (see below), her influence will need to be countered by those who have actually read the PLANiTULSA policy plan and understand it. Your last opportunity to weigh in is tomorrow (March 10, 2010), at the TMAPC public hearing, beginning at 1:30. You can also fill in a comment card but it must be submitted before the TMAPC public hearing tomorrow in order to be considered by the TMAPC.

If you're wondering about the opposition to PLANiTULSA, Tulsa's first comprehensive plan update in a generation, here is one example, from the Feb. 23, 2010 TMAPC public hearing on the plan. Martha Thomas Cobb is a Realtor, and during her remarks to the TMAPC, she says that she tells her potential buyers that they can't remodel a house in a Historic Preservation zoning district without their neighbors' permission, and so the buyers decide they'd rather not buy houses in those districts. Therefore, in her view, overlay zoning and design guidelines are harmful to a neighborhood. She objects to the PLANiTULSA policy plan because of its advocacy of "areas of stability" where infill should be compatible with existing development.

Watch her comments for yourself in the TGOV video of the Feb. 23, 2010, TMAPC public hearing on PLANiTULSA. The key quote is about 1:20:36 into the video:

Swan Lake and North Maple Ridge are areas that have also added designations of preservation. As a Realtor, once I explain the fact that somebody cannot remodel without the plan being approved by their neighbors, unless they are happy with the house as it stands -- which nobody ever is when you're showing them property -- they choose other locations in town without this obstacle.

There are a couple of significant errors in her statement. In the first place, HP overlay zoning in Tulsa governs only what is visible from the street. You can remodel the interior of a home in an HP district to your heart's content without needing any special approval peculiar to the HP district. See Title 42, Chapter 10 A, for all the details, but here's the key provision, section 1053 C:

Within a Historic Preservation District, work, as defined in this Chapter, shall not commence unless a Certificate of Appropriateness has been first issued; provided however, that work related to the following shall not require a Certificate of Appropriateness:

1. Ordinary maintenance and repair which shall include the removal, installation, or replacement of guttering; the removal or replacement of roof covering with like material; and the application of any paint color to non-masonry surfaces.

2. Interior of buildings and structures.

3. Portions or parts of buildings, structures, or sites not visible from adjoining streets.

4. Accessory structures or buildings, such as storage sheds, garages, decks, patios, fencing, swimming pools and pool houses that are not part of the primary structure, provided however, such structures and buildings are not located in front yards.

5. Installation of radio or television antenna.

6. General landscape maintenance and planting of new organic materials.

7. Work required for temporary stablization of a building or structure due to damage.

And if you do want to change the exterior facade of the house, your neighbors don't have the power to veto it. Approval is handled by the Tulsa Preservation Commission and is granted or denied on the basis of clear standards in the zoning ordinances, and if you're not happy with the TPC's decision you can appeal it to the City Board of Adjustment.

The kind of design standards anticipated by the PLANiTULSA land use plan to define compatible infill would generally be less stringent than HP standards. From p. 33 of the land use chapter of the policy plan:

The Existing Residential Neighborhood category is intended to preserve and enhance Tulsa's existing single family neighborhoods. Development activities in these areas should be limited to the rehabilitation or improvement of existing homes, or small-scale infill that that complements the character of the neighborhood and is consistent in form, scale, rhythm and proportion as seen from the street.

But getting back to Cobb's comments: Suppose you owned a home in an HP district but had to sell it because your company was relocating you to another city. How would it make you feel, knowing that a Realtor was deterring buyers who were interested in your house with inaccurate comments about the impact of HP zoning on their ability to remodel the house? Those inaccurate comments might mean you're paying on two houses for several months more. I am not a lawyer, but I wonder whether such comments might be grounds for a tortious interference claim. I am not a Realtor either, but as a layman I would think that, at the very least, a Realtor who would let his personal prejudice against and/or misunderstanding of historic preservation overlay districts interfere with acting in the seller's interests could be at odds with state real estate regulations or the Realtor ethics code.

TMAPC member Phil Marshall, himself a Realtor and homebuilder as well as a past president of the Brookside Neighborhood Association, asked Cobb, "Do you find a lot of rundown homes in these areas [Swan Lake and North Maple Ridge]?" Her reply, "Yeah, pretty much." (Marshall's question seemed tongue-in-cheek to me.)

To the contrary, here's a heat map showing the value of recent home sales in the Tulsa area, with North Maple Ridge and Swan Lake right on the $250K border. A quick scan of Zillow for recent home sales show that most homes in these areas are going for around $100 per square foot or better. In Tulsa, that's an indication of strong demand.

The general thrust of Cobb's remarks were that overlay districts with design guidelines are a violation of a homeowner's constitutionally protected property rights. But every parcel in the city has restrictions on setback, lot coverage, height, and use. In an overlay district, those restrictions are customized.

Oklahoma City
has had districts of this sort since 1981, governing both residential and commercial areas, including Bricktown and downtown. Wichita, Kansas City, Dallas, Fort Worth, Denver, San Antonio, Austin, St. Louis -- nearly all of our peer cities in this region and beyond have some type of land use district where design requirements for new development are customized to be compatible with existing development in a district. They go by many names -- overlay, conservation, special review, special use.

One more thing: Cobb said she didn't think there were real estate builders and brokers and attorneys involved in the PLANiTULSA process. In fact, representatives from the Home Builders Association and other real estate organizations, including Paul Kane, Executive Vice President of the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa, and Al Unser, CEO of the Greater Tulsa Association of Realtors, along with other prominent members of the real estate and development community (e.g. Bruce Bolzle of KMO, Ken Klein of Kleinco, and Paul Wilson of Twenty-First Properties) were members of the PLANiTULSA citizens' team that provided oversight and advice throughout the process.

MORE: If the name Martha Thomas Cobb seems familiar, I wrote about a mass email she sent prior to the 2008 city election that began "CALL YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL REPRESENTATIVE AND TELL THEM YOU ARE AGAINST MIDTOWN TULSA."

This announcement in the latest TulsaNow newsletter is worth your attention. I've also been hearing rumblings about certain special interest groups who have avoided making public comments about PLANiTULSA now trying to get their own way behind the scenes, as they are accustomed to doing.

The PLANiTULSA process has been more open than any public input process I've ever seen in Tulsa, and all the comments submitted by the public have been made available. The documents resulting from the process are balanced and practical, moving us toward the transparent and predictable land use planning process many of us have been hoping for, an approach to land use planning that maximizes opportunities for innovation in new development while respecting the investments made by existing property owners in stable areas.
Anyway, here's the TulsaNow announcement:

TMAPC Public Hearings:
Tues, 2/23, 4:00-7:00 PM
Wed, 3/10, 1:30-4:30 PM
Location: City Hall, 2nd and Cincinnati

Make your voice heard! The Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) will hold public hearings to receive your input on PLANiTULSA, consider amendments, and ultimately vote to recommend approval of the plan to the City Council.

Click here to learn more!

After more than two years of an incredibly open and well-received public process, expect various entities to make an eleventh-hour appearance in an attempt to shape the final product to suit their narrow interests. Speak up, and remind the TMAPC of the unprecedented public involvement that created a vision for Tulsa's future that serves the entire community.

Be informed. Stay involved.

This is especially important if you care about protecting the character of healthy, older neighborhoods. (It's interesting to see that certain interest groups have zeroed in on language that defines how infill should fit into areas of stability. Other groups would like to eliminate the entire concept of "areas of stability!")

Thanks to PLANiTULSA's diligent efforts to maintain transparency, you can view the PLANiTULSA Consolidated Log, which includes the comments that have been received by PLANiTULSA, and the responses/changes that have been made by the consulting team in response to public input. (Hint to neighborhood activists: pages 11-13 are especially illuminating.)

Speak up!

Please take a few minutes to communicate your support for PLANiTULSA.

If you would like to speak at one of the TMAPC meetings, be sure to read the Procedures for TMAPC Public Hearings on PLANiTULSA

Citizens are encouraged to sign up ahead of time to speak at the public hearings by calling (918) 576-5684.

You can also submit comments in lieu of testimony at the public hearing.

Download a Comment Card that you can fill out online and email, print out and mail, or bring with you to the hearing. Paper copies will also be available at the hearings. These comments should include your name and contact information, and may be submitted in one of the following ways:

Send "snail mail" to:
Ms. Michelle Cantrell, TMAPC
c/o INCOG
Two West 2nd Street, Suite 800
Tulsa, OK 74103-4236

Email to:
PLANiTULSA Team
planning@cityoftulsa.org

MORE INFO: www.planitulsa.org

The formal process of adopting the PLANiTULSA vision and policy plan as part of the City of Tulsa's comprehensive plan will begin this Tuesday, February 23, 2010, with a public hearing from 4 to 7 p.m. at City Hall, 2nd and Cincinnati, on the 2nd floor. The public hearing will be continued to a March 10 TMAPC meeting at the usual time and day of the week.

There is a memo detailing how the TMAPC plans to handle the public hearing process for PLANiTULSA. You can sign up ahead of time for an opportunity to speak by calling (918) 576-
5684.

TMAPC plans to keep the public hearing open through subsequent meetings until everyone who wishes to speak has had a chance.

Unfortunately, once the TMAPC members begin their discussion and begin to consider amendments to the PLANiTULSA documents, the public will no longer have an opportunity to comment. This is normal, but nonetheless frustrating. We won't really know what our TMAPC members intend to change until it's too late to offer comment or rebuttal. I would urge the TMAPC to allow public comment on each substantive amendment taken up for consideration. I would also urge the City of Tulsa planning department and INCOG to make public in advance of the meeting any language they provide to the TMAPC as a possible plan amendment, to allow for public comment in the public realm (if not in the TMAPC meeting itself) prior to the TMAPC considering such an amendment.

It should be noted that the TMAPC does not have the final word, and whatever amendments the TMAPC adopts can be wiped out by the City Council.

MORE: There's one final Council District meeting on PLANiTULSA. It's tonight, Monday, February 22, 2010, from 6 to 8 pm, at Memorial High School, in Council District 7.

A series of meetings about PLANiTULSA, the proposed new comprehensive plan for the City of Tulsa, will be held in each city council district starting tonight and continuing over the next two weeks, hosted by the district councilor. Here's the schedule:

Day/Date

Time

Dist

Councilor/Aide

Location

 

Tues/2 Feb

6 - 7:30 pm

4

Barnes/John Fothergill

Kendall-Whittier Library

21 S Lewis Ave

 

Tues/2 Feb

6 to 8 pm

1

Henderson/Allecia Chatman-Ratliff

Rudisill Regional Library

1520 N Hartford

 

Wed/3 Feb

6 to 8 pm

6

Mautino/Shannon Compton

East Central High School

12150 East 11th Street

 

Wed/3 Feb

6 to 8 pm

3

Turner/Allecia Chatman-Ratliff

Maxwell Community Center

5251 E. Newton Street (Pine & Yale area)

 

Mon/8 Feb

6 to 8 pm

7

Eagleton/Shannon Compton

Memorial High School

5840 South Hudson Avenue 

 

Tues/9 Feb

6 - 7:30 pm

2

Westcott/John Fothergill

Christ the Redeemer Lutheran Church 2550 E 71st

 

Wed/10 Feb

6 to 8 pm

8

Christiansen/Nick Doctor

Hardesty Regional Library

8316 E 93rd St

 

Tues/16 Feb

6 to 8 pm

9

Bynum/Nick Doctor

Church of the Madalene

3188 E 22nd Street

 

Tues/16 Feb

6 to 8 pm

5

Trail/Jan Megee

Nathan Hale High School

6960 East 21st Street

 

The meetings will include a presentation of the process, concepts, plan elements, and maps. Although these meetings are not public hearings, staff will field questions and comments. 

The official process of deciding whether this plan will be officially adopted as the City of Tulsa's Comprehensive Plan begins with a public hearing before the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC). The TMAPC hearing will begin on Tuesday, February 23, 2010, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and will be continued to Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.  The TMAPC will make a recommendation (adoption, adoption with amendments, rejection) to the City Council, which has the final decision.

You can review the latest drafts of the PLANiTULSA vision, policy plan, and maps, and submit your comments, at PLANiTULSA.org

PLANiTULSA, Mass. senate

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A busy evening -- was with over 200 Tulsans at the PLANiTULSA public forum, then had to come home to entertain the four-year-old so he wouldn't distract big sister, who had a writing assignment to finish for tomorrow. Thankfully the four-year-old was content to sit on my lap as we watched Scott Brown's victory speech. Later, after the kids were finally in bed, I cracked open a victory bottle of Sam Adams Honey Porter, an appropriate way to celebrate a revolutionary victory.

This town-by-town map of Massachusetts election results is interesting. I was not surprised to see Democratic nominee Martha Coakley get 75% in my college hometown of Nuclear-Free Brookline or 85% in the People's Republic of Cambridge. I was surprised that Coakley won, and by big margins, in rural western Mass., which once upon a time sent Republicans to the U. S. House. I was pleased to see Brown won the town of Barnstable, which includes the village of Hyannisport, site of the Kennedy Compound. And while Coakley won Martha's Vineyard, her percentages varied inversely to proximity to Chappaquiddick; Edgartown gave her only 55%.

I tweeted the first part of the PLANiTULSA meeting, hope to write more about it tomorrow evening. In the meantime, you can visit PLANiTULSA.org to read the final version of the policy plan and see draft land use and transportation plan maps. There's even a KMZ version of the land use and "areas of stability" maps, so you can view them in Google Earth.

PLANiTULSA-20100119.pngPLANiTULSA, the process for developing Tulsa's first comprehensive plan in a generation, will hold a public forum a week from tonight:

What: PLANiTULSA public forum, led by John Fregonese
Where: Central Center at Centennial Park, on 6th St. west of Peoria
When: Tuesday, January 19, 2010, 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Who: Open to the public

John Fregonese, head of Fregonese Associates, which developing the new comprehensive plan for the City of Tulsa, will present the basics of the draft comprehensive plan. There will be an opportunity to use "clickers" to provide instant feedback on key concepts. Light snacks will be served.

Before the meeting, take time to download the working drafts of the Policy Plan from the PLANiTULSA website, look them over, and send in your feedback. The Policy Plan is divided into five components: Land Use, Transportation, Economic Development, Housing, and Parks, Open Space, and Environment.

On the PLANiTULSA.org website, there is a new working draft of the PLANiTULSA policy plan, a component of a new comprehensive plan for the City of Tulsa. The policy plan covers, in broad terms, city policy would be concerning land use, transportation, housing, economic development, and parks, open space, and the environment. The plan is available for review and comment. Sometime in January, the formal public hearings will be held. A final draft will be submitted to the TMAPC. The TMAPC will make their recommendation, which could include amendments, to the City Council, and then the City Council could adopt the plan as recommended by the TMAPC, make further changes to the plan, or reject it altogether. If adopted, the plan would then be used by city officials to shape land use and zoning policy and infrastructure improvements.

Download the documents, read through them, and then send your comments to the City's PLANiTULSA team.

Also today, I attended a brief training class on Return on Investment (ROI) software developed by Fregonese Associates. The system allows you to evaluate the economic viability of a proposed development by specifying a variety of factors affecting the cost of development and the potential revenue (from leasing or selling units). Some of those parameters are derived from the parking requirements in the City of Tulsa's zoning code. It's quickly apparent that our high minimum parking requirements act as a barrier to new commercial development.

Pat Campbell interviewed not-ousted Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) member Elizabeth Wright on 1170 KFAQ Wednesday morning. It was an informative interview -- well done to both Pat and Liz. You can listen to the interview on the station's podcast:

TMAPC's Elizabeth Wright interviewed by Pat Campbell, December 2, 2009

County Commissioner Karen Keith's attempt to oust Elizabeth Wright from the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) failed for lack of a second at this morning's Tulsa County Commission meeting. Barring another ouster attempt, Wright will continue to serve on the TMAPC until her term expires on January 18, 2011.

In the course of the ongoing effort by Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith to remove Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) member Elizabeth Wright, I've heard and read the TMAPC described as a "quasi-judicial body." Accordingly, these same sources claim that TMAPC members are like "referees," that they are to remain impartial throughout the process, and that they should only inquire about and consider very narrow criteria in deciding zoning applications.

In the specific case of Liz Wright, this perspective says that she is wrong to ask questions about issues like stormwater runoff (technical matters beyond the TMAPC's purview, it's said), was wrong to "counsel" the Holland Lakes homeowners about arguing their case to the City Council (regarding a zoning application that the TMAPC had already heard; Wright says she presented standard TMAPC material on how to be effective presenting your case), and was wrong to vote on a zoning application involving a parcel adjoining the neighborhood where she served as neighborhood association president (even though the neighborhood association didn't support or oppose the application and thus had no interest in its approval or rejection).

Apart from the specifics of Liz Wright's situation, I'm concerned that a false understanding of the TMAPC's function and nature hamstrings its ability to engage in actual planning and reduces the TMAPC to little more than scorekeepers for the zoning process. This idea of the TMAPC as quasi-judicial referees in all respects doesn't square with state statutes and city ordinances that define the TMAPC's composition and roles, nor does it fit what I've heard and observed in the eighteen years I've observed the TMAPC's proceedings.

Let's look at the law. The TMAPC is one of at least eight types of planning commissions enabled by Oklahoma statute (that I've found so far), each with its own section of either Title 11 (Cities and Towns) or Title 19 (Counties):

(1) Municipal planning commissions (Title 11, Article XLV)

(2) Regional planning commissions (Title 11, Article XLVI) -- covering three miles around the city limits

(3) City planning commissions for cities over 200,000 (Title 11, Article XLVII)

(4) County planning commissions (Title 19, Section 865.1 et seq.)

(5) Joint city-county metropolitan area planning commissions for counties over 180,000 (Title 19, Section 863.1 et seq.)

(6) Joint city-county planning commissions for smaller counties (Title 19, Section 866.1 et seq.)

(7) County planning commissions for counties over 500,000 (Title 19, Section 868.1 et seq.)

(8) Lake area planning commissions (Title 19, Section 869.1 et seq.)

The TMAPC is the only planning commission in Oklahoma of type (5). You can read the enabling legislation beginning here at 19 O. S. 863.1, and clicking "Next Section" to read through the whole thing. Or you can click this link to see an index of the subsections of 19 O. S. 863. Most of the statute has to do with the planning commission's role regarding county zoning.

The planning commission's role regarding City of Tulsa zoning is defined by Title 42 of Tulsa Revised Ordinances. Also known as the City of Tulsa Zoning Code, Title 42 requires that amendments to the zoning map and zoning code be submitted to the TMAPC for a report and recommendation. You can search through the document yourself for references to "Planning Commission."

Since the Wright controversy regards applications for zoning map amendments in the City of Tulsa, specifically planned unit developments (PUDs) and a straight rezoning, let me highlight the applicable paragraphs:

Section 1107: TMAPC reviews PUD applications. The TMAPC is to determine:

1. Whether the PUD is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan; 2. Whether the PUD harmonized with the existing and expected development of surrounding areas; 3. Whether the PUD is a unified treatment of the development possibilities of the project site; and 4. Whether the PUD is consistent with the stated purposes and standards of this chapter. The Planning Commission shall forward its recommendation, the application, and the development plan to the City Council for further hearing as provided in Subsection 1107.E.

That's a pretty broad set of criteria, and it doesn't seem to preclude a TMAPC member from asking about a particular technical subject. The City Council has the final say.

Section 1700 requires TMAPC input on zoning code amendments:

The regulations, restrictions, prohibitions and limitations imposed, and the districts created may from time to time be amended, supplemented, changed, modified or repealed by ordinance, but no change shall be made until the Planning Commission, after notice and public hearing, files with the City a report and recommendation on the proposed change. In addition to the procedural provisions hereinafter set out, the Planning Commission shall adopt procedural rules for the conduct of zoning public hearings.

Section 1701 sets out criteria for zoning map amendments:

It is the policy of the City of Tulsa that in the consideration of proposed amendments to this code that:

Amendments will be adopted to recognize changes in the Comprehensive Plan, to correct error, or to recognize changed or changing conditions in a particular area or in the jurisdictional area generally.

Sections 1702 and 1703 deal with zoning text and zoning map amendments respectively. In both cases, the TMAPC is to report to the City Council, which has the final decision.

Nothing in these sections limits the kind of information the TMAPC can gather or consider in making its recommendation.

Nothing in the Oklahoma statutes or the City of Tulsa ordinances describes the TMAPC as a quasi-judicial body. The only explicit use of the term quasi-judicial with respect to the TMAPC is in the TMAPC Rules of Procedure and Code of Ethics. These rules are adopted by the TMAPC, and the TMAPC has the freedom to modify them within the scope of the enabling state and city legislation.

Section II. C. of the most recent version of the TMAPC rules says:

Although not forbidden, per se, ex parte communication has the potential to influence a Planning Commissioner's decision on quasi-judicial matters before the Commission. The Planning Commissioner who receives ex parte communication may, if he or she feels that it is appropriate, disclose this prior to public discussion of the subject matter.

The wording here suggests that there are matters before the Commission that are not quasi-judicial.

A section of the state statutes applicable to the TMAPC, 19 O. S. 863.23, provides a clue as to what matters would and would not be considered quasi-judicial:

Any person claiming to be aggrieved by any act of the [planning] commission in administering this act, or any regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, may as to any matter concerning plats, subdivisions and lot-splits, both as to land situated in the corporate limits of the municipality and as to land situated in the unincorporated area of the county, appeal directly to the district court of the county and the district courts of said counties are hereby expressly vested with jurisdiction to hear and determine said appeals....

There shall be no right of appeal from any act of the commission in its advisory capacity to the [city] council and board [of county commissioners] or from any of its acts which are subject to review, repeal or modification by said governing bodies.

So the TMAPC has the final say regarding lot splits, subdivisions, and plats, and those matters can only be appealed to district court. But that isn't the case when the TMAPC acts in an advisory capacity to the legislative body, as with zoning map amendments.

All the issues raised against Liz Wright have to do with applications for city zoning map amendments, which are not quasi-judicial, but legislative. The zoning map is a part of the city ordinances, and changing involves adopting an ordinance. A zoning change is a change of the rules.

The complaints against Wright disappear if they're considered in a legislative context. We don't expect members of a legislative committee to be dispassionate, to have no prior opinion, to avoid contact with interested parties, or to limit the questions they ask about a proposed change in the law. We don't expect a unanimous vote from a legislative committee, and it's normal for a legislator on the losing side of a committee vote to debate against the committee's recommendation when it reaches the final stage of approval.

So how has the impression spread that the TMAPC is a quasi-judicial body? It may be a misunderstanding based on the reality of a few TMAPC functions (approval of lot splits, subdivisions, plats) that are quasi-judicial. But I suspect that there are those interests who want planning commissioners to believe that their discretion on zoning changes is extremely limited, which would make it easier to drive them as a body to the preferred conclusion.

Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith has yet to supply Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) member Elizabeth Wright with a list of specific allegations justifying Keith's call to remove Wright from the TMAPC over a year before her three-year term is due to end, according to an email from Wright earlier today. The County Commission, which appointed Wright in 2008, is slated to vote on her removal tomorrow, November 30, 2009.

Removing a TMAPC member before the end of the term can only be done for cause. Keith's November 2, 2009, petition to remove Wright named two provisions of the TMAPC code of ethics and a general complaint ("conduct which materially and adversely affects the orderly or efficient operation of the TMAPC") which Wright is alleged to have violated but did not provide specifics -- which actions of Wright's on which dates are supposed to have been violations warranting premature removal.

The public hearing on Keith's petition was held at the Tulsa County Commission meeting last Monday, November 23, 2009, but the final vote was delayed a week to allow Keith to present those specifics and to allow Wright time to respond. Even if Wright receives the list today, she will have less than 24 hours to prepare a defense. The public will not have time to provide input to their County Commissioners.

Because public hearings cannot be continued from one meeting to the next, the public hearing on Wright has already concluded, and the public will not be allowed to address the County Commission about Keith's specific accusations.

The third charge was dropped, and the County Commission agreed to use the 2004 ethics rules as the basis for judgment, not the rules adopted on April 22, 2009, after the violations are supposed to have occurred.

The just thing to do would be to kill Keith's campaign to oust Wright because of Keith's failure to present a specific indictment. In fact, the hearing should never have been scheduled without those specifics. Let Keith come back and try again, from scratch, when she is better prepared.

At the very least, Liz Wright and the public deserve at least a week after those specifics are released before a full public hearing is held and a vote is taken.

I can't attend Monday morning's Tulsa County Commission meeting, so I sent the following letter to County Commissioners John Smaligo and Fred Perry urging them to vote against removing Liz Wright from the TMAPC. (I didn't figure there was any point in sending it to Commissioner Karen Keith, the lead prosecutor and persecutor.)

EARLIER RELATED ENTRIES:

Karen Keith's ex post facto crusade for unfair zoning
Karen Keith trying to bully neighborhood leader off planning commission


Dear Commissioners Smaligo and Perry,

I regret that, due to business meetings, I won't be able to attend Monday's hearing regarding TMAPC member Elizabeth Wright. In lieu of speaking at the meeting, I'm writing to urge you to vote against Commissioner Keith's attempt to have Wright removed from the TMAPC. Removing any board or commission member before his or her term has expired is a drastic action, only justified in cases of corruption or gross negligence. Whatever Commissioner Keith's motivation -- and her stated reasons keep changing -- her prosecution of Liz Wright is completely unjustified.

The "causes" for removal specified by Commissioner Keith involve violations of ethics code provisions that didn't exist when the "violations" reportedly occurred. Retroactive enforcement of laws is not only unfair, it's specifically banned by the U. S. Constitution in Article I, Section 10, one of the few explicit limits placed by the Federal Constitution on state government. It's unconstitutional to be punished for doing something that wasn't against the rules when you did it.

Here's an illustration: Imagine if your former colleagues in the legislature, in this upcoming 2010 session, cut the maximum campaign contribution from $5000 to $500. Then imagine that the State Ethics Commission started proceedings against you because, back in 2006 or 2007, you each accepted $750 contributions from Kirby Crowe, in excess of the new limit but well within the limit that existed at the time. I think you'll agree that this would be unfair to you, but this is exactly what Commissioner Keith is attempting to do to Liz Wright.

As you can see from the TMAPC minutes, the two ethics code provisions cited by Commissioner Keith in her petition against Commissioner Wright were only added to the code on April 22, 2009. (Click the link to view those minutes.)

The subparagraphs of II. E. which Wright is said to have violated did not exist prior to that date. And yet Keith's petition says that Wright should be removed because her appearance at an August 2008 City Council committee meeting violated this April 2009 ethics rule.

II.B.1.b did not exist at all prior to April 2009. Keith's petition doesn't specify when Wright's alleged violation of II.B.1.b. occurred. There are hints that it has to do with a 2008 zoning case on property bordering the neighborhood association which Wright served as president. Here again, the alleged offense occurred before the specified rule existed.

There is one other charge -- "Conduct which materially and adversely affects the orderly or efficient operation of the TMAPC." Commissioner Keith does not specify what this conduct was or when it occurred. I have reviewed the minutes over Commissioner Wright's tenure, and I see no evidence that she was ever disruptive to the proceedings.

Ordinarily, the accused is presented in advance with specific charges -- on what the offense was committed and what actions constituted the offense -- and has the opportunity to prepare a point-by-point rebuttal. In this case however, Commissioner Wright may not even learn about the specifics of the charges until after the public hearing has ended and the County Commissioners discussion commences, too late to prepare a defense.

Commissioner Keith's petition states that the cause is "includes, but is not limited to," the three points discussed above. This opens the door to more charges that may be sprung at the last minute, depriving Wright and the public of the opportunity to prepare a response to the new charges.

It would have been best if you had refused to approve a public hearing until Commissioner Keith provided a complete and specific indictment. In all fairness, you owe the public and Commissioner Wright the time to study and prepare a response to whatever charges Commissioner Keith presents; you should continue the hearing and delay the vote until a later meeting.

Liz Wright's intelligence and her perspective as a small businesswoman and former neighborhood leader are assets to Tulsa and to the TMAPC. I hope the County Commission will see fit to appoint her to a new term in January 2011. But even if you disagree with my evaluation of her performance, I hope you will emphatically reject Commissioner Keith's imprudent and unjust attempt to end her term prematurely.

When I endorsed each of you in the 2006 elections, I had high hopes that you would bring a new spirit to county government, a spirit of openness and fairness that did not previously exist. There have been positive steps in that regard, but how this public hearing is conducted and the decision you make about Commissioner Wright will put those hopes to the test and will weigh heavily as the public evaluates your first term.

Sincerely,

Michael Bates

In February 2004, leaders of neighborhood associations and homeowners' associations showed up by the dozens for a 1:30 p.m. hearing before the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) on zoning protest petitions. Many of those present had to make special arrangements to be at a City Hall meeting in the middle of the work day. Without warning, TMAPC chairman Joe Westervelt struck the item from the agenda. The assembled activists walked across the plaza to City Hall and headed to the 11th Floor to register a protest with Mayor Bill LaFortune. Two years earlier, in June 2002, after reappointing Westervelt over the protests of neighborhood leaders because of Westervelt's contemptuous treatment of citizens appearing before the TMAPC, LaFortune promised that if Westervelt stepped out of line again, he would personally come to the TMAPC to register a protest. So our visit to the 11th Floor was to get LaFortune to live up to his promise and deal with this out of control TMAPC commissioner. The mayor didn't meet with us, but a couple of his staffers did, including Karen Keith, the woman who is now TMAPC Commissioner Elizabeth Wright's chief accuser. Click here to read my account of that day and of previous examples of Westervelt's rudeness. (I don't remember the exact contents of our meeting with Karen Keith that day, but I feel certain that she did not offer to have the mayor seek to remove Westervelt for cause.) And from January 2005, here's another example of Joe Westervelt's mistreatment of citizens speaking before the TMAPC.

Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith's bizarre and unprecedented campaign to remove Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission member Elizabeth Wright (for bogus reasons, a year before her term expires) reaches its climax on Monday, November 23, 2009, at 9:30 a.m., at a public hearing to be held as part of the weekly County Commission meeting. The venue is Room 119 of the County Courthouse, near the 6th Street entrance west of Denver Ave.

As a candidate for County Commission in 2008, Keith received significant campaign contributions from a number of donors connected to the development industry, including a $1,000 contribution from John Bumgarner. The Bumgarner contribution was received one day after the pre-election reporting deadline, so that it didn't have to be made public, via the State Ethics Commission, until after the election. (Here is Karen Keith's post-general-election contribution report.)

Bumgarner is the developer of the now vacant site southwest of Utica and the Broken Arrow Expressway. His extraordinary deal with the TMAPC -- a straight zoning change plus a deed covenant, rather than the usual planned unit development (PUD) with development standards -- prompted Wright's September 16, 2008, appearance before the City Council's committee discussion of the rezoning. She did not speak in opposition but spoke to advise the Council of the unusual nature of the proposal. While PUD development standards are enforceable administratively, through the city's building permits, certificates of occupancy, and code enforcement, a deed covenant is only enforceable by means of litigation. Here is the summary of Wright's statement in the committee meeting's minutes:

Ms. Wright stated there was no input by public. No terms of covenant were given to citizens. The vote may have turned out differently had there been. The procedure, not the development that is in question.

(Here are the TMAPC minutes on the 14th and Utica zoning case, Z-7102. The contrast is striking between, on the one hand, the concerns expressed by Wright and Commissioner Michelle Cantrell about the precedent being set and, on the other hand, the callous disregard of precedent and the Comprehensive Plan by INCOG development staff and the other TMAPC members. The rezoning was approved with only Wright and Cantrell in opposition.)

LizWright.jpgSeven months after Wright's appearance at the Council committee meeting, the TMAPC amended its code of ethics to require any commissioner wishing to speak to the Council to notify the other commissioners 24 hours in advance. In fact, the two specific ethics code provisions cited in Keith's complaint against Wright were both added by the TMAPC on April 22, 2009, long after her alleged offenses against those provisions were committed.

(UPDATE: Here is archive.org's copy of the December 1, 2004, version of the TMAPC code of ethics. I will continue to look for a more recent version, but in all likelihood, this was the version governing the TMAPC at the time of the alleged offenses. This version was captured by the Internet Archive on September 30, 2006.)

The time of day for the hearing to remove Wright makes it difficult for ordinary homeowners, concerned about fair application of zoning laws and protecting their property values and quality of life, to come downtown to defend one of a tiny number of TMAPC commissioners not tied to the development industry. By contrast, it will be easy for zoning attorneys and development lobbyists to show up en masse to speak in favor of what might be called "viewpoint purity" on the planning commission.

Never mind that Wright's point of view has seldom if ever prevailed in controversial issues; more often she has been the lone vote or one of a few in opposition. Those behind the effort to oust Wright appear to have this goal in mind: The TMAPC must be purged of any member with the intelligence, independence, and courage to contradict the claims of a developer or his attorney. It would seem that winning by a vote of 10-1 or 9-2 isn't enough for the vengeful, scorched-earth branch of the development lobby. Evidently they want to marginalize anyone who might articulate an alternative point of view in the TMAPC's deliberations.

I have been provided with a copy of the petition filed by Karen Keith for the removal of Elizabeth Wright from the TMAPC (1.8 MB PDF). Minus the header and signature, this is the petition in its entirety:

COMES NOW Karen Keith, duly elected Tulsa County Commissioner for District No.2 Tulsa County, Oklahoma and brings this Petition For Removal of Elizabeth Wright as a member of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission ( TMAPC ).

The specific and general cause and basis for this removal includes, but is not limited to, the following:

1. Violation of the Policies and Procedures and Code of Ethics of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, as Amended April 22, 2009, specifically section II: Code of Ethics -8. Conflict of Interest 1. b.

2. Conduct which materially and adversely affects the orderly or efficient operation of the TMAPC

3. Violation of the Policies and Procedures and Code of Ethics of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, specifically section II: Code of Ethics - E. Appearance at City Council in August of 2008.

Believing that these grounds constitute "cause" for removal, Petitioner respectfully request that the Tulsa Board of County Commissioners set a public hearing to consider this Petition For Removal.

No specific charges are attached, nothing to specify the date or substance of any alleged violation. There was, attached to copy of the petition provided to me, a

two-page, undated, unsigned outline of the procedure that may be followed on Monday:

PROCEDURE FOR THE REMOVAL OF A PLANNING COMMISSIONER UPON VOTE BY THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF TULSA COUNTY.

(A) In General

The Tulsa County Board of County Commissioners ("Board") may, upon a majority vote, decide to consider whether to remove an appointed Planning Commissioner from the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission ( TMAPC). Pursuant to Title 19, 0.5. Section 863.5 -Members of Commission Appointment-Term-Vacancy-Removal-Ex Officio Members-Members to Serve Without Compensation, the Board of County Commissioners has the power of appointment to TMAPC. The Board has the additional responsibility and authority to remove a member of TMAPC that has been appointed by the Board. Under this statute, a member of the TMAPC may be removed from office "for cause" after a hearing held before the governing body by which he or she was appointed. "Cause" shall include, but not be limited to, performance, conduct or behavior, whether by acts or omission, or violation of the Policies and Procedures and Code of Ethics as adopted by the TMAPC, which the Board of County Commissioners concludes materially and adversely affects the orderly or efficient operation of the TMAPC.

(B) Procedure

Upon such a vote to consider removal, the Board of County Commissioners shall set a public hearing in accordance with applicable Oklahoma state statutes regarding notice, posting, and setting and provide notice to the Planning Commissioner whose removal is to be considered by certified mail, return receipt requested, or by hand delivery to the Planning Commissioner whose removal is to be considered. The notice shall be in the form of a Notice of Public Hearing from the Board that shall schedule a date and time for such consideration at a public hearing held before the Board of County Commissioners, as well as the reasons for such consideration.

The public hearing before the Board of County Commissioners shall be no less than three (3) weeks after a request for removal has been presented to the County Commission. Said notice of public hearing shall be duly and properly posted.

The Planning Commissioner whose removal is sought may appear at that date and time and shall be given an opportunity to be heard by the Board of County Commissioners as to the reasons why his or her removal is not warranted, and may be represented by counsel at the hearing.

The Board has the inherent authority to determine any necessary rules of conduct in the hearing to maintain decorum and order. Rules of conduct by those in attendance of a hearing before the Board may include the potential of a time limit to the amount of time provided to those who request to speak for or against an item on the Board's agenda, requiring those speaking to stand at the podium and speak loud enough to be audio recorded in order that an accurate recorded [sic] of the proceedings can be accomplished, and others that would fall under the general category of rules of conduct that allow the Board to maintain decorum and order in the meetings.

Upon conclusion of the hearing the Board of County Commissioners shall take a vote to determine whether removal of the Planning Commissioner is warranted. If the decision of the Board is removal of the Planning Commissioner is warranted, the Board shall indicate the effective date of the removal.

As you can see, key elements of the procedure are left vague or undefined. Based on the vagueness of the charges and the description of the process, I am anticipating a kind of kangaroo court: Wright will be allowed to speak in her own defense, followed by members of the public. Only then will Keith present the specifics of the case, followed by discussion among the county commissioners. Neither Wright nor members of the public will have the opportunity for rebuttal. The commissioners' discussion may be quite brief if they have already discussed the matter privately and reached a consensus, by means of the county commission tradition of using a go-between to adhere to the letter, but not the spirit, of the Open Meetings Act.

What should happen is that Keith should be compelled by the other two county commissioners, John Smaligo and Fred Perry, to present the specifics of her charges against Wright, and then they should vote to continue the hearing to a future date to allow Wright and her supporters adequate time to prepare a defense. That would be the fair thing to do.

And something else that should happen: There are developers, real estate brokers, and other members of the development community who understand that all parties deserve a fair hearing in the land use regulation process. They understand the need for collaboration and compromise when it comes to controversial matters like infill development in stable neighborhoods. They need to speak out against the attempt to remove Wright and work to moderate their more volatile colleagues.

After the defeat of the development industry's attempt to recall Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock and the passage of the zoning protest petition charter amendment, it appeared that the development industry was prepared to take a more conciliatory tone. The removal of Liz Wright from the TMAPC would be seen by many neighborhood leaders and members of the City Council as an act of aggression, a power play by a power-hungry industry unwilling to cooperate with other interest groups. But what we need, as we move toward a new comprehensive plan and a new approach to development, is diplomacy and a willingness to cooperate to reach win-win outcomes.

How the commissioners handle this case should be a litmus test issue for every property owner in the City of Tulsa or unincorporated Tulsa County concerned about fair treatment of all parties in the zoning process. If you're concerned about a fair hearing for Tulsa proposed new comprehensive plan, you should be concerned about the outcome of this case. If any county commissioner votes to remove Wright for bogus reasons before her three-year term has expired, the citizens of Tulsa County need to remove that commissioner from office at the next opportunity. For two county commissioners, that opportunity is just a few months away.

MORE: Read Mike Easterling's story on the Karen Keith-Liz Wright controversy in the latest issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. And for more background, see my earlier entry, "Karen Keith trying to bully neighborhood leader off planning commission."

You can read Elizabeth Wright's own comments on the removal effort at TulsaNow's public forum.

Preserve Midtown, a group working to protect the unique character of midtown Tulsa's neighborhoods through compatible infill development, sent a very short and sweet three-question survey to the candidates for Mayor of Tulsa and the four contested City Council seats.

PreserveMidtownSign-200.jpgThe questions deal with the city no longer paying INCOG to handle zoning and land use planning and bringing those functions under the City of Tulsa's own planning department, how the city should address damage from stormwater runoff from construction sites, and property owner accountability for methamphetamine labs discovered on their property.

With the exception of District 3, only one candidate in each race provided a written response: Tom Adelson (Mayor), Roscoe Turner and David Patrick (District 3), Maria Barnes (District 4), Jim Mautino (District 6), and G. T. Bynum (District 9). Another mayoral candidate, Mark Perkins, phoned in a response.

Dewey Bartlett did not respond, nor did two candidates who received the vast majority of their campaign funding from outside of their districts, much of it from development interests: Eric Gomez and Dennis Troyer. (Patrick has a similar funding profile. Given the amount of campaign cash he receives from developers and his voting record on the City Council, I would take his responses with a grain of salt. In the end, he will likely do whatever means more convenience and less cost to developers, no matter how it affects neighboring residents.)

Jim Mautino provided a characteristically thoughtful response to the INCOG question:

INCOG should be terminated as a contractor, Zoning and Planning should be incorporated into the Urban Development Department so that there is a continuity between community development plans and the actions of the City Planning Committee and Board of Adjustment decisions that are compatible with the community development plan.

Roscoe Turner gave essentially the same answer, but more forcefully:

Not just yes, but HELL YES! I've been saying this for the last decade. Tulsans should make decisions for Tulsa.

(By way of background: The Indian Nations Council of Governments is a regional planning agency, supported by and municipal and county governments in the Tulsa metro area. INCOG is governed by a board made up of representatives from each of those governments. At present, the City of Tulsa and Tulsa County contract with INCOG to provide support for land use planning. INCOG staffers maintain land use records, evaluate zoning changes, special exceptions, and variances, and make recommendations to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission. Tulsa is the only city in Tulsa County that doesn't have its own city planning commission.

INCOG also handles regional transportation planning and often administers federal infrastructure funds targeted to this area. That function would not change under the aforementioned proposal.

UPDATE 11:40 a.m. 2009/11/02: Liz Wright called earlier this morning to tell me that the County Commission voted to approve the November 23 public hearing. Karen Keith based her call for a hearing on the need for geographical balance and her desire to make her own appointment, neither of which is cause for removing a planning commissioner under state law.

I was disappointed to hear that Keith's two Republican colleagues, John Smaligo and Fred Perry, voted to approve Keith's request without comment. I certainly hope they aren't using county employees to conduct private discussions about commission business, as that would violate the spirit of Oklahoma's open meetings law. They should not have approved the public hearing without Keith supplying probable cause for removal.

Smaligo and Perry have enabled Keith to blindside Wright at the November 23 hearing. By giving Keith the hearing without requiring public statement of the real reason, Perry and Smaligo have prevented Wright and her supporters from having the time to prepare a defense. As a commenter suggested, this is the same underhanded approach we saw in the ouster of Bell's Amusement Park. Although the commissioners involved in the Bell's issue are gone, the rotten political culture seems to linger on.

(And what is it about Karen Keith that she manages to wrap male Republican elected officials around her little finger? She wouldn't have had the resume to run for commissioner if Bill LaFortune hadn't given her a job in his mayoral administration.)

Liz Wright also told me that she was never notified by the county that an issue concerning her would be on this morning's agenda.

At Monday's Tulsa County Commission meeting, District 2 Commissioner Karen Keith will seek a public hearing for the November 23, 2009, meeting to remove Elizabeth Wright as a member of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission 14 months before her term is due to end. Wright was nominated for the TMAPC by then-Commissioner Randi Miller and approved by the County Commission in April 2008. The Tulsa World's Kevin Canfield had a story on Keith's ouster attempt in the Sunday, November 1, 2009, edition.

Keith's stated reason for removing Wright, according to Canfield's story: "I would like the opportunity to make my own appointment, and I want someone who will be responsive to the needs of the western and southern parts of the county." But under state law, a planning commissioner can only be removed for cause.

So Keith has apparently ginned up some pretext for removal for cause, but she's only hinting at the reasons in menacing tones:

But Keith said Saturday that Wright knows why the county is considering her removal.

"It's unfortunate, but all of the details about her service on the Planning Commission will come out," Keith said. "She knows and she understands why this is happening."

And yet the e-mail traffic between Wright and county mouthpiece Terry Simonson, on Keith's behalf, has focused entirely on the geographical balance issue. Wright has provided me with the e-mail traffic between her and Simonson. After several generic messages attempting to set up a meeting between Keith and Wright, Simonson wrote the following on Tuesday, October 8, 2009:

Liz

Karen tells me she has already spoken with you and that the topic was that she wants to replace you as her appointment with a neighborhood representative from a part of her district that has no representation. Apparently most, if not all, of the TMAPC members come from a fairly compact same area of Tulsa, primarily what some would call the midtown area. No representation from West Tulsa, Sand Springs, or Jenks. Since the appointment is designated for the District 2 County Commissioner, she can make a replacement appointment. So, what I need is either a letter or email from you resigning from the board so she can move forward with her appointment. I'm sure you would agree that if it is truly a metropolitan area planning commission that geographic balance on the commission is a good thing.

(Please note that the cities of Jenks and Sand Springs each have their own city planning commissions and are not under the jurisdiction of the TMAPC.)

In her reply, Wright notes that the geographical imbalance is the result of city appointments. She also states that she is the only small business owner on the commission and represents women-owned businesses.

Simonson's October 12, 2009, reply:

Dear Liz

There is a reason why the county commissioners are allowed to make appointments to the TMAPC. Since it's a metropolitan planning commission, all parts of the county should be represented. The city councilors of course can and will only appoint people from within the city which they have historically done. Same with the Mayor. That leaves the commissioners to appoint people either outside of the city of Tulsa or from parts of the city not represented on the commission.

I think there is a difference between a property owner or business owner who resides or owns property in another part of the county and one who doesn't. I think there can be a different perspective from a visitor to the area versus someone who has roots and a history. Certainly Jenks and Sand Springs and Glenpool deserve some form of representation. I think your points of being a women business owner is important and this demographic could likewise be represented from a selection outside of the city of Tulsa.

So, if one were to compose a profile of a well rounded planning commissioner and take into account a diverse set of criteria ( geography, demographic, business experience, neighborhood and planning knowledge, etc ) I believe a commissioner like that can be found outside of the city of Tulsa.

Terry

Nothing in the correspondence indicates that there is any cause for Wright's removal, but now Keith is trying to move forward with a hearing that only makes sense if some cause will be presented.

Behind the scenes, word is that developers are upset with Wright for raising questions that they would rather not have to answer, and that's the reason they are working through Karen Keith to push for Wright's removal.

It's true that there are too many planning commissioners and too many members of boards and commissions in general that come from what I've labeled the "Money Belt" -- the wealthiest neighborhoods of Tulsa which are clustered along a line from Maple Ridge to Southern Hills and then fans out into the gated communities of south Tulsa. The Money Belt, particularly the portion between Maple Ridge and Southern Hills, is like a small town where everyone seems to know everyone else. My theory is that mayors tend to pick people from this area for boards and commissions because that's where their networks of friends and friends of friends all live.

Florence Park, where Liz Wright lives and where she has served as neighborhood association president, lies outside the Money Belt, even though it is in midtown. And midtown Tulsa is the most populous portion of District 2 that is under the jurisdiction of the TMAPC, which only handles zoning cases for the City of Tulsa and unincorporated portions of Tulsa County. Every other Tulsa County municipality has its own planning commission. (Tulsa should too, with all commissioners appointed by city elected officials, but that's a topic for another day.)

More important than geographic balance on the TMAPC is professional balance. Too many of its members have ties to the real estate and development industry. People in that position would be understandably reluctant to recommend against zoning changes sought by firms that may be their partners or customers in future projects or to recommend against zoning changes that would set a useful precedent for their own projects. Balance will help to ensure that the land use regulation system serves all Tulsans and is administered fairly, even-handedly, and consistently.

Not only do we need neighborhood leaders on the TMAPC for balance, we need those leaders to be intelligent and confident in their own judgment. I've seen it happen in the past that neighborhood and community leaders are appointed to a board or commission, and rather than bringing a new perspective to the body, they are indoctrinated and assimilated into its culture.

Imagine the outcry and editorializing if a county commissioner were trying to force a real estate broker or a homebuilder off of the commission to replace him with a neighborhood association president.

Geographic balance is important, but I would hate to lose a planning commissioner like Liz Wright, who brings a neighborhood perspective to the table, understands zoning, and is able to stand up under pressure. If you believe we need that kind of perspective, particularly as we embark upon adoption and implementation of a new comprehensive plan for Tulsa, please contact your county commissioners and urge them to allow Liz Wright to serve out her full term on the TMAPC.

District 1: John Smaligo, jsmaligo@tulsacounty.org, (918) 596-5020
District 2: Karen Keith, kkeith@tulsacounty.org, (918) 596-5016
District 3: Fred Perry, fperry@tulsacounty.org, (918) 596-5010

Karen Keith received significant campaign contributions from the real estate and development lobby. Keith's campaign consultants included Jim Burdge, who ran the development lobby's ugly recall campaign against neighborhood-friendly city councilors Jim Mautino and Chris Medlock, and Art Justis, who as a city councilor was a reliable vote for whatever a developer wanted to do and who was defeated by neighborhood leader Jim Mautino.

It's a shame that the development lobby is so insecure that they feel it necessary to eliminate someone with a neighborhood association background, just because she is intelligent, articulate, and independent. It's a shame that Karen Keith, who once upon a time was a supporter of neighborhood associations and an opponent of incompatible redevelopment, has apparently decided to carry the development lobby's water on this issue.

Goodbye Tulsa has a remembrance of Betsy Horowitz by her son Andrew. Betsy Horowitz was a Maple Ridge neighborhood activist who was part of the successful fight to stop construction of the Riverside Expressway through her neighborhood in the 1970s. She moved to the Dallas area a decade or so ago, and she passed away earlier this year.

I only met Mrs. Horowitz once and that only briefly -- her daughter Jean Ann was a classmate of mine at Holland Hall, and the Horowitz home in Maple Ridge was one of the sites of the Junior-Senior party. But I heard plenty about Betsy during the mid-seventies. It wasn't unusual for one or more Holland Hall parents or alumni to be serving on the City Commission or running for office, and my group of friends paid more attention to politics at every level than was usual for middle school boys. (On my bulletin board through the summer and fall of 1974: The list of candidates for state office from the Tulsa Tribune.)

What I knew about Betsy Horowitz was filtered through the local newspapers and the KRMG morning show. At best, these sources told me, Betsy was a joke, an overweight loudmouth. Her son Andrew mentions that people connected her with feminist Bella Abzug, an outspoken feminist of the day.

At worst, she was a dangerous obstructionist, standing in the path of progress. As a map-obsessed kid, I was all about seeing the dashed "proposed" lines on the map turn into broken, colored "under construction" lines and ultimately into solid, completed freeways. Anyone standing in the way of that was by definition a Bad Person, so it was easy for me to fall in with the conventional view.

I don't know if it was an actual news report or just a silly rumor that she had had her mouth wired shut as part of a liquid diet weight loss plan, but the conventional wisdom was that this was a good thing and wouldn't it be nice if it were permanent. (I'm not the only one who remembers this.)

My other vivid memory of Betsy's political career is her radio ad for one of her mayoral campaigns. A parody of Charlie Rich's crossover country hit, the lyric ran, "Betsy will stop what goes on behind closed doors." The ad communicated a problem that persists today at Tulsa's City Hall -- a hallmark, in fact, of Mayor Taylor's administration -- with deals being done behind the scenes and presented to the public and their representatives as a fait accompli for their ratification.

It's easy now to see that Betsy Horowitz was a valiant defender of neighborhoods against heedless destruction in the name of moving cars around. She and her allies not only stopped a freeway, but they made the renaissance of Maple Ridge possible and gave us the start of Tulsa's extensive trail system.

The Riverside Expressway's route was conceptualized in 1956, but firmly set in 1962. The expressway was planned to follow the Midland Valley Railroad right-of-way from Riverside Drive to the southeast interchange of the Inner Dispersal Loop. If you want to see the path of the expressway -- where the exits were planned, what buildings would have been sacrificed -- there's an atlas in the Central Library map case:


Comprehensive functional plans for the long range highway needs for Tulsa, Oklahoma; Tulsa metropolitan area expressway system. Prepared under the direction of the Oklahoma State Highway Dept. in cooperation with U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Public Roads.

As you drive the boulevards of Maple Ridge today, it's easy to forget that the district was not always popular and beloved. In the post-war period, Tulsans of every class wanted new, and wealthy Tulsans built homes along the ridge to the south-southeast, toward Southern Hills Country Club. With an expressway planned, Maple Ridge homes could very well have followed the pattern of big, old homes in urban neighborhoods in other cities -- subdivision into apartments and slow decay. Many Maple Ridge homes were badly "wreckovated." It wasn't until the expressway was off the map that the cachet of Maple Ridge began to return.

The Goodbye Tulsa piece links to a Wayne Greene column about Betsy Horowitz in the Tulsa World from 2008 which begins:

Is it safe to say something nice about Betsy Horowitz yet?

She's been gone from Tulsa 11 years now. Has enough time passed that her many enemies -- and many, many friends -- are willing to listen to someone say she was right about at least one thing?

Evidently it takes being dead or at least long gone from Tulsa, and no longer a threat to anyone's big plans, before it's safe to credit a naysayer with being right. The same column points readers to Wayne Greene's blog entry explaining why it's OK to praise Betsy Horowitz's neighborhood activism while damning White City resident's opposition to the Tetched Mahal on the other side of I-244. (I have a feeling I'll get some grief over that epithet, but I think it's a good pun, so it stays.) There are certainly distinctions, but the arguments Greene puts forth in support of the activists who fought the Riverside Expressway would have been torn apart as obstructionist nonsense by his predecessors on the World editorial page.

At root, the White City and the Maple Ridge activists are both about trying to preserve the quality of life in a neighborhood against plans that sacrifice that quality of life for the sake of some presumed greater good. The usual arguments against the neighborhood are that the impact on quality of life won't be as great as the homeowners fear, that the homeowners are selfish for putting their own desires ahead of the needs of the general public, and that the plans have been on file at the "local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you've had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it's far too late to start making a fuss about it now."

I'm reminded of World editorial writer Ken Neal's sendoff to Vince Sposato, a New York-born troublemaker like Betsy Horowitz, an opponent of urban renewal who was actually displaced by an expressway, and a frequent candidate for office. The World's obit states:

His love of politics was born from a love of people, according to his family.

In the 1950s, he championed civil rights and special educational needs. In the 1960s, he fought against urban renewal and the taking of people's homes without just compensation.

In 1974, Sposato found himself fighting for his own home. The city had condemned the property because it was needed for part of the construction of the Inner Dispersal Loop. Sposato eventually lost his fight for the house that he and his wife had owned for 22 years.

At the time, I advised the members of the Reform Alliance on the City Council, who were facing sharp criticism for not rolling over on the issue of suburban water service, not to hold their breath waiting for the approval of the Whirled: "If you want the Whirled to say something nice about you, drop dead."

It's interesting that both Horowitz and Sposato came to Tulsa from New York, where confrontation in politics and in daily life is a given. Tulsa needed, and still needs, dissidents who are willing to be pushy and willing to be called obnoxious. I'm sure they were told numerous times, as I've been told, that they needed to tone it down, work within the system, don't ruffle feathers, don't rub people the wrong way. They probably did try that, and they no doubt learned that playing nice only makes it easier for your cause to be ignored. And when you stand up for something and are persistent, you are going to be called angry, obsessed, rude, etc., even if you are as pleasant as can be. Every "troublemaker" on the City Council started out trying to work within the system, convinced that the previous troublemakers failed by not being nice enough.

A comment on one of the World stories, posted by a sometime commenter here, challenges the significance of Betsy Horowitz's leadership role in stopping the Riverside Expressway. I have no doubt that the legal challenge of which he writes was essential. But politics doesn't stop at the courthouse door, and without Horowitz's willingness to call public attention to the issue and to take a heap of ridicule as her pay, I doubt the court challenge would have been successful. (I would love to know more specifics about the court case.)

In the midst of ragweed season, I should mention one other significant contribution made by the Horowitz family to Tulsa's quality of life: Dr. Leon Horowitz, Betsy's husband, was a founder of the Allergy Clinic of Tulsa.

Wayne Greene wonders when it's safe to praise a naysayer. I'm wondering when it's permissible to fix blame on the individuals and institutions who, time and again, pushed schemes that the naysayers rightly warned against. Why do we never give due credit to those who were right and due blame to those who led us to disaster?

MORE: Tulsa District 7 City Councilor John Eagleton recalls that in 1968, after he was hit and dragged by a car as he was crossing 21st Street on his walk to Lee School, Betsy Horowitz took up the cause of school crossing safety and school zones. (He heard about this second-hand, as he spent the Summer of Love in a body cast.)

The PLANiTULSA draft vision document, which will serve as the foundation for a fully-elaborated comprehensive plan for the City of Tulsa, is online. You can read it online as separate web pages, or download the "Our Vision for Tulsa" PDF. It's only 50 pages long (with lots of photos), so please take time to read it, and then go online to provide your feedback.

Tulsa County Commissioners would like to know what should be done with Driller Stadium or the stadium site after the Tulsa Drillers move downtown. There's an online survey where you can rank possible options for using the existing stadium or for replacing it with some other kind of development.

PLANiTULSA's draft vision, developed by Fregonese Associates in response to the PLANiTULSA scenario survey, will be available after 2 p.m. today, September 15, 2009, at PLANiTULSA.org. City of Tulsa planners are seeking feedback on the draft, which is not a detailed comprehensive plan, but a first step in that direction, defining in broad terms what kind of development is desired and where. An open house on the vision and small area concepts will be held at the Greenwood Cultural Center a week from Wednesday, September 23, 2009, from 4:30 to 8 p.m., with formal presentations at 5:30 and 7.

It will be interesting to see if the draft vision emerges as an issue in the ongoing City of Tulsa elections.

Also, tonight (September 15, 2009), the Oklahoma Department of Transportation will hold a public meeting about Tulsa's place on a high-speed rail corridor tonight at 6 p.m., at the Aaronson Auditorium at Central Library in downtown Tulsa. Meanwhile, last week, ODOT began demolishing the platforms and rail yard of Oklahoma City's Union Station. Oklahoma rail activist Tom Elmore comments:

If "High Speed Rail" and an Oklahoma hub are important enough to ODOT that it would seriously apply for "2 billion federal dollars," then why isn't saving the OKC Union Station rail hub at 300 SW 7th an even greater priority? (ODOT contractors started destroying the rail yard there last week -- the "week of 9-11-09.")

ODOT's clear message? If Oklahomans are going to have advanced surface transportation, they're going to have to pay ODOT's favored contractors for it "at least twice..." (We're being forced to pay those contractors to destroy magnificent, 8-block-long OKC Union Station yard -- and we'll be forced to pay to build a new one, of predictably lower quality, if they ever actually get around to that!) ... or are they just using an "alleged interest" in High Speed Rail to cover their crimes at OKC Union Station?

Time for Oklahomans to demand answers!

There will be be a press conference at the BOK Center today at 2 p.m. to unveil the results of the PLANiTULSA "Which Way Tulsa?" survey, in which thousands of Tulsans expressed their preference among four scenarios for Tulsa's future growth. The survey results will be used to develop a vision as part of the City of Tulsa's first comprehensive plan in a generation. More about this after the results are announced.

According to the PLANiTULSA website, the "Which Way Tulsa?" survey is still open for voting until midnight tonight, so if you haven't yet done so, take a few minutes to pick you preferred scenario for future growth and development.

Time to stop procrastinating and pick a scenario for Tulsa's future growth. Tomorrow (June 18, 2009) is the deadline for completing the "Which Way, Tulsa?" survey.

WhichWayTulsa.jpgDear Tulsan:

Over the past 8 months, input from thousands of Tulsans has been gathered at public workshops throughout the city, collected through surveys and recorded during interviews. Based on all these ideas for Tulsa's future, the PLANiTULSA team has developed four different scenarios of how future growth in Tulsa might look.

The PLANiTULSA team wants your opinions, thoughts and feedback on these four scenarios. We've prepared a survey for you to rate various aspects of the scenarios. During a month-long survey drive, May 12 - June 18, we hope thousands of Tulsans will fill out the survey. The more the better! The survey results will drive the process of turning the four scenarios into one shared vision for Tulsa's future.

The survey is available online at www.planitulsa.org

Thank you from The PLANiTULSA Team!

MORE: Mike Easterling covers the end of the PLANiTULSA survey in today's new edition of Urban Tulsa Weekly:

John Fregonese, president of Fregonese Associates--the Portland, Ore.-based urban and regional planning firm charged with coordinating the city's comprehensive plan update under the auspices of PLANiTULSA--said his firm has received roughly 2,000 online responses and 1,000 paper responses to the four potential development scenarios for the city's future it unveiled during a rally on May 12 at Cain's Ballroom.

The deadline for submitting responses is Thursday, June 18. Fregonese said last week his organization was making a coordinated, last-minute outreach effort to get input from as many groups as possible by circulating surveys at churches, rallies and meetings of various organizations. He said the firm was specifically targeting Tulsa's Hispanic community for more input.

In the end, Fregonese said, his firm expects to have 4,000 to 5,000 responses--a number that would be proportionate to what the firm's comprehensive plan update work in cities such as Austin, Portland and Salt Lake City has attracted.

Here's my May 20 column on concerns about the PLANiTULSA survey and what will be done with the results and my May 6 column previewing the scenarios.

You've got just six more days to respond to the PLANiTULSA "Which Way, Tulsa?" survey -- to express your opinion on the way Tulsa should grow over the next 25 years. Whether you prefer the Main Streets approach (Scenario B), "New Centers" (Scenario C), or "Centered City" (Scenario D), or whether, like the Owasso real estate agent quoted in a Sunday newspaper story, you'd like most of the region's growth to happen outside of Tulsa's city limits (Scenario A), take a few minutes to express your opinion.

In addition to the multiple choice questions, there are several questions at the end that allow free-form responses:

7. The scenario survey asks about a few major components of the comprehensive plan, such as housing and transportation strategies.
  • Are there any significant issues that you would like to see given more attention?
  • Is there anything about the specific growth scenarios, that doesn't fall under the previous questions that you would like to tell us?

8. If you could focus the comprehensive plan on just one part of the city, which area would it be?
(Be as general or as specific as you like)

9. What policies or strategies would you like to see the City of Tulsa pursue?

10. Please use the space below to provide any other comments that you would like the PLANiTULSA team to receive.

Another opportunity to express your opinion comes in the form of Urban Tulsa Weekly's Absolute Best of Tulsa runoff ballot. Deadline is June 25 at 5 pm. Multiple choice this time, in about 70 categories, mostly food and drink, but you can also vote for Best City Councilor (only three choices, though) and Biggest Ego.

UTW is also sponsoring an expanded music awards program this year -- the Absolute Best Music Awards. Voting is now open and will continue until July 17. You can listen to music samples for each nominated artist, so it's a great way to get to know the Tulsa music scene.

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I've covered a variety of topics: First Presbyterian Church's exciting plans to replace a surface parking lot with a beautiful new addition to their downtown complex, whether the BOK Center should charge a per-ticket fee to cover Tulsa Police Department overtime relating to event nights, and a few parting thoughts on the PLANiTULSA process.

That's right: parting thoughts. This issue contains my last column for UTW, at least for now.

I had written a brief farewell at the end of the column, but it was edited out, presumably for space reasons, so I'll post it here:

And with that I'll say goodbye for now. I'm grateful for the opportunity to have been part of the UTW team for almost four years. Many thanks to the UTW readers who took time to read my words, who wrote in with praise and with criticism, and who voted my blog, batesline.com, Absolute Best of Tulsa two years in a row. Best wishes for continued success to the staff, management, and advertisers of Urban Tulsa Weekly.

I'm sad to be leaving but pleased to have made a significant contribution to UTW and, I hope, to the public debate. By my count, starting with the September 15-21, 2005, issue, I produced 194 weekly columns -- without a break -- plus several extra op-eds, cover stories on Tulsa bloggers, the 2006 city election, the history of our plans for the Arkansas River, and PLANiTULSA, and a few other feature stories and news items, and even a handful of photographs.

In the process, I've had the pleasure of working with some very creative and talented people, attended a dozen or so editorial meetings, met a lot of interesting Tulsans in many walks of life, spent a lot of time at the Coffee House on Cherry Street and Shades of Brown, and even handed out candy in the Boo-Ha-Ha parade. It's been fun, and there's a lot I'll miss about it.

It's no small feat to start an independent weekly paper and to keep it going for 18 years, and Keith Skrzypczak and his wife Julie (who oversees the paper's operations) are to be admired for their achievement. I'm thankful, too, that Tulsa's alt-weekly truly is an editorial alternative to the daily paper, publishing free-market and pro-life voices alongside the left-wing columnists and cartoonists more typical of the alternative press.

So why will I no longer be writing for UTW?

Recently UTW established a "freelancer's agreement," a standard contract for all freelance contributors, including writers and photographers. The agreement includes a "work made for hire" provision, which means that UTW would own all rights, including the copyright, to anything I submit for publication during the term of the agreement.

For many freelancers, that won't be a cause for concern, but to borrow a phrase from Roscoe Turner, "I've got a problem with that." By giving up all my rights, I could be setting up problems down the road should I want to incorporate into future projects any of the material I would write under the agreement.

In my weekly column, I've researched and analyzed current local issues and tried to put them into historical and political perspective. I've discussed urban design and planning concepts used elsewhere and applied them to Tulsa's circumstances. Beyond the immediate value of a column to the public conversation in the week it's published, I think there's some long-term value as well.

That value might take any number of forms, such as a book or a documentary on the history of Tulsa in the early 21st century or on Tulsa's post-World War II transformation. Such a project is many years in the future, I suspect, which is all the more reason for me to avoid agreeing to something now that creates obstacles for me in a decade or two. What if UTW is sold to a chain of weeklies or goes out of business? (God forbid on both hypotheticals.) Those possibilities seem very remote today, but a lot can happen in 10 or 20 years, and if they happened, who would own the rights to my work under the agreement? Would I be able to get permission to use my own work? Who knows?

At the very least, I would want to continue to retain enough rights for anything I write to be able to keep it accessible on the web.

There are no hard feelings here. UTW is doing what it deems prudent in requiring a standard agreement from all freelancers. I'm doing what I deem prudent by choosing not to submit work under those terms.

I will continue to post news and vent my opinions here at BatesLine on a fairly regular basis, along with interesting links (on the left side of the homepage) and the occasional tweet on Twitter. (My latest 10 tweets can be found on the right side of the BatesLine homepage.)

As for long-form commentary, I'm exploring some possibilities, but for the immediate future I will be using my now-free Sunday afternoons and evenings to catch up on chores around the house. I've been thinking about doing a podcast. (If that's of interest to you, let me know. I'm not much of a podcast listener myself, but I know many people prefer it to reading articles online.)

I wish the staff, management, and ownership of Urban Tulsa Weekly all the best for the future.

About 500 Tulsans turned out at Cain's Ballroom last night for the debut of the PLANiTULSA "Which Way, Tulsa?" survey. There were audio problems: The speakers were hard to hear. The music after the presentation was good but too loud for conversations. I found myself in front of Cain's, standing in a light mist and talking about parking requirements, then continuing the conversation over a beer at the Soundpony, then, on my way to my car, bumping into some friends in front of Lola's, where I was invited inside by another friend to join the planning team and some of my fellow members of the citizens advisory team. So the loud music drove the conversation about PLANiTULSA out into the surrounding neighborhood.

The survey is online, along with a lot of background information. I haven't cast my ballot yet -- still studying the options. These detailed scenario maps go beyond those printed in the survey, showing locations of the types of development that were used to calculate the population, employment, and infrastructure numbers for comparing the scenarios. (I'd like to see a version that allows me to zoom in and turn layers on and off.)

A friend suggested holding a public discussion group about the pros and cons of the scenarios -- not as big as a forum, small enough to have a real conversation. I'll keep you posted if one is held.

Tonight at Cain's Ballroom, 423 N. Main, from 6 to 8, the PLANiTULSA "Which Way Tulsa?" survey will be unveiled tonight. Four different scenarios for future growth and development will be on display, and Tulsans will have the opportunity, online or on paper, to rank the scenarios according to preference. The results of the survey will guide Fregonese Associates in the preparation of a new comprehensive plan for the city, which will ultimately go before the City Council for final approval.

You can read more about the scenarios and the survey in my column in the current issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly.

The Tulsa metropolitan area is projected to grow by 164,000 people and to add 53,000 jobs over the next two decades. The scenarios provide different answers to the questions that are at the heart of a comprehensive plan: How much of that growth do we want the City of Tulsa to capture? What do we want that growth to look like? Where in the city would we like it to go?

There's a related question Tulsans need to answer: How much of the roughly $2 billion that will be spent on new transportation infrastructure during the next 20 years should go to street and highway widening and how much toward various forms of mass transit?

How we answer those questions and the development policies we adopt as a result will influence the kind of city our children and grandchildren will experience.

Today's Tulsans are living with the impact of planning decisions made more than 50 years ago, when our expressway network was mapped out and a development pattern for new neighborhoods was established. That pattern of single-use development, segregating where we live from where we work, shop, worship, study and play, was enshrined in our vintage 1970 zoning code.

MORE: Also in the current week of UTW, nominations have begun for this year's Absolute Best of Tulsa awards, which has an expanded music section for 2009.

From the City of Tulsa Planning Department, notice of a meeting to gather public input on how best to use Tulsa's share of federal historic preservation funds:

The Tulsa Preservation Commission invites Tulsans to participate in the development of the City of Tulsa's Annual Certified Local Government Program.

A meeting will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, May 14, 2009 to receive public input. The meeting will be held on the 10th Floor of City Hall @ One Technology Center, located at 175 E. 2nd Street in downtown Tulsa. Parking is available at the southeast corner of 2nd & Cincinnati.

A portion of the U.S. Department of the Interior's Historic Preservation Fund is allocated for participation in the Certified Local Governments program. Each year, the Tulsa Preservation Commission uses this money to facilitate preservation within our City. Citizens can provide assistance in identifying ways to best use the 2009-2010 funds.

Funds can be used for such projects as:

  • Inventory and/or National Register Nomination of historic resources within the community;
  • Increasing public awareness of historic preservation; and
  • Preparing amendments or updates to the Tulsa Historic Preservation Plan and Historic Preservation zoning program.

With your support we can continue to build on Tulsa's preservation achievements.

Please contact Amanda DeCort, City of Tulsa Planning Department, at (918) 576-5669 for more information.


Here's a very insightful comment by someone with the handle "innercityartisan," posted next to my column about the PLANiTULSA small-area workshop for Forest Orchard, about the way expressways and other barriers to pedestrian and auto traffic on surface streets can blight a neighborhood. It also provides a picture of living in and near downtown a generation ago. (Emphasis added.)

I was there at the meeting. And I grew up in this area in the 50's and 60's. The more I think about the idea of removing the east leg of the IDL, the more I like it!

As kids, we walked or took the bus downtown to the movies. I walked to Central H. S., my gym class played field hockey in Central Park. At noon we students ran around a very busy downtown for lunch and did all our teenage shopping in the department stores and record store. We knew all the "secret" ways to get from one building to the next and across alleys. We were at home downtown, we felt safe and in a way we were supervised by the tens of thousands of people that lived and worked in the inner city.

My grandfather, a geologist, had his office in the Mid-Continent Building. We went to parades, enjoyed the Christmas lights and explored eateries with him.

I am now involved with the Pearl District and where I grew up and work in my home between the Gunboat Parks within the IDL. I am also involved with the Brady Arts District and the East Village at 3rd and Lansing. All these areas suffer because of the "Great Divide."

As has been recognized by other more recognized writers and activists, any city area that runs up against a large "dead" tract of land such as an expressway right-of-way, with no through foot traffic, tends to die and shrivel away. Large parking lots such as those around Hillcrest Hospital or cul-de-sacs and turnarounds that stop through traffic and long chain link fences can mean blight to a neighborhood.

After all, how can your neighborhood become an area that people discover and want to visit or live in if no one ever goes into or through it? And how can you feel safe living, walking or playing with no one around to keep an eye on things?

The only people to "discover" the Brady district have come for events at Cain's and the Old Lady on Brady and most of them don't stay. The Brady area is not so "alive" with activity in many continuous storefronts that a person can feel completely safe walking alone at night. Few people live there. Visitors don't tend to stop and explore. Hopefully the Ball Stadium will increase the number of buildings and residents.

I'm concerned that the vision for the Pearl District with shops and restaurants, small grocery stores, dry cleaners etc. will not happen in development areas placed next to the IDL. This condition also effects the "East Village" or "East End" which is directly across the IDL from the Pearl district. And yet these two neighborhoods could exponentially increase, the interest, excitement and potential resources available for walking residents and visitors if they were actually more connected and accessible to each other. The existing few overpasses between these areas feel long, exposed and very windy!

Get rid of the IDL or cross it with overpasses that have buildings on them. Something that encourages people to hang out and provide a friendly safe environment.

TulsaNow, a civic organization concerned with city design and urban revitalization, is taking its show on the road in an effort to connect with Tulsans beyond the midtown/downtown area, with its Community Forum Tour. First stop is next Wednesday, April 22, from 6 to 8 at TCC's northeast campus. The main speakers should be very interesting. Jack Crowley has been working on a new plan for downtown, and Theron Warlick is one of the Tulsa planners coordinating the PLANiTULSA comprehensive plan effort.

Here are the details:

In the spirit of community involvement, TulsaNow is bringing its Community Forum Tour "on the road" to a neighborhood near you!

The first in a series of public forums will be held at the TCC Northeast Campus on April 22nd. Topics will include: downtown development, new forms of transit, PLANiTULSA (Tulsa's citywide Comprehensive Plan)...and how it all relates to the city as a whole, and north Tulsa in particular!

Informative presentations will be followed by open discussions with local community leaders.

Speakers:
Jack Crowley, Special Advisor to the Mayor on Urban Planning
Theron Warlick, City of Tulsa Planning Department

Panelists:
Reuben Gant, Greenwood Chamber of Commerce
Rose Washington Rentie, TEDC Capital
Reggie Ivey, Tulsa Health Department
Demalda Newsome, Newsome Community Farms

This diverse group of panelists and speakers will field questions and discuss how collaborative efforts can create a brighter future for ALL Tulsans.

Expect an evening that is both exciting and informative!

WHEN: Wed, April 22, 6:00-8:00 PM
WHERE: TCC NE Campus Auditorium
3727 E. Apache
MORE INFO: info@tulsanow.org
COST: Free!

An edited version of this column appeared in the April 1, 2009, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The published version is no longer available online. Posted online June 15, 2016.

Election Day 2009 is a mere seven months away, and a credible opponent to Mayor Kathy Taylor's bid for re-election has yet to emerge.

It is usual to set out one's reasons for seeking office in some form. In the U. S. we call such a document a platform; in the U.K. it's known as an election manifesto.
In that spirit, here then, on the 1st day of April, 2009, is my mayoral manifesto.

Transparency and accountability

We begin by acknowledging the financial constraints our city is under. The ideas listed below represent my priorities for spending the funds that we have. We will not propose or promote any measure that would increase the tax burden on the citizens of Tulsa, particularly in this time of financial uncertainty.

We will make the best use of the money that has already been entrusted to city government to provide basic services - police and fire protection, streets, water, sewer, trash, and stormwater. We will find the funds to conduct a thorough performance and financial audit of city government. We will insist on implementation of the recommendations and replace any department head that drags his feet.

We must increase the size and budget of our underfunded City Auditor's department. A properly-funded fiscal watchdog should be able to find more than enough savings to offset the additional cost.

To encourage transparency and accountability, a Bates administration will make as much city government information available on the internet as the law allows. A TGOV website will offer access to both live and archived video of public meetings.

A geographical information system (GIS) will make it easy for city workers and citizens alike to find information on zoning, crime, and construction in an area of interest. Accessible information will make it easier for citizens and media (both old and new) to keep an eye on city government and to uncover waste, fraud, and abuse.

Partnerships for progress

I pledge to build a collaborative relationship with the City Council, to respect their standing as the elected representatives of the citizens of Tulsa, and to treat them as partners, not adversaries.

If a councilor wants my ear, he won't have to go through three layers of underlings to get to me. If I'm attending a meeting or planning a project in a councilor's district, the councilor will hear about it ahead of time from me. Instead of sending out a flak-catcher, you'll see me at council committee meetings and delivering the weekly mayor's report. I won't agree to expensive legal settlements without the knowledge and consent of the Council.

Surveys have revealed a disconnect between City Hall and the citizens, particularly citizens in our less affluent neighborhoods in north, west, and east Tulsa. We need a sound civic infrastructure to keep citizens informed and to help citizens make their voices heard by city leaders.

One possibility is the district council plan used in St. Paul, Minn. My administration will survey best practices across the country and will work with the Council and neighborhood leaders to identify the model best suited to Tulsa's circumstances.

Membership of the city's authorities, boards, and commissions has been dominated by Tulsa's most affluent neighborhoods in midtown and south Tulsa. I will broaden the pool of mayoral appointees, starting by reaching out to the thousands of PLANiTULSA workshop participants.

I will collaborate with my suburban counterparts whenever appropriate, but I will never lose sight of the fact that I was hired to serve the citizens of Tulsa.

Planning and zoning

The PLANiTULSA process has been a great success to date, with thousands of Tulsans participating in citywide and small-area planning workshops. We should see the adoption of a new comprehensive plan prior to the city general election.

But the plan's adoption is only the beginning. Full implementation will almost certainly require modifications to Tulsa's zoning code. It will also require the political will to stick to the plan as individual zoning and planning decisions are made.

Tulsa's land-use planning system should be characterized by transparency, inclusiveness, consistency, clarity, and adaptability. Our land-use laws should allow as much freedom as possible while protecting against genuine threats to safety, quality of life, and property values.

We must get away from a one-size-fits-all zoning code. Development suitable for 71st and Memorial may not be right for 15th and Utica. Tulsa should establish special districts - some cities call them conservation districts - where rules can be customized to the neighborhood's circumstances. Form-based rules should be available for neighborhoods that want them.

Tulsa should do what every other city in the metro area has already done and establish our own city planning commission, one with a balanced membership that is geographically representative and not dominated by the development industry. All Tulsans have a stake in how our city grows, not just those who stand to make a buck on new construction.

We'll bring land-planning services in house as well, ending our contract with INCOG. (We will continue to collaborate with INCOG on regional transportation planning.)

Economic development

The city's approach to economic development would change in a Bates administration. Some of Tulsa's biggest employers and biggest draws for new dollars started small and grew.

Instead of spending all our economic development funds luring large companies to relocate to Tulsa, we should emphasize removing any barriers to small business formation and expansion.

One of those barriers is the cost of a place to do business. We'll revisit rules that hinder operating a business out of your own home. While many neighborhoods will prefer to remain purely residential, others would welcome the live-work option, with a broader range of permitted home occupations. Here again, Tulsa can customize rules to fit the diversity of our neighborhoods.

We cannot afford to leave behind those Tulsans who are at the bottom of the economic ladder. We will partner with non-profits to help Tulsans develop basic financial life skills - the habits that enable someone to find and keep a job, spend his earnings wisely, and build assets over time.

Tulsa should become known as a city of educational choice from pre-K to college for families of all income levels, not just the well-to-do. I will work with the Oklahoma legislature to expand access to charter and private schools for Tulsans. My administration will seek a cooperative relationship with private schools, homeschooling families and support organizations, and all seven public school districts that overlap our city boundaries.

Under my administration, the city will hold a full and open competition to choose a contractor to promote our convention and tourism industry. The Tulsa Metro Chamber will be welcome to compete, but no longer will it enjoy sole-source status. Tulsa is home to many innovative marketing firms that could do a better job of communicating Tulsa's unique appeal.

The city center

There's been a great deal of focus and hundreds of millions of dollars in public investment in downtown over the last decade. The aim of that investment was to bring downtown back to life, not to turn more buildings into surface parking lots. I will push for adoption of the Tulsa Preservation Commission's "CORE Proposals," including an inventory of downtown buildings, a demolition review process, and standards for new development that reinforce downtown's walkable, urban character.

But Tulsa's urban core doesn't stop at the Inner Dispersal Loop. Downtown's long-term prosperity and revitalization depends on the vitality of the nearby neighborhoods.

Tulsa offers many choices for those who prefer a suburban lifestyle, but we also need to provide a viable urban living option for individuals, couples, and families who want to live close to work, shopping, school, church, healthcare, and entertainment.

There should be at least one part of our city where you can go everywhere you need to go without needing a car. Central Tulsa was built with the pedestrian in mind. New development should reinforce its walkable character.

The city's role would be to protect stable and historic single-family neighborhoods, improve regulations and raise awareness of tax incentives to encourage adaptive reuse of historic buildings, and encourage higher-density, urban infill development in neighborhoods that desire it.

Getting around town

In the future, it may make financial sense to build a light rail system. Right now, we can make better use of the transit system we already have by focusing on frequent, dependable bus service from early morning to late night within this pedestrian-friendly central zone.

Where it's impractical to provide frequent bus service, entrepreneurs should be allowed to fill in the gaps. It ought to be possible in Tulsa for someone with time and a vehicle to make money helping their neighbors get around town. We'll study what other cities have done to encourage privately-owned, publicly-accessible transportation like jitneys, taxis, and shuttles.

Preparing for the future

A Bates administration will not only focus on the near term but will plan for the future as well. Disaster preparedness is a part of that job. One area that deserves attention is the security of Tulsa's food supply. A food crisis could be triggered by financial collapse, soaring energy prices, or a terrorist attack on America's food supply system.
City Hall should study ways to help connect local farmers and growers with local consumers so that our region can attain a degree of self-sufficiency and insulation from an external crisis. We'll make sure that city regulations don't get in the way of community gardens and farmers' markets.

If elected, I will govern with the expectation that I will only serve a single term. I will reckon myself a political dead man, having stepped on so many toes that millions will be raised to prevent my re-election as mayor or my election to any other office.

Finally, my fellow Tulsans, as you find yourself elated or, more likely, outraged at the thought of a Michael Bates mayoral run, remember the old Roman motto: Caveat lector kalendas Apriles.

NOTE: I was able to get to the Journal Record stories below earlier today through links posted in the paper's Twitter feed. As I get ready to publish this, the stories now appear to be accessible to subscribers only.

NOTE 2: Articles are still inaccessible to non-subscribers, but an entry on the Journal Record's blog has summaries of the articles.

In a strongly-worded editorial in the March 18, 2009, Journal Record, Ted Streuli, the paper's managing editor, writes that Tulsa County's "exorbitant, unconscionable fees to view and print public records clearly violate state law, and [Tulsa County Clerk Earlene] Wilson gets away with it because the law doesn't have any teeth."

I encourage you to read the entire editorial as well as two related news stories in the same edition:

Assessor, clerk upgrade to incompatible systems
Tulsa County policies lead to debate on Open Records Act

There are three different sets of public records under consideration:

The County Clerk keeps track of how land is subdivided into parcels (plat maps), who owns which piece of land, and what encumbrances exist -- liens, mortgages, easements, covenants on a given parcel. Records are kept of each transaction affecting the state of a parcel.

The County Assessor estimates the value of each parcel based on fair market value, based on the physical characteristics of the property and factors like zoning.

The County Treasurer collects property (ad valorem) taxes based on the assessed value and then disburses the collected money to school districts, municipalities, the county and other taxing authorities according to law.

In Tulsa County, none of these records are freely available online. You can go to the offices in question to look at the physical records, or you can pay a monthly fee to have access. As Streuli notes, you not only have to pay to access the information, you have to pay $1 a page to print a copy with your own printer, paper, and ink. Streuli says this is a violation of the Oklahoma Open Records Act:

Until recently, you could find all of this information at Tulsa Library branches, using a special IBM terminal emulator that runs on selected library computers. You can still find out who owns a piece of property, what its assessed value is (along with the physical characteristics that determine the value), and the current taxes (including whether those taxes have been paid).

It used to be possible, when looking at the combined display for a parcel, to push a button and see a list of transactions on that parcel over the last decade or so. But the last time I used the system those features weren't available. The options for viewing these County Clerk records had vanished from the main menu as well.

Many smaller Oklahoma counties make their county clerk records available freely online. For many counties you can even view and print images of records for free.

Oklahoma County Assessor Leonard Sullivan (a former Republican state representative) has one of the best public records websites in the country. On his homepage, he writes:

With more than 6 million property searches so far this year we've been recognized as one of the most advanced records search websites in the country where anyone with internet access can spend a few minutes or longer looking up property records in Oklahoma County.

Using the Public Access System you can find information about any property in Oklahoma County. Including the sale price, market value, assessed value, and legal description. Using the interactive Geographic Information System (GIS) Map, you can see a digital aerial color image of your home, find out which school district the property is located within, who represents you in the state legislature or congress, even see if your home or another property could be subject to flooding....

The Oklahoma County Assessor's Office has embraced technology and works hard to make access to public records and information a priority.

I'm happy to read that Sullivan's counterpart, Tulsa County Assessor Ken Yazel, has the same goal in mind:

Former title company operator Yazel spent $953,467 to upgrade the assessor's 262,000-parcel database with RealWare by Colorado Customware, the software behind the award-winning Oklahoma County assessor's Web site.

Seeking to emulate Oklahoma County and promote the economic benefit of free and open records access, Yazel said he hopes to unveil a new Tulsa County assessor's site this year.

If you're gasping at the cost of the software, keep in mind that the Assessor's office has to have it regardless of whether the information is made available over the web. The Assessor needs to keep records of every parcel in the county, with details like square footage and outbuildings and quality of materials and number of bathrooms and with the capability to translate recent sales of comparable properties into fair market value. The marginal cost of making the information available to the general public online is negligible. Same thing is true for the County Clerk's records.

Not only is the marginal cost negligible, it actually saves the county money to make the information available online, as more people can get the information they need without taking the time of a county employee.

Oklahoma County Assessor Chief Deputy Larry Stein said his office achieved those results with its Web site upgrades.

"It saves us from having to have a whole bunch of people streaming into our office every day when they can get that off the Web," said Stein.

Wilson and Tulsa County Treasurer Dennis Semler have both cited privacy concerns along with cost recovery as a justification for limiting access to paying customers and library computer terminals. The cost issue is bogus: The county offices have a legal duty to maintain the records and a responsibility to the taxpayers to tap into the productivity benefits of computerization. The County Clerk even collects fees on each document processed.

The privacy issue is bogus, too: The records are public and are already available. If you have a way to make money off of the information -- whether it's as a lender, an appraiser, or a real estate investor -- you'll spring for the cost of using the online system, or you'll pay an employee to go down to the County Courthouse and collect information. A homeowner who needs to track developments that could potentially threaten his property value or a journalist who is researching a story has to get to the library when it's open, tie up a library computer, and stop when his daily allotment of computer time is used up.

Tulsa County officials aren't protecting privacy if property records are easily accessible for a small number of people and hard to get for the rest of us.

But don't look for anything to change in the near future:

As long as Tulsa County citizens express satisfaction with the service, Semler expects the county budget board to stand pat.

So if you've ever been frustrated by having to drive to the library to look up land records, if you don't think you should have to pay twice for easy access -- once through your taxes and again through special fees -- if you want the County to obey the Open Records Act, contact your County Commissioner, the County Clerk, and the County Treasurer and let them know you want them to work with Ken Yazel to provide free online access to land records. You'll find all the contact information you need at the Tulsa County website.

Last night, on TulsaNow's public forum, DSJeffries posted this summary of last night's PLANiTULSA workshop for the TU area:

It seems everyone in this area is on the same page:

-Bringing in new businesses and housing while preserving our great existing brick buildings
-Establishing a link to downtown via 6th Street
-Establishing a rail stop at 11th & Lewis
-Restoring the street grid
-Repairing the damage TU has done by closing itself off and fencing itself in
-Revitalizing the Route 66, Admiral, Whittier Square and Harvard corridors to their former glory
-Adding bike and pedestrian paths
-Improving sidewalk continuity
-Making the whole area more walkable
-Giving the neighborhood a unique identity ("to be NOT like 71st Street" was heard several times)

Great workshop! Can't wait for the transportation workshop tomorrow.

"Tomorrow" is now today (Tuesday, Feb. 24). That transportation workshop will start in just a few minutes -- 6 p.m. at the Central Center in Centennial Park.

I'm pleased to see preservation and restoration as key themes. In the new Urban Tulsa Weekly out tomorrow, you'll see my report on last week's Forest Orchard area workshop, which borders the TU workshop map to the west.

Some linkage related to my most recent Urban Tulsa Weekly column about the innovative, grassroots-driven approach to solving the Pearl District's stormwater problem:

The Pearl District Association website: Well organized website with plenty of information about the neighborhood's plans for the future.

Guy Engineering's page for the Elm Creek Master Drainage Plan, which includes sketches of the proposed 6th St. canal and the west and east ponds. The master plan report itself (linked at the top of that page) goes into great detail about the history of the Elm Creek basin and the evolution of the stormwater management plan over the last 20 years.

Here's the Wikipedia entry for woonerf.

A Brand Avenue blog entry on the history of woonerven, which includes a summary of a study of shared streets by the UK-based Transport Research Laboratory:

Last year, TRL published the results of a four-year study on the new traffic safety approach. In simulator trials, researchers replaced road signs and white lane dividers with a variety of urban design elements: red bricks were used to make the road narrower, and trees, shrubs and street furniture were placed directly in the right of way. According to Parkes, traffic speeds fell by up to 8 miles per hour, and the speeds of faster drivers by up to 12 mph. The reasons are both counterintuitive and compelling, he said. "What we've been trying to do is make the roadway seem more risky by taking out the stripe of paint ... and by making the distinction between space reserved for cars and space for pedestrians less explicit," said Parkes. "Then the driver makes his own choice to slow down, rather than just being instructed to slow down in what looks like a safe environment." Psychological traffic calming has the added advantage of being more aesthetically pleasing than a slew of road signs and traffic lights, Parkes noted.

A New York Observer story about the city's "woonerf deficit" and how shared streets can improve a neighborhood's quality of life and economy.

A New York Times story about woonerfs and other alternative approaches to streets, such as play streets, bicycle boulevards, and swale streets:

One such street is the woonerf. Pioneered in the Netherlands -- the word roughly translates as "living street" -- the woonerf erases the boundary between sidewalk and street to give pedestrians the same clout as cars. Elements like traffic lights, stop signs, lane markings and crossing signals are removed, while the level of the street is raised to the same height as the sidewalk.

A woonerf, which is surfaced with paving blocks to signal a pedestrian-priority zone, is, in effect, an outdoor living room, with furniture to encourage the social use of the street. Surprisingly, it results in drastically slower traffic, since the woonerf is a people-first zone and cars enter it more warily. "The idea is that people shall look each other in the eye and maneuver in respect of each other," Mr. Gehl said.

Nick Roberts from Oklahoma City explains why he likes the 6th St. canal concept better than Oklahoma City's Upper Bricktown Canal:

Here [in the 6th St. concept drawing] the water just compliments the pedestrian path and makes it interesting, provides nice views. Instead the Bricktown Canal has the freeway mentality: the path on the side is kind of like a feeder road while the canal is the main draw. It should be the other way around..in fact I wouldn't be opposed to not doing the water taxis anymore, especially if they should ever stop being profitable. But I am still totally in support of expanding the canal through the downtown area. That probably explains why a lot of the canal-front property has never been finished, despite all the potential.

A related link: A Tulsa TV Memories page about the Brewsters, a couple who owned a beloved toy store in the Pearl District neighborhood.

Urban link dump

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Here are a bunch of links to items of note about cities:

Blair Humphreys looks at urban density and finds some surprising stats: The Los Angeles urbanized area is the most densely populated in the nation. Oklahoma City and Boston have the same density, about 900 people per km2. (Again, this is urbanized area and includes suburbs, but excludes undeveloped areas.)

In another recent post, Blair reviews the Oklahoma City government website and offers suggestions for improvements that will increase public participation. The 2nd coolest idea: Google-map agenda items. The coolest idea: Let citizens draw areas of interest on a map, then register to be notified whenever an agenda item for any committee falls within that area. We have the technology.... (A commenter notes that OKC's adoption of Accela software for permitting has been helpful for everyone involved in the process.)

Steve Patterson has been delving back into the history of urban design in St. Louis and writes, "I'm beginning to get a greater understanding about why planners from the past did what they did. The problem is a solution to a 1920s problem was not only the solution at the time but for decades to follow -- passed down from one generation to the next without anyone questioning why or if the problem being solved still existed." He has a chart showing how attitudes have changed toward issues like one-way streets, on-street parking, building height and setbacks.

As an example of changing trends in urban design, Steve has posted a document from the early 1970s, a history of St. Louis' urban renewal program. I've just skimmed it, but I'm struck by how early the city began clearing land and relocating people. Steve notes that two of the renewal projects celebrated by this document have since been demolished.

One more from Steve, and it's applicable to Tulsa, too: St. Louis' Outdated Zoning Mandates Excessive Parking.

Nick Roberts is working on a class project: Putting together a historic preservation plan for an area in Lawton. "Obviously Lawton's situation is unique, as a urban renewal-aspiring army town that already tore down pretty much anything worth preserving in the 60s. The challenges are high, but the potential is higher. Good stuff, and I look forward to posting it up." Lawton replaced much of its historic downtown with a suburban indoor mall, complete with vast parking lots.

Steve Lackmeyer has a neat picture: The owners of a five-story warehouse in Oklahoma City's Bricktown have fixed the lighting on the vacant upper floors so that they can light them up at night. As Steve notes, it's "a rare sight in Bricktown - the appearance of life above the second floor."

Charles G. Hill follows up on an earlier post about William Hudnut's idea of increasing taxes on land and decreasing taxes on improvments -- an emptiness tax. Charles points to a critique of Hudnut's idea at Market Urbanism, where the unintended consequences are considered.

Dan Weber, a senior at the University of Tulsa, has a column in the school's student newspaper, The Collegian, about the impact of TU's campus expansion and its efforts to attract more residential students on its relationship with the city from which it takes its name:

[The class of 2009 has] lived out our four years in a transitional setting, hemmed in by orange barrels, while the administration finally realized its long-awaited opportunity to recast the campus image.

Now construction is essentially complete (since the financial crisis has remaining projects on hiatus) and we're finally inhabiting the more residential and attractive campus that's supposed to aid TU's obstinate struggle to breach the hallowed U.S. News Top 50.

We seniors, then, are uniquely able to appreciate what the campus has gained and lost in the process to attract all those precious National Merit Scholars.

TU has lost a sense of belonging to Tulsa and gained the feeling of a glorified boarding school for students from Texas and Missouri.

Weber mentions Starship Records and the Metro Diner, once on 11th St but demolished to make way for TU's new grand entrance on 11th St., the University having decided that its grand entrance on Delaware Ave. (the U) was no longer grand enough. Weber calls the two businesses "Tulsa institutions that meant more to locals than the view of the Collins Hall fountain ever will."

The clichéd complaint that spurred the Chapman Commons "front door" project was that traveling along 11th Street, those unfamiliar with the campus wouldn't be able to recognize that they were adjacent to a university.

Since 11th also happens to be midtown's leg of Route 66, TU was squandering a golden opportunity to latch onto the mythos of the Mother Road. Ironically, now gazing upon Chapman Commons one wouldn't immediately recognize that they were adjacent to Route 66.

I'd encourage Mr. Weber to dig deeper into the history of TU's relationship with the city and its immediate neighbors. Until ORU opened its doors in 1965, TU was the only institution of higher learning in the city. Tulsa didn't have any sort of state-funded higher ed until Tulsa Junior College (TJC) in 1969.

Before then, TU was Tulsa's only college. It was the place where Tulsans went to college because they could live with their folks and save money while they earned a degree. TU's stadium was built for and at one time owned by the public school system, for use by the high school athletic program as well as the Golden Hurricane. The TU baseball team played at Oiler Park; the basketball team played at the county's Fairgrounds Pavilion and then at the city's Assembly Center. The law school was downtown across the street from Trinity Episcopal Church. The engineering school was up on N. Lewis.

50 years ago, the main campus was contained between 5th and 7th, Delaware and Gary, surrounded by neighborhoods on all sides. Businesses and churches scattered around the neighborhoods catered to students and locals alike. At some point, in the late '50s or early '60s, the single family neighborhoods around campus were rezoned to allow apartments. One house at a time was cleared to be replaced with a single-story strip of four or five small apartments.

As the neighborhood lost its integrity, it made it easy for officials to label it blighted, in need of urban renewal. The city could then use its power of eminent domain to take land that TU wanted for expansion and sell it to the college for redevelopment.

TU might have continued on its original course, scattering facilities around central Tulsa, integrating its students in the life of the city. That's been a successful model for the Savannah College of Art and Design, which has classrooms and student housing all over the city's historic district, enlivening the city with students and renovating historic buildings in the process.

Instead TU's leaders wanted a typical integrated, isolated campus, and they had governmental muscle at their disposal to make sure they got the land they wanted.

TU has many great academic programs, but it is no longer the sole option for higher ed for Tulsans, not by a long shot. It's certainly not the most affordable. If there were ever justification for the city to assist a private college with its expansion needs, that justification is no longer valid.

(Hat tip to Route 66 News.)

Tonight's Northland and Forest Orchard small-area workshops for PLANiTULSA have been postponed and will be rescheduled for a later date. Keep an eye on the PLANiTULSA website for details and weather updates regarding Wednesday's Southwest Tulsa workshop

A group of urban planners from the Mayors' Institute on City Design (MICD) is in Tulsa today looking at the city's most significant brownfield: The Evans Electric and Fintube plants, which are located east of OSU-Tulsa, north of Archer St., between the BNSF (formerly AT&SF) tracks and US 75. The group will present their recommendations this afternoon at 4 at City Hall. From the press release:

During the three-day visit, the panel will study the Evans-Fintube site, a local development opportunity site located at North Lansing Avenue and East Archer Street. This City-owned site borders the Crutchfield neighborhood, OSU-Tulsa, Lansing Business Center, and downtown.

The panel will also meet with local stakeholders and develop planning recommendations for the site, based on this community input process. The MICD Resource Team will present their recommendations for the Evans-Fintube site to the public on Tuesday, January 13, 2009 from 4:00 - 5:30 p.m., in the 10th Floor North Conference Room of City Hall at One Technology Center.

Tulsa is one of four cities to receive a grant to participate in the MICD Alumni Technical Assistance Program. The Mayors' Institute on City Design (MICD) is a partnership program of the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Architectural Foundation, and the United States Conference of Mayors. Since 1986, the Mayors' Institute has helped transform communities through design by preparing mayors to be the chief urban designers of their cities. The program is dedicated to improving the design and livability of America's cities.

The MICD Resource Team includes Ron Bogle, CEO & President, American Architectural Foundation; Maurice Cox, Director of Design, National Endowment for the Arts; Jess Zimbabwe, AIA, AICP, LEED-AP, Director, Mayors' Institute on City Design; Elizabeth Blazevich, Special Projects Manager, Mayors' Institute on City Design; Angie Brooks, Principal, Pugh+Scarpa Architects, Santa Monica, CA; Phil Erickson, AIA, Principal, Community Design + Architecture, Oakland, CA; and Laura Solano, ASLA, Principal, MMVA Inc., Boston, MA.

I'm intrigued by one line in the description of the group: "preparing mayors to be the chief urban designers of their cities." It's hard to imagine a mayor in that role, but there's no question that the mayor has the authority to have an enormous impact on urban design. The mayor appoints planning commissioners, oversees code enforcement officials and the departments responsible for infrastructure development. As I noted in my column this week, we need elected officials who can balance a variety of concerns, rather than deferring to lower-level unelected functionaries.

To look at it another way, every department and interest group has its own narrow view. The fire marshal wants to prevent fires. The impact of fire prevention rules on historic preservation or the economic value of a building are secondary concerns in his mind. Traffic planners want to move cars -- pedestrian-friendliness comes later, if at all. Developers just want to get their project done and their lender paid back. Homeowners are trying to protect their quality of life and the long-term value of their homes. Everyone thinks his own concerns are paramount.

You need someone in charge of city government who can see the big picture, who can balance various concerns and then direct the lower-level departments so that everyone is pulling together in the same direction.

The first two of several small-area workshops for PLANiTULSA, the City of Tulsa initiative to produce our first comprehensive land-use plan in a generation, are being held tonight -- one on the northside and one on the eastside.

These workshops are a smaller-scale version of the citywide workshops, with groups putting stickers representing different kinds of development on a map of the target area. In this case, however, the target area is at most a square mile. One workshop will focus on the undeveloped area on 21st St east of the old Eastland Mall. The other will, if I recall correctly, involve the area either side of Peoria between Pine St. and Mohawk Blvd, roughly between the Midland Valley trail and US 75.

The workshops will be held at Booker T. Washington High School (northside) and East Central High School (eastside). Registration begins at 5:30 and the workshops will run from 6 to 9 pm.

These workshops are intended to produce prototypes of small-area plans, and so planners are trying to pick a representative assortment of existing conditions to study. Another set of workshops will be held in January.

For more information contact the City planning department at 576-5684.

MORE: In the comments, Paul has a report from the East Tulsa workshop and a comment about the importance of respecting private property:

I haven't seen all of the proposed guiding principles, goals, and objectives of the new comp plan, but if protecting private ownership and use of real estate is important to a majority of Tulsans, then I think this can be written into the plan.

In my opinion, it will be more effective to create a new comp plan and zoning code which are understandable, fair, and PREDICTABLE. And despite the US Supreme Court's regrettable Kelo v. City of New London decision, I think it would wonderful if the State of Oklahoma, the City of Tulsa, and the Tulsa Development Authority all adopted policy that private land ought not and will not be taken by coercion for private developments.

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about what we can learn about urban design from the commercial success of painter Thomas Kinkade:

Thomas Kinkade seems to understand that places--houses and shops, landscapes and streetscapes--have the ability to touch the heart. In his choice of subjects and his depiction of main streets, neighborhoods, country cottages, townhouses, and bungalows, he strikes a chord with the viewer.

His cinematic suggestions brought to mind what architect Christopher Alexander called the "Timeless Way of Building."

This timeless way expresses itself in patterns in the way we make a town or a building.

Every building, neighborhood, town, and city is constructed from a collection of patterns. Alexander observed that some patterns are living and some are dead. The ones that are living are those that connect in some way with human nature--they attract people, making them feel at home and alive.

Dead patterns repel people, making them feel ill at ease and restless. A place shaped by dead patterns becomes neglected and uncared for and attracts trash, decay, and crime.

In the book A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, Alexander and his colleagues identified and gave names to 253 lively patterns that appear to be timeless, recurring across cultures and centuries. Kinkade's suggestions to his filmmakers echo many of these patterns: Pools of Light, Magic of the City, Four-Story Limit, Paths and Goals, Warm Colors, Street Windows, Shielded Parking.

Supplemental links:

The Mental Health Association in Tulsa, an organization that is being used as a tool by the downtown NIMBYs in their (futile) efforts to clear the chronically homeless and mentally ill out of downtown, is threatening to sic Uncle Sam on homeowners who are protesting MHAT's plans to build a four-story apartment complex for the chronically homeless and mentally ill at Admiral and Yale.

The homeowners' group, Who Owns Tulsa?, attempted to negotiate with MHAT and the Tulsa Housing Authority to reach a compromise that would allow a facility to be built on the site, but on a smaller scale, comparable to similar facilities that already exist in neighborhoods. Negotiations broke down, and in order to keep their legal options open, Who Owns Tulsa? filed an appeal to the building permit for the 10 N. Yale site. The proposed facility has been classified as an apartment building, but if it is in fact an assisted living facility or community group home (as it clearly seems to be), there are limits in the zoning code on floor-area ratio that may render the proposed facility too large for the site.

These homeowners are clearly within their rights under Oklahoma law to seek a reversal of a BOA decision and under the U. S. Constitution's First Amendment to petition the government for redress of grievances. But MHAT is threatening a Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP) -- trying to silence the homeowners by threatening them with prosecution under the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1988. This threat was made in a November 22 press release from MHAT's executive director Michael Brose:

"Past statements of Who Owns Tulsa? and the neighbors who have filed this appeal make clear that this is but one more attempt to block the construction of this building motivated by unreasonable fears of people with mental illness," said Brose. "Such efforts constitute a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act of 1988." In similar cases individuals including neighbors have been found to have violated that federal law when they have sought to exclude the people protected by the Fair Housing Act from their neighborhoods. The Mental Health Association will be contacting the federal authorities who enforce those rights as well as looking at its other options under the law.

This is not an idle threat. During the Clinton Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) went after citizen groups who opposed group homes in their neighborhoods. For example:

In 1994 HUD launched an investigation of the members of the Irving Place Community Coalition, a group of New York City citizens opposed to placing another home for the mentally ill in a neighborhood already saturated with such homes. HUD investigators decided that the residents' civic activism was a crime and demanded membership lists, written messages, and other documents from the members -- and even demanded to see the personal diaries of people involved in the opposition. Arlene Harrison, a member of the Irving Place Coalition, observed: "It was like Big Brother coming to your door with a hammer."

In Berkeley, California, HUD officials in late 1993 issued a subpoena to three residents who had complained about plans to convert a ratty-looking motel next to a liquor store into a home for alcoholics and mentally disabled AIDS patients. A federally funded fair-housing activist organization complained to HUD about the group's action, and HUD launched a full-scale investigation of the three. In November 1993, HUD demanded to see any letters they had written to public officials or newspapers, any petitions, names, addresses, and phone numbers of anyone who had indicated support for the group's efforts. John Deringer, who lived next to the soon-to-be shelter complained: "We didn't feel we had done anything wrong, but we were very, very intimidated. The threat was we could be fined $100,000 and jailed if we didn't give them the information they wanted. It was chilling."

With the Clinton Administration coming back to power in January under their community organizer Chief Executive, don't be surprised to see HUD once again ready to use heavy-handed intimidation on behalf of the left-leaning social work community. Ironically, a majority of voters in precinct 37, the neighborhood most prominent in the Who Owns Tulsa? effort, voted for the presidential candidate most likely to cause them trouble over this issue.

If Mr. Brose were serious about fairness and justice for the homeless and mentally ill, he should file a Fair Housing Act complaint against the downtown NIMBYs who are forcibly removing these downtown residents from their familiar surroundings. He could start with John Bolton of the BOK Center and Jim Norton of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited. They both spoke at a BOA hearing to protest the expansion of John 3:16 Mission's downtown facility. There was even a lawsuit to overturn the BOA ruling in favor of John 3:16 Mission.

Shouldn't Mr. Brose go after the real NIMBYs first?

If you have any interest at all in fixing up older buildings (even if you don't think of them as particularly historic), visiting and promoting historic landmarks, economic revitalization of small towns and rural areas, walkable communities, "green" buildings, infill that respects existing development -- if you like pecans or fudge or Frankoma pottery -- if you want to connect with fellow Tulsans interested in protecting and preserving our great neighborhoods or our classic downtown and midtown buildings -- if you'd love to support preservation while winning a weekend away in a historic hotel -- if you want to learn how lasers are used to support restoration of historic buildings -- if you are interested in a degree program in preservation (or know someone who is) -- if you want to visit with the architects converting the Atlas Life Building into a Courtyard by Marriott -- if you want to know what communities across the country are doing to turn history into economic development ....

You need to come down to the Tulsa Convention Center on Friday, between 9 and 5, to spend some time at the exhibit hall for the National Preservation Conference. It's free and open to the public, and it's a great way to learn a lot. Friday between 9 and 5 is your last opportunity to see the exhibits. Yes, it would be nice if they had evening or weekend hours, but they don't. Come on your lunch hour, have a look around, and meet fellow Tulsans and people from across America with an interest in preservation.

The 2008 National Preservation Conference is underway right here in Tulsa.

On Wednesday some conventioneers took buses to field sessions here in Tulsa and around northeastern Oklahoma, while others attended panel discussions and workshops on various topics related to historic preservation. Late in the afternoon was the opening plenary session, held at First Presbyterian Church.

Coming up today, tomorrow, and Saturday, there are some open-to-the-public opportunities worth your time and interest:

Thursday, 6 pm to 7 pm: The National Preservation Awards ceremony, at Will Rogers High School, 3909 E. 5th Pl., one of our somewhat hidden Art Deco treasures.

Friday, 5:45 to 6:45 pm: A lecture by Route 66 sherpa Michael Wallis on the "Romance of the Mother Road," at First United Methodist Church, 10th & Boulder, downtown.

Saturday, 10:30 am to noon: Closing plenary session, in the assembly hall of the Tulsa Convention Center, featuring talks by art historian Nell Irvin Painter and Anthony Tung, author of Preserving the World's Great Cities: The Destruction and Renewal of the Historic Metropolis

The exhibit hall, at the Convention Center, is also free and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. Exhibitors include universities with degree programs related to historic preservation, booksellers, companies that make building products used in restorations, government agencies, consulting firms, and non-profit groups.

Many of the exhibitors are from Tulsa and the surrounding region, so it's an opportunity to connect with others who are engaged in preserving our irreplaceable places. A partial list of local exhibitors:

Coalition of Historic Neighborhoods of Tulsa
The Coury Collection
Frankoma Pottery
Brown Mansion, Coffeyville, Kans.
Tulsa City-County Library System
Yellow Pad, Inc.
Saline Preservation Association, Pryor, Okla.
Oklahoma Route 66 Association
Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Dept.
Oklahoma Main Street Center
Loman Studios (stained glass)
MATRIX Architects Engineers Planners
Guthrie Chamber of Commerce
GH2 Architects
Cherokee Nation
Bryant Pecan Co.

I'll add links later. You can see a full list of exhibitors in the conference program, beginning on p. 54 (3 MB PDF).

Finally, there may still be some tickets available for purchase for some of Saturday's field sessions and events. Even if you're a lifelong Tulsan, you'll learn new things about your city on these tours.

I took the Tulsa Art Deco tour on Tuesday afternoon. The tour included an inside look at the fascinating house Bruce Goff designed for Adah Robinson at the corner of 11th Pl. and Owasso Ave., an all-too-brief stop at the Tulsa Historical Society (which has a fascinating exhibit on Tulsa in the 1920s), and a reception in the lobby of the ONG Building on the NW corner of 7th and Boston. The Hille Foundation owns the building and is exploring plans to convert the upper floors into condominium lofts, as a real estate investment for the foundation. The building is a beautiful example of late '20s zigzag deco, and it was exciting to get a look inside. This would be the first condominium conversion of a downtown office building.

Staffers with the National Trust for Historic Preservation have been blogging about their experiences in Tulsa on the Preservation Nation blog. Here's an account of the Sacred Spaces bus tour, which included a number of downtown churches, Temple Israel, and the Oral Roberts University campus.

MORE: Ron of Route 66 News has found much of interest at the conference, including a seminar on the preservation of neon signage.

The National Preservation Conference, which comes to Tulsa next week, is making tickets for several Saturday, October 25, field sessions available to the public. There is a cost for each event, but you can sign up for these events without having to pay the conference registration fee. There are five field sessions available, all starting at 1:30 p.m. For Tulsans, this is a great way to learn about your hometown history.

Tulsa Overview (ticket price $35) 1:30 - 5:00 p.m. From being the end point of the notorious Trail of Tears, to railroad and market town serving surrounding cattle ranches, to thriving oilboom city -- Tulsa has a diverse and vibrant history. See how all these influences still resonate in modern-day Tulsa. Featured sites include Gilcrease Museum, Roosevelt School, Tulsa's oldest house, Cain's Ballroom, Tulsa Union Depot, Williams Technology Center (HOK), and the Tulsa Municipal Building (Old City Hall).

Downtown Tulsa Safari (ticket price $20)
1:30 - 5:00 p.m.
Lions and tigers and... dolphins? Pigs and turkeys and buffalo, too? In downtown Tulsa? Absolutely! There's an urban jungle in the heart of the city if you know where to look. Go on an offbeat architectural safari to spot the whimsical terra cotta wildlife on Tulsa's buildings.

Going Green, Tulsa Style (ticket price $35)
1:30 - 5:00 p.m.
It's great to be green in Tulsa. See some recent renovations of older buildings that have made concern for the environment a priority: Dennis R. Neil Equality Center, the SemGroup Building, the Fire Alarm Building, and East Village.

Tulsa's Historic Gardens (ticket price $35)
1:30 - 5:00 p.m.
Philbrook Gardens, Tulsa Rose Garden, Woodward Park, and Swan Lake are just some of the special spots to be visited or viewed. Find out how Tulsa's most renowned horticultural attractions were developed from pastures, farmland, and a Creek Indian allotment.

Mid-Century Tulsa: Back to the Future! (ticket price $35)
1:30 - 5:00 p.m.
Celebrate Tulsa's mid-century homes of the Future. Featuring mid-century neighborhoods such as Lortondale and Ranch Acres, see how residents have worked diligently to restore the architecture of their homes and their communities. Creative marketing, community education and sheer determination have created a mid-century feeding frenzy with homes being snatched up by design savvy and preservation-minded buyers.

The public may also buy tickets ($75 each) for the closing party at Cain's Ballroom, featuring western swing legends Asleep at the Wheel.

All of the above tickets will be for sale during normal business hours at the National Preservation Conference registration desk in the Tulsa Convention Center.

Who Owns Tulsa? will hold its monthly meeting tonight at 7 p.m. in the cafeteria of the Franklin Youth Academy, 1136 S. Allegheny Ave. (Allegheny is one block east of Yale.) In a press release, WOT Chairman Julie Hall describes the meeting:

The agenda will include an update on 10 N. Yale and fundraising efforts including a plan for a Poker Ride. We will have t-shirts from the first annual jam and 'Who Owns Tulsa? We do!' shirts as well as WOT window clings and signs. We will also be presenting the organizational bylaws - an initial structure to guide our efforts. Everyone is welcome to attend!

We plan to continue meeting at this location the second Tuesday of each month at 7:00pm so mark your calendars and become a part of the solution! Not sure about what WOT is and whether to participate? Come listen for yourself. Here's a copy of our mission:

"Who Owns Tulsa? is a non-partisan citizen's rights coalition endeavoring to increase government accountability, and ensure citizen input by unifying neighborhoods, businesses, churches and other concerned citizens. As partners in the process, Who Owns Tulsa? is committed to identifying solutions that involve all citizens equally."

PLANiTULSA do-over

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Catching up on links to my Urban Tulsa Weekly columns:

Last week I wrote about my experiences as a facilitator and a participant in the PLANiTULSA citywide workshop. It was exciting to see the level of enthusiasm in the room, but I came away feeling somewhat frustrated, and I'm not the only one. In the column, I make several suggestions for taking the ideas generated at the workshops and making them part of an ongoing public conversation about those ideas.

One more workshop is scheduled for the evening of Tuesday, October 28. Over 300 people have already signed up. To register, visit planitulsa.org or phone 918-576-5684.

In the column, I said that we were still awaiting the publication of the full crosstabs and comments from Collective Strength's survey of a thousand Tulsans and in-depth interviews. The survey crosstabs have now been posted in the PLANiTULSA document library. Responses are split up by region of the city, income, race, age, sex, and how long the respondent has lived in Tulsa.

In addition, each question is crosstabbed against whether the respondent feels city leaders understand his or her community's needs. You can see that on the right-hand side of each page. It was interesting to see that question compared to income brackets: While a majority of respondents in each bracket disagreed with the statement, the disagreement was greatest in the $50,000 to $75,000 bracket.

Who Owns Tulsa? is holding its "first annual jam" today (Sunday) to raise funds for their ongoing efforts regarding the Admiral and Yale "apartments." The benefit runs from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Sunset Grill, 5800 S. Lewis Ave., and it features the Wanda Watson Band, Stanky Brown, Salty Dogs, Sheri Booth, and more bands. Here are the details:

Admission is $5 for adults. Children are free. Great prize drawings, $1 donation per ticket. It's an excellent chance to meet your neighbors while enjoying great food and music! We'll have outdoor activities and a Jupiter Jump for the kids! Who Owns Tulsa? T-shirts and protest gear will also be available. 100% of the proceeds will benefit WOT's public awareness campaign and the legal fees necessary to support our continuing fight for neighborhood rights. Please bring a nonperishable canned food good to benefit the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.

For more information visit WhoOwnsTulsa.org.

I attended the second PLANiTULSA workshop this afternoon as a participant (having been a facilitator Monday night). I found the experience exhausting, even a bit frustrating. Even having a clear idea about what to expect from Monday night's session, it was still hard to get all the ideas on the map in the allotted time. Happily, I saw a lot of good ideas that our table missed on other tables' maps.

On my Flickr account, I've posted photos of Monday night and Tuesday afternoon's PLANiTULSA sessions, including closeups of the maps from my tables.

My oldest son and I also attended tonight's speech by Daniel Pipes, sponsored by sixthirtyone, TU's conservative student association and newspaper. The speech was well attended. There were no protesters. Four Tulsa Police officers were there to keep an eye on things.

Pipes's speech, "Vanquishing the Islamist Enemy and Helping the Moderate Muslim Ally," was a clear and concise identification of the enemy in the global war on terror. The enemy isn't terrorism -- terrorism is a tactic. The enemy isn't Islam -- to say so is ahistorical, turns friends into enemies, and leaves the US with no policy options. Pipes pointed out that the current threat is only a few decades old.

The enemy is a terroristic, extreme, totalitarian form of Islam: Islamism, which like Fascism and Communism before it, sees America as an obstacle to its goal of worldwide hegemony.

After the speech my son and I spoke to several of the other attendees and then joined several of the students from sixthirtyone at Kilkenny's. It was a pleasure to get to know these bright and energetic young conservatives. I've asked them to keep me informed about their activities and future dates in their lecture series.

I took video of Pipes's speech and the Q&A, but I'm trying to get it compressed to a reasonable size before uploading it.

Great turnout tonight for the first of three citywide workshops for the PLANiTULSA comprehensive planning process. Every one of the 50 tables seemed to be at capacity.

It was a challenging task to find ways of accommodating Tulsa's share of projected job growth (42,000) and population growth (100,000) over the next 20 years. Each table was given a choice of four chip sets -- four different approaches to accommodating growth -- but from that starting point, tables could swap chips for equivalent numbers of jobs and people, or even choose to add more growth or less growth. Only about 8 tables had the chance to present their plans to the entire group, but all the maps will be digitized and posted.

Table 42 (where I served as facilitator) chose to begin with the "Neighborhood Empowerment" chipset, a moderately dense approach, but got frustrated trying to place all the low-density housing. They chose to trade some of the low-density residential and office development for more dense options, like transit-oriented development and urban districts.

A few lessons learned:

It would have been nice to have more examples of equivalent trades than the few provided. We managed to come up with some new combinations, but doing the math slowed us down a bit. It was easy to figure equivalences for jobs only or population only, but balancing chips that provided both was tricky. (Algebra was involved.)

Several tables designated areas for medical development. There wasn't a chip for that, but our table wanted a medical corridor near the future intersection of the Gilcrease and Tisdale expressways. Another table identified the same need in east Tulsa.

As soon as I can upload photos to Flickr, I'll link to them, so you can see the map Table 42 came up with, as well as action shots of Steven Roemerman presenting his table's map.

Tonight's session is full, but PLANiTULSA has added a second evening workshop on Oct. 28th to accommodate those who want to participate but aren't available during the workday.

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I address some of the concerns raised by members of OK-SAFE (Oklahomans for Sovereignty and Free Enterprise) about PLANiTULSA, the process for developing Tulsa's first comprehensive plan in more than 30 years, and New Urbanism in a column with the title, "Comprehensive Plan or Commie Plot." I also suggest ways that the City Planning Department and the Fregonese Associates team could allay the reasonable concerns that have been expressed about process and transparency.

In the column, I point out two fundamental fallacies at the root of the fears being expressed by groups like OK-SAFE about New Urbanism and about PLANiTULSA. The first is the idea that using the same terminology as an organization (e.g., the United Nations) makes one a minion or a dupe of the organization, totally in line with that group's agenda. That's like the liberal accusation that because we conservatives support states' rights and the 10th Amendment, we are therefore in full agreement with the segregationists who used states' rights to enable racial discrimination.

On OK-SAFE's page about PLANiTULSA and sustainable development, an excerpt from one of my columns about the streets package is headed, "Michael Bates argues Sustainable Development Concepts." Here's the excerpt they published, with their emphasis added:

But taking care of what we have is a more pressing need than building more to take care of. Street widening ought to be considered in connection with matters of urban design and public transit which could reduce the need for wider streets. South Tulsa traffic isn't snarled just because the roads are narrow. Zoning segregates retail from residential, so that every shopping trip requires several miles of driving.

The development patterns so beloved of suburbanites -- cul-de-sacs, residential collector streets, gated communities -- funnels traffic into bottlenecks. The lack of through-residential streets forces local traffic onto arterials. Midtown's
grid disperses traffic efficiently across multiple paths.

In Midtown, you can use neighborhood streets to avoid making a left-hand turn onto or off of an arterial. That's not possible in most of south Tulsa, and nasty old left-turners are a prime cause of traffic delays down south.

Homeowners in south Tulsa have chosen the area's amenities over convenience and ease of travel. Before all of us spend hundreds of millions on street widening in their part of town, south Tulsans should be willing to accept some adjustments to their lifestyle, which may include putting public streets through their gated communities, building mid mile minor arterials (think 15th or Utica in midtown), and allowing neighborhood-scale retail development to connect directly to residential areas.

Fixing what's wrong with south Tulsa is a complex issue, and what to fund ought to be addressed as part of the new Comprehensive Plan.

Note that I don't refer to sustainability anywhere in what I wrote. I'm not saying anything about global warming (and I don't believe in anthropogenic climate change) or even about energy conservation. I'm writing about the impact of development patterns (largely dictated by our zoning code and subdivision regulations) on the carrying capacity of our street network. My observations on the effect of development patterns on street capacity are common sense, and I'd ask the OK-SAFE folks to tell me where those observations are incorrect. It's a simple matter of traffic engineering. The dense grid of streets and half-mile grid of arterials and collector streets in Tulsa's older neighborhoods are far more efficient at dispersing traffic than the tree-like street systems of south Tulsa subdivisions.

Surely fiscal conservatives shouldn't support the idea of developers shifting the cost of their preferred development style onto the rest of us. South Tulsans have decided that the advantages of their chosen place to live outweigh the disadvantages. Why should they expect the other 90% of the city to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars to ease their self-selected traffic problems?

(Of course, in the eyes of some of the OK-SAFE leaders, even though I'm largely in agreement with them on their core issues -- as I note in my column -- I'm already suspect because I think we ought to be in Iraq and ought to win in Iraq, I think we ought to destroy Islamist terror organizations wherever they are, I support whatever Israel wants to do to stop Palestinian terrorists from blowing up my friends' children, and I don't want to see the Republican Party taken over by those who disagree with me on those points.)

The second fallacy is the apparent belief of PLANiTULSA critics that "we currently enjoy untrammeled, unregulated property rights, that our development pattern is the purely the result of market forces, and that this new comprehensive plan is an unprecedented threat to our God-given right to develop our property as we see fit." In the column, I review the roots of the comprehensive plan and zoning code under which we currently live and list some of the governmental regulations and financial incentives that have shaped development patterns over the last half-century.

Some supplemental links:

Bill Kumpe, an attorney who lives near the site of the planned homeless facility at Admiral and Yale, has posted a long and eloquent exposition of the point of view of homeowners in the nearby neighborhoods.

(It's worth reminding: The White City neighborhood gets its name from the White City Dairy farm that preceded the subdivision on that site.)

The older, usually well built and well maintained homes in White City are one of the few places in Tulsa where blue collar, gray collar, white collar and professionals can live in an economically diverse neighborhood and all still stay within the economic goal of paying no more than a third of their total household income for housing including maintenance, utilities, necessary upgrades, etc. It is an old fashioned mixed class, mixed income neighborhood that should be the model for future developments instead of the dumping ground for city problems....

At its most basic, the proposed Admiral and Yale homeless shelter appears to be a giant rip off to the average White City resident. Joe Sixpack, Susan Secretary and Ernie Engineer see nothing more than an attempt to handle a downtown problem by exporting it to their neighborhood. Combine that with the fact that the proposed downtown "baseball" trust is aggressively trying to control the property values and development around THEIR investment and the whole deal appears profoundly hypocritical. The downtown elites are using all of their political and legal power to prevent the very type of development risk that THEY THEMSELVES are forcing down the throats of the White City residents. Taken at its most basic they are saying that their for-profit investment in a ball park deserves the city's protection while the White City residents investment in their homes does not....

Taking the homeless from a place where they were within walking distance of all their needed services and placing them in another where they are miles away on an infrequently served bus route doesn't make much sense at all. As a matter of fact, to Joe and Susan and Ernie it seems like a formula for having a lot of people walking through their neighborhoods and hanging around the neighborhood bus stops and parks....

We've been told that this facility is intended to help mainstream the mentally ill into normal society. Bill's neighborhood, bordering White City, has seen the impact of "mainstreaming" firsthand:

After several years, the "mainstreamed" neighbor is still there. But, the previously occupied homes on both sides of his are boarded up as is the previously occupied home one house down on one side. The home next to the boarded up home on the other side sold at one point on a contract for deed but the buyer cancelled after a few weeks because of the problems with the "mainstreamed" neighbor. It became a Section 8 rental unit. One of the houses across the street went vacant after the young couple who lived there couldn't take it anymore. They tried for months to sell their home with no luck. It is now a rental unit. That's five homes whose values have been severely degraded due to one property. The character of the whole neighborhood changed. And, it's not as though the homeowners were passive. Far from it. Over the years, there were at least fifty calls to the police. Many of them went unanswered. There were petitions to the police department and DA which resulted in no determinative action. The fire department answered dozens of calls about trash fires and made arrests for illegal burning more than once....

Unless their aim is to drive everyone who can afford it to move to the suburbs, our city leaders need to understand the perspective of residents of neighborhoods like those around Admiral and Yale.

In addition to all the writing I did for BatesLine during the Republican National Convention, I managed to turn out three pieces for this week's issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly:

The cover story about the upcoming PLANiTULSA citywide planning workshops. The folks at the City of Tulsa Planning Department and Fregonese Associates were very helpful as I put this story together. I had a copy not only of the publicity materials but the instructions for the facilitators -- the volunteers at each table who answer questions and keep the mapping process on pace to finish within the alloted time. From those instructions, I tried to put together a vivid description of what workshop participants will experience. My feeling is that the more you know about what will happen, the better prepared you'll be to participate fully and advocate effectively for your ideas for Tulsa's future.

I spoke to Theron Warlick, one of the City of Tulsa planners assigned to PLANiTULSA, and he told me that about 500 people had already signed up, with about a week and a half to go. Mayor Bill LaFortune's 2002 Vision Summit drew about 1100.

If you haven't signed up yet, visit PLANiTULSA.org and register online.

Also this week, I have a story about the the Republican National Convention as seen through the eyes of Tulsans who attended the convention.

The week before, I spoke to Jackie Tomsovic, a first-time delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, and covered the surprising political resurrection of former Gov. David Walters, co-chairman of the Democrats' convention rules committee.

My column this week relates both to St. Paul and to planning. During my visit, I tried to learn what I could about how the city handles planning and zoning, river development, downtown, and affordable housing. I wound up with far more material than I could use on all of the above topics. I chose to focus on the way St. Paul connects citizens and neighborhoods with city government, using 19 independent, non-profit "district planning councils."

MORE: Here's a video of planner John Fregonese's presentation at the TulsaNow forum on July 15. He speaks about planning concepts, demographic trends, and the results of the planning team's survey of a thousand Tulsans.

(The embedded video was making this page load slowly, so if you want to watch it, visit the PLANiTULSA channel on blip.tv.)

This morning during the Tulsa City Council's Urban and Economic Development meeting, there was some discussion about whether the housing for the mentally ill and homeless, proposed by the Tulsa Housing Authority and the Mental Health Association of Tulsa, was correctly classified for zoning and land use purposes.

When you apply for a building permit, the City's building services department determines whether your plans comply with the setback, height, floor area, and use restrictions set out in the zoning code. If your plans aren't in compliance, you can tweak your plans, appeal to the Board of Adjustment if you believe you really are compliant, or apply for a variance if you know you aren't. (A variance can be granted for height, floor area, etc., but state law prohibits a BoA from granting a use variance.)

Land uses are categorized by the zoning code into 30 categories, called use units. A table shows which use units are allowed by right in a given zone, and which use units require a special exception from the Board of Adjustment.

Use Unit 8, Multifamily dwellings and similar uses, includes apartment, assisted living facility, and community group home.

The land in question is zoned CH -- Commercial High Intensity. By right -- no special zoning permission required -- land uses included in Use Unit 8 are allowed in CH.

So what's the issue? There is a special restriction that doesn't apply to ordinary apartments or multifamily dwellings in CH zoning, but it does apply to assisted living facilities, community group homes, and convents. The floor area ratio for those facilities can be no greater than 0.5.

Floor area ratio is a limit on how big a building you can put on a lot of a certain size. You calculate floor area by adding up the square footage on each floor of the building. If you have a four story building with 20,000 sq. ft. on each floor, the building's floor area is 80,000 sq. ft.

You calculate floor area ratio by dividing the building's floor area by the lot's area. A building with a floor area of 80,000 sq. ft. on a 100,000 sq. ft. parcel would have a floor area ratio of 80,000 / 100,000 = 0.8. That's OK for a normal apartment building in CH zoning, but it's too high for an assisted living facility or community group home in any zone.

I don't have the numbers on how big the facility will be and how big the lot is -- perhaps a reader has that information. But it may be that the building would violate the 0.5 floor area requirement. How the City classifies the use of the proposed building will determine whether the facility can be built there as a matter of right at its proposed size, or whether it will have to be scaled back.

From the Tulsa Preservation Commission blog:

Please join us Wednesday, August 27th for a Community Workshop to shape and evaluate Tulsa's Historic Preservation Strategy.

This public workshop will be from 5:30 - 7:30pm in the new City Hall, 175 E. 2nd Street, 10th Floor South conference room (map it). On-street parking at meters is free after business hours. Please use the 2nd Street entrance.

Your insights and vision for preserving and enhancing the historic character of Tulsa would be appreciated. We hope to see you there!

For more information, call 918-576-5669. Please feel free to share this invitation with your friends and colleagues.

With the comprehensive plan update underway and national attention on Tulsa's historic assets, thanks to the upcoming National Preservation Conference being held here in October, this may be the moment to make preservation a priority in Tulsa.

RELATED:

Steve Patterson reports that a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation is joining the City of St. Louis and the State of Missouri in a SLAPP suit against two preservation activists who filed lawsuits in an effort to save a 100-year-old building in downtown St. Louis.

The last time someone tried to rezone the southeast corner of 41st & Harvard, for a Wal-Mart neighborhood market and gas station, the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission approved the application by a slim margin, and the Tulsa City Council turned it down by an 8-1 vote, with only David Patrick voting in favor. Patrick lost a Democratic primary election to Roscoe Turner shortly thereafter.

Now Patrick is back on the Council and developers' attorney Charles Norman is back with a new application for developing that corner, where there are two houses and a vacant field used as a Christmas tree lot each winter. It is a two-fold application -- a request to rezone some multifamily residential (RM-2) and light office (OL) areas to commercial (CS) and a Planned Unit Development, which rearranges the permitted uses for a larger area, currently zoned CS at the corner, surrounded by OL, RM-2, and RS-1 (very low density residential). It's on the August 20, 2008, TMAPC agenda.

A PUD allows mixing and rearranging different kinds of zoning, but you have to work with the zoning that exists. That's the reason for seeking the rezoning as well as the PUD; the developers need more CS-zoned area to accommodate their commercial buildings. Currently only about 1/16th of the land is zoned CS. The development is described as mixed use, but it seems to be entirely commercial.

Nearly half the land in the PUD is zoned RS-1. How will they use the RS-1 land that they rearrange? They'll use it for parking and landscaping. In Tulsa, a PUD allows a developer to take a small piece of commercially-zoned land and turn it into a much larger commercial development.

The INCOG staff's analysis acknowledges that this proposed development is NOT in accord with the Comprehensive Plan, which designates part of the area for medium-intensity residential and part for low-intensity residential.

The new development involves four smaller buildings, rather than one big store. The PUD application says that only the building closest to 41st and Harvard will be an all-night operation -- a drug store. The three buildings nearer the surrounding property will have to be closed between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

I have not heard whether the neighborhood groups which opposed the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market will also oppose this development.

Ruth Kaiser Nelson was, for all practical purposes, my first Latin teacher. When I was an eighth-grader, our scheduled teacher, Bill Bippus, took a semester's leave of absence, and Mrs. Nelson taught us instead. Because the class occurred during the girls' PE period, it was an all-boy class, and Mrs. Nelson, the mother of three boys and a girl, did a fine job of keeping us in line, but also keeping us amused, and giving us a good start in the language.

I'm sure Mrs. Nelson is familiar with this sententia sapiens: Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi. Literally, it means, "What is permitted to Jupiter is not permitted to the ox." It is a justification for double standards for the wealthy and connected versus the hoi polloi. The standards which apply to the commoner should not bind the plutocrat.

At Thursday night's City Council meeting, homeowners from the neighborhoods near Admiral and Yale came to protest the location of a 76-unit home for the chronically homeless, some of whom are currently housed at the downtown YMCA, some of whom are mentally ill. The large apartment building is part of the Building Tulsa Building Lives (BTBL) initiative. The Ruth K. Nelson Revocable Trust is listed as one of the initiative's principal partners, along with the George Kaiser Family Foundation (Mr. Kaiser and Mrs. Nelson are siblings), and the Tulsa Housing Authority, a public trust of which Mrs. Nelson is the chairman.

According to the Tulsa World report, Mrs. Nelson characterized the concerns of neighboring homeowners as typical NIMBYism:

Neighbors typically have a "not in my backyard" response, she said.

"If we were to move all of these facilities to places where no one would protest, they would be in the middle of nowhere," she said.

"Isolated people would not have the opportunity to rebuild their lives and become productive members of society."

The site was selected because it is relatively close to downtown, where many social service agencies are located, is next to a bus route and has stores nearby that residents can walk to, Nelson said.

The concern for isolation is touching, but she is making these people more isolated than they already are. At the Y, they are downtown, "where many social service agencies are located." She's moving them four miles from those services on the west side of downtown.

At the Y, they live a block away from a bus station that gives them access to 20 bus lines which will take them directly to shopping, jobs, doctors, parks, and services without needing to transfer. Four of those lines provide night time service to hospitals and schools for shift work and night classes. She wants them to live where they'll have only a single bus line, and they'll have to wait around and transfer at the downtown bus station to get anywhere else in the city. They won't have any access to nighttime service.

At the Downtown Y, they have the library and the County Courthouse across the street and the State Office Building and a hospital just a few blocks further west. Riverparks is about a mile to the south. There are a half dozen churches downtown. Social service agencies are just a few blocks north. There aren't any groceries nearby, but there are a few convenience stores not too far away, there are many nearby places to eat, at least at breakfast and lunchtime, and the bus can take them to their choice of grocery stores. They won't even have to walk far to see the Eagles or Celine Dion at the BOK Center. walkscore.com gives the location a rating of 89 -- "very walkable."

At Yale and Admiral, there is a Sonic across the street, a nearby QuikTrip, and it's about three-quarters of a mile to the Piggly Wiggly. The nearest library is in Maxwell Park, about a mile away, and it's only a small branch in the middle of a neighborhood. There's a bar just two blocks away, right across the street from a plasma center. Dong's Gun Store is about six blocks away -- handy for those who are hearing voices in their heads.There are a few churches down Yale. 10 S. Yale has a walkscore.com rating of 45 -- "car dependent."

Moving residents of the Downtown Y to Admiral and Yale will make them more isolated than they are now, not less. So why are these mentally ill, semi-homeless people really being moved out of downtown? Because downtown property owners and the BOK Center management and Downtown Tulsa Unlimited are NIMBYs. They don't want these people in their backyard. They even say so on their "Building Tulsa, Building Lives" website:

The opening of the BOK Center and other Vision 2025 projects are important components in securing the economic future of downtown Tulsa. But before downtown can become the vibrant destination it has the potential to be, developers and investors must be assured of its inviting and family-friendly environment.

Eliminating homelessness will attract further development and investment to downtown.

But it's OK for George Kaiser and Jim Norton and Kathy Taylor and Twenty-First Properties and SMG to be NIMBYs. If your place cost $200 million, you're allowed to say, "There goes the neighborhood," even if that $200 million came mostly from the taxpayers. If you have a nice little 1,000 sq. ft., $60,000 house, that you paid for yourself you're not allowed to say that. You know: Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.

(What's funny is that the neighbors that seem to be a problem for the BOK Center were there before the site was selected for the BOK Center. A number of us pointed out that between the jail, the bail bondsmen, the homeless shelters, the Y, the Sheriff's Office, and the Courthouse wasn't the smartest location for the arena -- maybe they should put it closer to existing entertainment districts on the other side of downtown -- but someone with influence has land along Denver just north of the south leg of the IDL, so that's where the arena went. Is it fair to be a NIMBY about neighbors who were there before you moved in?

According to the World, "After listening to the protests, Councilor John Eagleton said people can try to push such a project out of their neighborhood out of fear, but that doesn't make it right." Shouldn't he have been saying that to the downtown interests who want to clear the homeless out of downtown?)

The residents who spoke at the meeting were treated with a great deal of condescension. They were told that their fears were unfounded, abhorrent even, a sign of moral inferiority. The residents of this new facility will not pose a threat to their safety or their property values, thanks to new programs and new methods for helping these people become productive citizens again.

But if these new programs and methods are so effective, wouldn't they work just as well in a remodeled facility downtown, with the added bonus of keeping these people in familiar surroundings and connected to job opportunities and services and transportation? The fact that Mrs. Nelson and her brother and DTU and Mayor Taylor and SMG are so anxious to get these people away from downtown suggests that they don't really believe in the efficacy of their methods.

And the argument about having to demolish the Y residence doesn't hold any water. I suspect they could add sprinklers and remodel the building to meet fire code for much less than the $17 million in private pledges and state grants that they're spending on the Admiral and Yale facility.

But BTBL backers don't have to be consistent or logical or reasonable to get their way with city government, and they can be NIMBYs if they want to: Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.

Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi works with exclusive negotiating periods, too.

If you're Kathy Taylor, of course you should expect Tulsa Drillers owner Chuck Lamson to honor his exclusive negotiating period with the city, and even to extend it if need be. I'm sure she'd be teary and outraged if Lamson had terminated the exclusive negotiations a month early to go flirt with Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland again. But how dare lowly entrepreneur Will Wilkins expect the Tulsa Development Authority to honor their commitment to an exclusive negotiating period! How dare he rally public support to try to prevent the TDA from breaking their word! Only wealthy and connected and powerful people have a right to expect such commitments to be honored.

(From the World: "Exclusive negotiations preclude the team from entertaining other offers...." Not if you're the TDA, they don't.)

Quod licet Jovi, non licet bovi.

But that's an ancient pagan thought. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob insists on a single standard for all:

You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.

MORE: David Schuttler says that Councilor Eric Gomez's comparison of the Treepoint Apartments in his neighborhood to the proposed I-244 and Yale facility is apples and oranges.

Tonight (Thursday, August 7) the Tulsa City Council will reconsider a resolution it passed last week. The resolution, jointly issued with the Tulsa Housing Authority dealt with four lots on the west side of Yale between Admiral Place and I-244, declaring it to be "in the public interest" for TDA to develop the property as part of the "Building Tulsa Building Lives" initiative. Here's the text:

JOINT RESOLUTION

A JOINT RESOLUTION OF THE CITY OF TULSA AND THE HOUSING AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF TULSA (THA), DECLARING THE DEVELOPMENT OF 10 SOUTH YALE, TULSA, OKLAHOMA, BY THA AS PART OF THE "BUILDING TULSA BUILDING LIVES" INITIATIVE TO BE IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST.

WHEREAS, pursuant to 63 O.S., § 1061(b), a joint public hearing was held on July 31, 2008, by the Housing Authority of the City of Tulsa (THA) and the City Council of the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, to consider new development on the collective properties known as 10 South Yale, Tulsa, Oklahoma; and

WHEREAS, at such public hearing it was determined by a majority of the members of both THA and the City Council that such development is in the public interest.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the Housing Authority of the City of Tulsa that it is in the public interest for the Housing Authority of the City of Tulsa, as part of the "Building Tulsa Building Lives" initiative, to develop the collective properties known as 10 South Yale, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Building Tulsa, Building Lives is an initiative to address homelessness. The website's home page says this:

When homelessness became an issue in the late '70s, the accepted treatments were shelters and meals. And Tulsa provided. But new research points to a new approach - one that manages the symptoms of homelessness more effectively and may be the answer to virtually ending chronic homelessness altogether.

Note the word "chronic" -- this isn't about people who are temporarily in straitened circumstances, but troubled people -- mostly men -- who by reason of mental illness or addiction can't function in a society that requires a degree of personal responsibility. Some of these people want to be helped, and organizations like John 3:16 Mission work to rebuild their lives. Other organizations simply provide food and shelter without no strings attached. Some homeless people aren't allowed in the shelters because they won't follow rules or because they may be a danger to others.

Some of the people we're talking about aren't really homeless. They're what an earlier time called transients. They have a home, but they don't need or want something that they have to take care of. They just need an inexpensive place to sleep and keep their things. There used to be accommodations that catered to them -- bedsits, single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels -- a cheap place to sleep, maybe a sink in the room, and a bathroom down the hall. Such places used to be plentiful in downtown. The Downtown YMCA is about the only place left like that, and it's inconveniently close to the BOK Center. It's slated to close by 2010, in part because of new fire regulations that would require expensive renovations to the building. Here's what will replace the Y:

The program would provide a basic housing unit to each chronically homeless person and then surround that person with support services to work on personal issues. Housing would be provided with no strings attached.

The 52-year-old downtown YMCA, 515 S. Denver Ave., has 168 housing units. About 140 men, many of whom have been homeless or trapped in a cycle of chronic homelessness, now live there.

The Zarrow Families Foundation has provided funding for a full-time caseworker at the YMCA to locate housing options for the residents.

The Mental Health Association in Tulsa has been leasing a floor at the YMCA building to provide 25 units in its Safe Haven housing program.

Executive Director Mike Brose said the association is looking for other housing options, adding that "the closing provides the community an opportunity.

"That opportunity means finding ways to replace those units with housing that is not overly congregated -- more scattered sites and that will work much better and be more appropriate for individuals who stay there," he said.

The "Building Tulsa" page reveals a key piece of the agenda:

The opening of the BOK Center and other Vision 2025 projects are important components in securing the economic future of downtown Tulsa. But before downtown can become the vibrant destination it has the potential to be, developers and investors must be assured of its inviting and family-friendly environment.

Eliminating homelessness will attract further development and investment to downtown.

In other words, get the aggressive panhandlers and other unsightly vagrants out of sight, so that people won't be deterred from coming downtown.

I'm not sure what Tulsa Housing Authority plans for I-244 and Yale, except that it's intended to serve the "chronic homeless." I'm not sure the City Council knew what they were being asked to vote on last week.

Because there was no zoning change, there was no public notice to surrounding property owners. I understand the desire to clear vagrants out of downtown, but putting them next to three residential neighborhoods isn't good for the surrounding neighborhoods or for the vagrants, who need access to social services and the bus network. It also seems to be a non-strategic use of one of the interstate gateways to Expo Square -- visitors coming to Expo Square from east and north of Tulsa or from the airport take I-244 to Yale.

We need to support those who are providing help to those who can't cope with daily life, but when a public body like THA is involved, we need to have full public disclosure and debate of what help is provided and where.

Tulsa's EKG

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This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly concerns the survey of 1000 Tulsans for PLANiTULSA, the effort to develop Tulsa's first comprehensive plan in over 30 years.

Collective Strength conducted in-depth interviews with 90 civic leaders (including me) and then a lengthy survey by telephone with 1,000 Tulsans. Here is a link to the "pre-final" summary of the research, presented last month by Collective Strength's Robin Rather. That document includes summary crosstabs by region and by race for many of the questions. Full crosstabs are due to be posted later in August.

Here's one highlight from the column:

Despite the broad agreement over priorities, the survey revealed a widespread perception of a disconnect between leaders and citizens. These problems were felt most keenly in north, east, and west Tulsa.

"City leaders in Tulsa understand my community's needs." Fifty-two percent of Midtowners and 48 percent of south Tulsans agreed with that statement, but only 27 percent of Northsiders and Westsiders did. Citywide, the statement polled 39 percent agreement, a stunning statement of no confidence in city leadership.

"I do not feel included in the planning process. People like me are always left out." Majorities agreed in north (59 percent), east (52 percent), and west Tulsa (51 percent). Fewer than a third of Midtowners (32 percent) and Southies (31 percent) agreed. Sixty percent of non-whites agreed, versus 38 percent of whites. Forty-four percent was the overall total.

"I'm concerned the plan will be too influenced by those who have a lot of money." Seventy percent of Tulsans agreed with that statement, which received strongest support from Northsiders (80 percent), Westsiders (74 percent), and Eastsiders (71 percent). The statement received a lower level, but still a majority, of support in south Tulsa and Midtown--about 60 percent.

The gap between Midtown and south Tulsa on the one hand and north, west and east Tulsa is not surprising. Maps of election results showing support for various tax increases, of where appointees to city boards and commissions live, and of those selected to the PLANiTULSA Advisers and Partners reveal a common pattern.

I've labeled it the "Money Belt"--a band of Tulsa's wealthiest neighborhoods running south-southeast from downtown through Maple Ridge, Utica Square, and Southern Hills then fanning out into the gated communities of south Tulsa.

It's unfortunate that survey responses were classified by zip code only. It would have been interesting to see responses by square mile or by precinct to see if the Money Belt pattern held up.

How to plug north, east, and west Tulsa into the city's collective decision-making process, how we create an infrastructure for civic dialogue is something that will need to be addressed as the planning process moves forward.

Rather called the skepticism about carrying out the plan "pervasive." It came up both in the in-depth interviews and in the broader survey polling. She said, "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."

Rather characterized what she was hearing from Tulsans about the planning: "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." She urged action to ensure that this plan has a real chance to avoid that fate.

Maybe the most hopeful sign was that there was near-unanimous agreement with this statement: "Assuming people like me participate in the plan and the plan is carried out fairly by the city, I think Tulsa will change for the better as a result of it." Ninety-one percent of Tulsans concurred, with no significant variation across the city.

But there are two very big assumptions in that statement.

Be sure to read the whole thing.

By the way, the Urban Tulsa archives are offline for some reason and have been for about a week. Whatever it was that used to point from the new server back to the old server is broken. Hopefully, that will be fixed soon.

MORE: In the comments, S. Lee makes his point with a memorable metaphor:

The reason various parts of town feel left out is because they are (duh!). The problem with these "plans" is there isn't enough money to do spiffy projects all over the city. So, depending on who is in charge, their favorite part of the city gets the attention. A bundle of money gets dumped into a fraction of a percent of the city while the rest gets to put up with continued neglect of the fundamentals -- roads, crime, schools. The expensive projects are the equivalent of putting a truly lovely picnic table in the middle of a 40 acre pasture full of waist high weeds and cow manure. Most people would gladly forego the gorgeous picnic table if the pasture were kept mowed and reasonably free of manure. There's too much preoccupation with the latest "progressive" picnic table, and not enough mowing and scooping.

There's an exciting lakeside community planned for Oklahoma, unlike anything in the state, but hopefully a model for many more to come. New urbanist city planner Andres Duany has been hired by former Oklahoma City mayor Kirk Humphries to plan Carlton Landing on 1600 acres beside Lake Eufaula. The result of a design charrette -- a kind of brainstorming session -- was presented earlier this week in Oklahoma City.

Duany planned the Gulf Coast town of Seaside, Fla., turning that tiny piece of the Redneck Riviera into a popular resort town and generating similar developments all along that stretch of the Florida Panhandle's shore.

As Seaside was, Carlton Landing is family-owned land that has never been developed.

Instead of the usual resort community pattern of only residences along winding roads, Carlton Landing will have a heart, right on the shore, with shops, dining, recreation facilities, and even a chapel. The 1600 acres will be home to about 2500 people -- not high density, but more dense than a typical lakeside development. Duany has almost complete freedom to set design and development standards -- there are no existing land use rules to work around.

From a fleeting glimpse of a map in this slideshow from the charrette (about 2:14 into the video), it appears the Carlton Landing property is centered around the marker on this map:


View Larger Map

I've had my differences with Kirk Humphries, but I admire him for doing something different and daring with this land. Instead of, say, asking taxpayers to spend $600 million create a vibrant community out of the middle of a river, he's making it happen with his own money and land. A couple of years ago I suggested that the folks behind the Channels could do the same thing right here in Tulsa:

Tulsa Stakeholders, Inc., (TSI), the group led by John-Kelly Warren of the Warren Foundation which is proposing The Channels development, has a commendable desire to create a thriving, pedestrian-friendly urban place in Tulsa. So instead of asking the taxpayers to spend $600 million to build three tiny islands on which a walkable community can be built, why doesn't TSI create or restore a walkable community on land that already exists, and thus encourage the creation of this kind of neighborhood all over Tulsa?

(It may be cheeky for me to tell TSI what to do with their money, but since they're telling us taxpayers what we should do with ours, turnabout is fair play.)

TSI could demonstrate that traditional neighborhood development will succeed, even in car-bound Tulsa. They could use their deep pockets and risk tolerance to blaze a trail for more risk-averse conventional developers.

Building a traditional mixed-use neighborhood on taxpayer-subsidized islands would send the message that such developments are too fragile to survive in the free market.

Building or restoring the same kind of neighborhood with private money on private land would set an example that other developers could follow with confidence.

There are many opportunities for TSI to do pioneering work in this area. They could build a New Urbanist community on undeveloped land somewhere in the metro area. They could incorporate walkability and mixed use into the Warren Foundation's own developments (e.g. the Montereau retirement community).

TSI could do some of the exciting infill development recommended by the East Tulsa Community Plan (http://www.cityoftulsa.org/Community/Revitalization/EastTulsa.asp), helping to knit together a lively international district and creating a walkable center for a vast swath of car-bound suburbia.

Perhaps the most strategic investment TSI could make would be in the Pearl District (aka the 6th Street Corridor); on the charitable side, its assistance could fund implementation of the stormwater project for the three-square-mile Elm Creek basin.

This would take land out of the floodplain, making restoration and infill practical. Full public funding for the plan--about $35 million to create stormwater detention ponds and to link one of them to Centennial Park by a canal--is at least a decade away.

Fixing Elm Creek not only helps 6th Street, but it would improve drainage in the Gunboat Park and 18th and Boston areas. (Elm Creek flows underground through both neighborhoods, emptying into the Arkansas River at 21st Street.)

On the private side, it could set an example for other developers by doing some quality infill development and restoration in accordance with the Pearl District Infill Plan (http://www.cityoftulsa.org/Community/Revitalization/6thStreet.asp). No need to use condemnation to assemble vast tracts of land--restore some existing buildings to their former glory, or build new brownstones on already vacant lots.

TSI's leadership would make it safe, maybe even fashionable, for other investors to get involved in the district and to create walkable places in other parts of the metro area.

The revival of the Pearl District would strategically patch a hole in Tulsa's original urban fabric, reconnecting centers of activity--downtown, Cherry Street, Kendall-Whittier, TU, and the Utica medical corridor--which are quite close to each other but which now seem miles apart. And it would make it possible for more Tulsans to make walking a part of daily life, not a specially scheduled activity.

Through private action to create or restore a walkable neighborhood, TSI would send the message, "Come on in, the water's fine," to Tulsa's developers. It might not be as splashy as islands in the river, but such a project would create ripples that would spread far beyond the riverbank, making all parts of our metro area healthier, livelier, and more attractive as a place to live, work, and play.

One lot at a time

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Steve Patterson of Urban Review STL suggests an alternative to the failure of downtown redevelopment projects to get off the ground:

Acres and acres sit idle on the edges of downtown awaiting promised new development. On the South edge we have Ballpark Village and just North of America's Center and the Edward Jones Dome we have the Bottleworks District. Both have made news over the past few years, lately for not going anywhere....

The surrounding blocks could have been developed without taking this one block from the owner. But assembling larger and larger tracts for larger and larger projects is what proponents say must be done to get development. Judging from the broken sidewalks and vacant blocks of land think perhaps it is high time we questioned this practice.

Granted creating the ideal urban building on a single narrow parcel surrounded by vacant blocks is going to be an island for a long time. Development does have to be large enough to build both excitement and a sustainable level of visitors.

An alternative to the single developer mega-project is to create a zoning overlay district that outlines the urban design qualities that future buildings must have. This allows different property owners to participate in the redevelopment. It also allows the business owner to build their own structure without being tied up in an increasingly complicated and difficult process of financing the mega-project.

This city was built one building at a time -- each fitting into the grid. I think we need to return to such a scale to finish filling in the gaps in our urban fabric.

Here in Tulsa, the "donors" for the proposed downtown ballpark want to monopolize the surrounding land, squeezing out a small, local development company that had already been working with the TDA on the half-block northwest of Archer and Elgin. With enforced design guidelines for new downtown development, you could have multiple developers and the result would be a diverse but harmonious whole, likely more interesting and enduring than any project a single developer would put together.

As Steve Patterson says, "This city was built one building at a time." A healthy downtown, self-sustaining over the long haul, will be rebuilt and restored the same way.

Over the last month, the Austin-based opinion research firm Collective Strength has been polling Tulsans, conducting in-depth interviews with about 90 civic leaders and elected officials and then did a thousand-person telephone poll, using U. S. Census data to stratify the results. The aim was to create a "values framework" for the Comprehensive Plan process -- to find out what Tulsans of all areas, races, and income levels are worried about and what their priorities are for the city, and to use that information to be sure that there isn't a disconnect between the concerns of Tulsans and the outcome of the planning process.

A "prefinal" version of the research presentation has been released. The PLANiTULSA prefinal research presentation, a 204 KB, 48-page PDF, includes both the Powerpoint slides and the notes, which includes some of the "crosstabs" -- how respondents in different parts of town and of different races answered the questions. There are a lot of specifics I'd like to bring to your attention, but for now, I just want to make it available for you to peruse. Later this month, we should see a full data dump released to the public.

On Tuesday morning, KFAQ's Pat Campbell interviewed Collective Strength's Robin Rather about the results of her polling. It's an informative interview: Pat asks great questions, and Robin has solid answers, presenting a good summary of the most important findings from the survey. They discuss the highest priorities -- the consensus over a "basic services agenda," starting with streets -- and the recurring concerns about the disconnect between ordinary Tulsans and our leaders and about the dominance of wealthy and powerful interests in local decision-making. It's also interesting to hear Pat and Robin exchange personal observations about Tulsa, as both of them are new to the city.

After I heard Robin's presentation of her preliminary findings last month, I borrowed a dental metaphor head planner John Fregonese used and wrote in my June 25 column, "Rather is tapping Tulsa's teeth, and her probing has hit several sore spots."

I hope Tulsans will use these findings as the starting point for some honest community dialogue. I'm concerned because I'm already hearing that city officials are asking the planning team to downplay the widely-held concerns that the wealthy and powerful will wield too much influence over the plan and its implementation. I've been told that local officials wanted to downplay the poll result that Arkansas River development was a high priority for only 31% of those polled. (In north and east Tulsa, it polled as a high priority for 22% and 20% respectively.)

I didn't catch this, but someone told me that at last night's TulsaNow event, Fregonese glossed over the final two "worries" about the disproportionate influence of the wealthy and about Tulsa's leaders being out of touch with the needs of the citizens. This same person said he inquired of a city employee about this and was told that there was concern that raising these issues would "open Pandora's box."

It's about time we did.

After the jump, a few key summary slides from early in the presentation:

Thursday night the Tulsa City Council will consider a rezoning application for a block-sized, four-story apartment building at 39th and Rockford, in the area designated as residential in the Brookside Infill Plan, which has been incorporated into the City's Comprehensive Plan.

(This should be a link to the Council's "backup packet" for the Bomasada rezoning, but it's not. This is the second time a link from the Council's online agenda has led to the wrong material on this particular item -- it happened when the zoning request appeared before the Council Urban and Economic Development Committee. We need legislation that gives online public information the same importance as info posted on the bulletin board outside City Hall or in the legal notices in the paper. If the complete information isn't posted, the agenda item can't move ahead.. As it is, it's too easy to conveniently make a mistake and avoid making public info as available as it should be.)

My "op/ed extra" column this week in Urban Tulsa Weekly was about the proposed apartment superblock, which is a test of the Council's willingness to adhere to the Brookside plan and the credibility of all citizen participation in land-use planning, a salient question as we approach citywide planning workshops in September for our new Comprehensive Plan:

Whether you live in Brookside or not, all Tulsa property owners have a stake in the outcome, as it will show whether this City Council will stick with or set aside the development standards that were negotiated by homeowners, business owners, and developers and formally adopted by the city. Consistent application of the rules is the issue at hand....

In conducting in-depth interviews for Tulsa's new comprehensive planning effort, the public opinion research firm Collective Strength found a recurring theme: "Fatalism about lack of zoning and code enforcement and special favors for the wealthy." Approval of this development would only reinforce that well-founded cynicism and would undermine optimism that a new comprehensive plan would be fairly applied to all.

Brookside plan participants put in a great deal of time and effort. To set the product of that effort aside will chill enthusiasm for participating in future planning efforts. If all that negotiation and compromise comes to nothing, if the developer is always going to get his way, why bother?...

The ripples from their decision will extend far beyond Brookside. The new comprehensive planning effort, PLANiTULSA, will have its first public workshops in September.

If the council shows respect for the Brookside planning process by voting down the Bomasada development, it will signal to the public that they can have a positive and long-lasting impact by participating in PLANiTULSA.

If they set the Brookside plan aside for the developers, it will feed public cynicism about public land use planning and discourage participation from the very activists who have the most insight to contribute to the new plan.

Choose wisely, Councilors.

Brookside neighborhood advocate Laura Collins sets out the sound planning case against the Bomasada development. (I've added emphasis here and there.)

TO THE COUNCIL: The Village of Brookside Neighbors immediately surrounding 39th and Rockford, as well as Brooksiders in the area and other citizens of Tulsa who are friends of Brookside and have an interest in the precedent this proposal presents are in support of redevelopment as long as it is appropriate to the individual neighborhood. The Brookside Infill Task Force Redevelopment Restrictions specify the scale, rhythm, height and (width) open space requirements for redevelopment. We welcome Bomasada to present a design of dwelling which is compatible with these guidelines. Some would like to portray us as "anti-progress" or "against development". Nothing could be further from the truth. We have watched the subject property continue to decline under the ownership of Perry Properties and have wondered why the city, if feeling now that it is such a "blight" -- as was described by Roy Johnson and at least two of the TMAPC panelists during the May 21st hearing ----- which lasted nearly 10 hours!

POINTS OF CONCERN AND FACT:

  • The neighborhood infill restriction on height, for example is 35 feet. Bomasada asked for and recieved a variance on height of 48 feet, with a maximum of 49' 4" additional height in order to 'screen A/C units on roof". On the Rockford side, which they claim will be 35 feet, they were granted a setback variance of 16 feet (from the street) and an additional 3' 8" in height -- again for hiding the A/C units on roof. Why such a difference in additional height the two requests? Is the setback measured from the curb or the centerline? This would make the building way too close to the homes across the street. What is the city average or guideline for setbacks? How can a building this mammoth in scale look 'in scale' with the homes near it so close to the street?
  • Additionally, the Brookside Infill Plan clearly states that "monolithic forms that dominate area or disrupt vision should be avoided". This particular design chosen for Brookside is a clear example of everything the task force was attempting to prevent from being placed in Brookside . Again, how can this type of design look as though it is harmoniously 'in scale' with the one story homes across the street from it to the east?

1. Bomasada has numerous design models to choose from.... Our neighborhood association and petition group were not asked which design we felt fit our neighborhood. Bomasada V.P. chose it for us. It does not conform to the Infill Task Force Plan's restrictions on: Density, Scale, Open Space or Height. Most notably, it is a solid 'wall' of construction with very little if any visual break and negative space or green space as seen from the renderings provided us by the developer.

2. The infrastructure will not support this development without improvements. Will the city do this work now / during the development's construction or after the development has been in place? What is the cost to the city?

3. Are sidewalks planned around the perimeter of the property by the developer? Or are we really going to let them off the hook with a nominal waiver fee and make the city do it ten years from now? The neighbors do not want to wait 5-10 years for a sidewalk to be REPLACED.

4. Parking for the apartment -- for guests. At last hearing, they are providing 25-57 guest parking spaces for a 240 one and two bedroom apartments on three heavily traveled streets. Will parking be allowed on 39th or Rockford for guests? We hope not, as it will not be conducive to pedestrian safety.

5. Traffic study was not completed. How can we build without a plan for impact on neighboring streets and residential safety? Children walk to school (Eliot) and catch buses there -- while Rockford is already a busy street when school is open. What precautions will the city take to ensure the safety of neighborhood children? 4-way stops? Traffic signal at 41st and Rockford? Speed humps on Rockford? 39th? More police to catch speeders and stop sign runners?

6. Flood plain and environmental impact. Can we count on the city and the developer to avoid any increased stress on our storm water and sewer systems? Are they separate or combined systems?

7. Pedestrian-friendly access on and off the apartment property for the tenants into the Old Village Shopping Center? If not, why not? These are young professionals you are marketing to. Many of them will no doubt have bicycles and want this amenity.

8. We are generally disappointed with the lack of communication and respect shown us by the developer. Our inputwas really not sought out. There was never a specific meeting held for neighbors within 300 feet of the property by either the developer or the BNA. We therefore had to seek information, call for meetings, canvasse the area alone and in the end, we are portrayed by those in favor of this project (some members of the Brookside business community) as "anti-development" -- which couldn't be farther from the truth.

9. We look forward to redevelopment of this property. It obviously has not been properly maintained by the owner (Perry Properties) and the city was either unaware of the situation or never took any strong stand on enforcing the improvement of the property which the city now refers to as 'blight' at 39th and Rockford.

We have said all along ---- we look for a development from Bomasada that compliments our neighborhood design and is built within the zoning guidelines, taking into account safety and user-friendly priniciples and amenities for both the future enclave tenants and the surrounding homeowners and neighbors. All parties involved in the decision making process --- including our city leaders --- should feel a shared ownership of the neighborhood improvement project and forge a future partnership in goodwill, respect and teamwork ... embracing a shared vision for this amazing and very liveable section of the City of Tulsa.

We ask that our concerns for safety and the quality of life for our neighborhood residents already living in Brookside are remembered as you do the work of deciding to approve or disapprove, and work out the details of this new development positioned in one of Tulsa's most desirable and historic areas.

Tomorrow evening, Tuesday, July 15, at 6 p.m. TulsaNow is sponsoring a public event at the OSU-Tulsa Auditorium which is intended to help Tulsans understand what the comprehensive plan update is all about and how they can participate in the process. John Fregonese, head of the planning team handling the update, will be the main speaker, and there will be opportunities to ask questions. Here's the press release:

TulsaNow Invites Citizens to Get Involved and "Think Big"

Citizen Input Key to Success of Comp Plan Update

If you think the term "Comprehensive Plan" sounds like a boring document created by bureaucrats in the basement of City Hall, then you haven't met John Fregonese. As the lead consultant to Tulsa's PLANiTULSA project, Fregonese stresses that all great plans begin by engaging the community. PLANiTULSA will be about "implementing the community's vision," and the process starts with a basic question: "What do people want?"

TulsaNow believes that citizens are eager to get involved and share their thoughts. They just don't know it yet.

That's why TulsaNow will host a public event called "PLANiTULSA: Think Big! (Dreamers Wanted.)" Speakers will include John Fregonese of Fregonese Associates and Gary Reddick of Sienna Architecture Group. The event will take place from 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, July 15 at the OSU-Tulsa Auditorium, located at 700 N. Greenwood on the campus of OSU-Tulsa. The event is free and open to the public.

The purpose of the event is to help Tulsans understand the importance of the comprehensive plan, and how they can play a role in shaping Tulsa's future.

According to Sarah Kobos, President of TulsaNow, "Whenever I talk to people about PLANiTULSA, the first thing everyone says is 'Now, what exactly is the comprehensive plan?' Once you explain it, they get all excited. Most people have opinions about what Tulsa needs, or how to make Tulsa better, but nobody ever asks them what they think. We want people to understand that they can get involved in PLANiTULSA and really make a difference. Every voice counts."

Learn more about PLANiTULSA and the Comprehensive Plan Update: www.planitulsa.org

If you plan to be involved in planning Tulsa's future, plan to attend this event tomorrow night at 6.

A couple of weeks ago the Land Use Prof Blog had a post about the challenges of infill development and about how Tulsa is dealing (or failing to deal) with them:

One of the dilemmas of infill -- allowing new construction in an already developed area -- is that it often upsets the expectations of landowners and residents concerning the land use and density of the community. Whether it is allowing stores in an area that has been exclusively residential, or allowing larger houses in a neighborhood of one-story ranch houses, infill often faces strong local opposition, or at least local skepticism. And political scientists tell us that legal efforts often fail if they offer, on one hand, broad but thin public benefits (as some infill does, by counteracting sprawl) and, on the other hand, narrow but concentrated costs upon citizens (such as those owners whose expectations may be upset) who fill tooth and nail against the plan.

I think the prof (Paul Boudreaux of Stetson University) has overlooked a significant factor in this cost-benefit analysis. There is also a narrow but concentrated benefit to developers who want to plop suburban-style development into popular traditional neighborhoods. The benefit to developers of this particular kind of infill is more concentrated than the cost to the broader group of property owners in established neighborhoods who want infill development to be harmonious with existing development.

Most of Tulsa's infill development is not increasing residential density, but merely house size. The QuikTrip at 21st and Harvard has been described as infill, but it's really dedensification -- two retail spaces and six living units will be replaced with a slightly larger version of the existing QT store.

The prof's specific comments about Tulsa:

Tulsa, Oklahoma, is currently undergoing such a debate. In the face of a variety of infill plans, the city has proposed authorizing some "neighborhood conservation districts," which would give some power to neighborhoods to regulate their land use. Some see this as a means of controlling unwanted infill; others see it as an odious regulation of private property. Whither infill in Tulsa? Not surprisingly, the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission stated last week that it is in no rush to change its policies with regard to infill. Stay tuned ...

The prof mislabels some of the players. The city as a government didn't propose NCDs; neighborhoods did with the support of one (now former) city councilor. Still, it's an interesting perspective on an interesting blog about urban planning.

In a more recent entry, Boudreaux calls attention to infill in Philadelphia, where a project called Infill Philadelphia hopes to breath new life into old neighborhoods by adapting existing buildings to modern expectations.

Just now getting around to linking this one: Last week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly was a summary of the first meeting of the PLANiTULSA Advisers and Partners, which featured presentations by lead planner John Fregonese and two members of his team, Robin Rather and Jon Roberts. (Here is a 4 MB PDF of the Fregonese and Roberts presentations.) PLANiTULSA is the City of Tulsa's first comprehensive planning effort in a generation.

In the column, I analyzed the composition of the 35-member Advisers group -- the inner circle of citizens who have been appointed by Mayor Kathy Taylor to oversee the work of the planners. Of that number, I identified 20 as registered Democrats, 10 as registered Republicans, and of the Republicans, they were all either connected with the development industry (6), leaders in TYPROS (2), or in academia (2). Of the 66 Partners (the "hoi polloi"), 22 are Republicans and 41 are Democrats. There are a few rabble-rousers amongst the Partners, but there is still a bias toward developers, the Mayor's political allies, and the non-profit sector.

Here is a map showing the residential locations of the Advisers (red "A") and Partners (blue dot) (click to enlarge):

PLANiTULSAPartners.gif

You'll notice that most of the red As (Advisers) and blue dots (Partners) fall along the Money Belt line. If you were to overlay the map on a map showing results from the 1997 Tulsa Project or 2000 "It's Tulsa's Time," you'd see that nearly all of the dots and As fall into the precincts that voted yes on both. This is the part of town that feels plugged in, that feels its voice is heard, that feels it runs city government. I'm concerned that the marginalized areas of our city aren't represented in any significant numbers on these oversight committees.

MORE: Here's the article by Brian Ervin which I mentioned in the story. And mark your calendars for July 15: TulsaNow is hosting a forum at which John Fregonese and members of his team will be explaining how the comprehensive plan process works and presenting the results of their research to date.

This Old House, the pioneering PBS series on home restoration has saluted Tulsa's Brady Heights neighborhood as one of the best places in the country to buy an old house:

Brady Heights existed before Oklahoma was a state. The area, originally known as the Silk Stocking neighborhood, saw hard times before making a comeback in the 1980s. Now on the National Register of Historic Places and just blocks from downtown Tulsa, Brady Heights is adjacent to the Tulsa branch of Oklahoma State University and encompasses an eclectic choice of housing, populated by a diverse mix of owners and renters. Four churches and an active community group that helps older residents take care of their homes provide the social glue....

Tate Brady, an early city booster and real estate entrepreneur as well as the neighborhood's namesake, built his mansion here in 1907. You'll also find bundles of bungalows and Foursquares built between 1900 and 1924, along with Colonial Revival, Folk Queen Anne, Folk Victorian, Craftsman, Italian Renaissance Revival, and Prairie School houses.

The neighborhood, which covers Denver and Cheyenne Avenues between Marshall St. and Fairview St., just north of the Inner Dispersal Loop, is listed by the "This Old House" site as one of the best for old-home buyers who are first-time buyers, retirees, "city slickers," those interested in craftsman houses, and those looking for an older home in the midwest. You can find a simple bungalow in the neighborhood for as little as $40,000.

Via Preserve Midtown, which notes:

Those homes that are sometimes referred to as "eyesores" do have great value with some time and effort put in to make them shine like they did when they were new.

Homes like this were built with care and with the intent of having them last for a century or more.

Houses of similar style and vintage could once be found all the way east to Detroit Ave. But the city promised the University Center of Tulsa 200 acres for its campus, and during the '90s the land south of Emerson Elementary School was bought up by the Tulsa Development Authority and the homes demolished. Footings, staircases, and other remnants are still visible.

Brady Heights has an active neighborhood association, is listed on the National Register for Historic Places, and has historic preservation overlay zoning, meaning that exterior modifications have to be reviewed for appropriateness by the Tulsa Preservation Commission, in order to preserve the historic character of the neighborhood and protect the investments made in restoring these homes.

I spoke tonight at the Florence Park Neighborhood Association's meeting about neighborhood visioning and planning. The meeting was held at the Tulsa Little Theater, and it was great to get another look at the wonderful job that Bryce and Sunshine Hill have done in restoring that cultural landmark.

I also learned tonight that alongside the many active neighborhood associations in the area, there's an active business association -- the College Hill Association of Merchants and Professionals (CHAMP), representing a variety of businesses located between and on both sides of Lewis and Harvard Avenues, 11th and 21st Streets.

CHAMP has a well-organized website at collegehillmerchants.com. The members' page has business card type ads for each member, with links to webpages. There's a page with printable coupons, too.

I hope the idea catches on and helps knit together the whole area, including the surrounding neighborhoods, into a cohesive district that can work together to conserve and improve itself, with residents supporting the businesses and the businesses providing useful services and good value for the residents.

In my talk, I noted that Brookside residents regard Peoria as its heart -- one neighborhood joined together by the commercial strip down the middle. In CHAMP's area, residents tend to look at commercial streets like 15th and Harvard as boundaries that divide one neighborhood from another. As Florence Park Neighborhood Association works on its neighborhood vision, it should see its neighborhood as inclusive churches, shops, and offices as well as houses. The traditional neighborhood commercial buildings along 15th should become the heart of the community, a gathering place. A partnership between CHAMP and the surrounding neighborhood associations is the key to making that happen.

(Thanks to the CHAMP website, I learned about a deli called Ella's that has free wifi, sandwiches named for jazz musicians, and live music on Friday and Saturday nights. I shall have to give them a try.)

(Note to self: Start adding links to neighborhood and merchant associations to my sidebar, and add the Tulsa Little Theater blog to my blogroll.)

It happened in Bartlesville, but the lesson applies everywhere: You can't expect people to adapt and reuse your historic buildings or build high quality new construction which fits in a historic area if you allow someone to throw up a metal building in the midst of it:

In November 2007, Shelby Navarro, Tulsa architect who is currently involved with an investment group re-developing 70 buildings in the Pearl District of Tulsa, and J. Elliot Nelson, owner of McNally's [McNellie's] Pub in Tulsa and of other pubs and restaurants in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City, came to Bartlesville at Clyde Sare's invitation. They toured the BRTA [Bartlesville Redevelopment Trust Authority] buildings at Second Street and Keeler Avenue with the idea of developing them and other buildings downtown into a dining/entertainment/retail complex. Mr. Nelson was already committed to installing a pub at the Pioneer Building on Dewey Avenue.

After the BRTA overturned the Design Review Committee's decision regarding construction of a metal building in the Downtown District, Mr. Rankin and his associates, as well as Shelby Navarro and J. Elliot Nelson, decided to put their plans on hold. They were concerned that such lax enforcement of design guidelines would be harmful to future investments. In Rankin's words, "There needs to be a stable environment to protect the investors who risk their capital in a historical district."

Emphasis added. At least Bartlesville has a Design Review Committee, but it doesn't do much good if they override the rules and allow incompatible design and cheap, throwaway buildings.

It's a great privilege for Tulsa to host this year's National Preservation Conference, to be held in October, and it's a great opportunity for Tulsans concerned about historic preservation, adaptive reuse, sensitive infill, neighborhood conservation, art deco architecture, and urban design to raise local awareness on these issues. Here's an opportunity to get involved:

The final Local Advisory Committee meeting for the 2008 National Preservation Conference will be held on Thursday, June 19, 4:30 - 6:00pm, in the Manchester Room at the Doubletree Hotel Downtown, 616 W. 7th Street.

Anyone who is interested or in any way involved in the conference should make plans to attend! Representatives from the National Trust for Historic Preservation will be discussing conference program highlights, marketing, and volunteer opportunities.

If you plan to attend, please call (202) 588-6100 or email conference@nthp.org by Friday, June 13.

Via Mister Snitch, a beautiful collection of photos of New York, arranged chronologically, beginning with 1885, when horse-drawn carriages and trolleys dominated Manhattan's streets. Most of the pictures were taken when skyscrapers looked like steeples, turrets, and minarets, before the 1960s influx of flat-topped glass and steel boxes. (Click the thumbnails to see full-sized images.)

Mister Snitch calls them "photos of a romantic, antique, B&W New York," and I think they deserve a romantic soundtrack, so here's Charlie Spivak and his orchestra.

west side of Union Square, New York

This photo and its caption are worth highlighting:

Downtown Manhattan skyline, 1931

Union Square West. A hilarious jumble gets A+ for accidental design. These lots once held town houses. Their dainty footprints have been preserved, so the buildings have a delicate scale regardless of their height. One is a miniature skyscraper. Scale-obsessed NIMBYs take note: you need to object to a building's footprint, not its height.

A great point. The constraints of lot lines, alleys, and the street grid generate a more pedestrian-friendly experience at the ground level. Instead of one large building with a single entrance framed by blank walls or reflective glass, you have at least five building entrances in a single block -- five different window displays to catch your eye, five places to duck in out of the rain, five places to escape from a creep. Changes in construction finance provided the deep pockets to enable developers to buy out an entire block at once, rather than buying and redeveloping one lot at a time. Urban renewal cleared whole blocks at a time, and cities became willing to vacate streets and alleys to suit the demands of developers.

My biggest complaint against the proposed Bomasada development in Brookside is not its height, but the fact that it is one huge blocky building with a single entrance, and rather than creating more connections between the residential and commercial areas, it creates more obstacles. A development of individual three to four-story townhomes or apartment buildings (2 or 3 units per floor) with separate entrances, and at least one public way connecting 39th Street to the Old Village Shops, would "enhance the value, image and function of area properties" in a way that satisfies the condition on page 7 of the Brookside Infill Plan for higher-density residential development in the residential area on the boundary with the commercial area.

Here are the Powerpoint slides presented by planning consultant John Fregonese at last Tuesday's kickoff of PLANiTULSA, the city's first comprehensive planning effort in a generation. It's only the slides, unfortunately, and not the audio, but it will give you the gist of what was presented.

I especially liked slides 29 and 30, which outline the traditional approach to planning, certainly the approach that has been followed in Tulsa: Decide, Educate, Announce, and Defend -- that spells DEAD, and you'll notice that there's no place in the DEAD process for public input. The enlightened make the decisions and then tell the public why they should approve what has been decided. The TCC bond issue and millage levy was the most recent example of this process at work.

The following two slides are in the same vein. We plan, fund, and build projects, but we skip what should be the earlier three steps in the process: Values (what do people want?), Vision (How will our city provide it?), and Strategy (How do we implement the values and vision?).

Mayor Kathy Taylor also spoke at the kickoff, and I was disappointed to hear her describe this process as one that began in 2007. In fact, this new comprehensive planning effort has its roots in Mayor Bill LaFortune's vision summit of July 2002 and the efforts of Councilors Chris Medlock and Joe Williams in 2003 to establish a Future Growth Task Force. Unfortunately, Mayor LaFortune cooperated in the degeneration of the vision process to the development of a laundry list of disconnected projects designed to generate enough votes to get an arena tax approved by Tulsa County voters. He also stymied the Future Growth Task Force, refusing to support it unless eight of nine councilors were also on board. (Art Justis, Randy Sullivan, and Bill Christiansen withheld their support.)

Nevertheless, it was during the LaFortune administration and with pressure from the Gang of Five that the new comprehensive plan was launched, with the initial development of the process included by the City Council in the TMAPC's work package for the 2005-6 fiscal year.

While Mayor Taylor deserves credit for keeping the progress moving, and a great deal of credit for putting the process under the planners at the City Urban Development Department rather than the land-use bookkeepers at INCOG, it would have been gracious for her to acknowledge the foundation laid by her predecessors at City Hall.

(Taylor also expressed pleasure in working with the City Council over "the past month" -- a back of the hand, hopefully unintentional, to departing Councilors Roscoe Turner, Maria Barnes, and Cason Carter who served with the Mayor during the first two years of her term.)

There are two big rezoning cases on the Wednesday, May 21, agenda for the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) involving infill in midtown Tulsa. Affected neighborhoods are meeting in advance to discuss the rezonings and strategize about the upcoming hearing.

One involves a 240-unit apartment building proposed for 39th & Rockford in Brookside, behind Food Pyramid and the Old Village Shops. Area residents will meet early this evening, May 19, at 5:30 p.m., at Wright Elementary School. Called the Enclave at Brookside and developed by Bomasada Group of Houston, the four-story building would replace two single-story apartment courtyards along 39th Street and some barracks-like post-war duplexes along Rockford. While higher density infill development is to be expected in the business areas of Brookside, as designated by the Brookside infill plan, this development is into the Brookside residential area, and is at a larger scale than would be consistent with the terms of the plan. The plan does allow higher densities of residential development along the boundary between residential and business areas "if (a) appropriate design elements and improvements are provided in conformance with area design guidelines to enhance the value, image and function of area properties and (b) if consistent with District 6 Plan goals, objectives, policies and guidelines." Whether this project meets those criteria is at the heart of the debate.

The other concerns the 21st & Harvard QuikTrip. QT seeks to expand all the way west to Gary Place, replacing two duplexes, a single family home, and a two-story commercial building. On Tuesday, May 20, at 7:00 p.m., Florence Park neighborhood association will host a joint neighborhood meeting along with Florence Park South (southwest of the intersection), Jefferson Terrace (southeast), and Sunrise Terrace (southeast) to discuss flooding in the area and the proposed rezoning.

Lassiter & Shoemaker Photography, 3235 E 21 St., Tulsa

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I review the controversy over the digital billboard ordinance, approved last week by the Tulsa City Council and look ahead to next Wednesday's hearing before the TMAPC on plans for an expanded QuikTrip convenience store at 21st & Harvard.

Here is a link to the case report on the QuikTrip rezoning. Here is a description from the case report of the proposed screening along Gary Place:

An 8 foot high, brick screening wall will be constructed along the South Gary Place frontage, angled at the northwest corner of the property and extending east to the front set-back of the residence to the north. The screening wall will be constructed of brick to match the wall color of the brick on the west wall of the store. The wall will be set-back 13 feet from S. Gary Place right of way and approximately 25 feet from the east curb of the street. The height of the wall will drop from 8 feet to 3 feet, 41-feet north of the southwest corner of the property to permit acceptable visibility of traffic leaving the store on East 21 st Street and for traffic entering East 21 st Street from South Gary Place. The location of the screening wall is shown on Exhibit A, Site Plan and the design on Exhibit C, Landscape Details and is subject to detail site plan review.

The second element of the screening plan is a combination of 12 feet high at planting pyramidal Leland Cypress evergreen trees and 12 feet high semi-evergreen Wax Myrtle trees as shown on Exhibit C, Landscape Details.

Landscape features accent planting areas at the northwest angle of the 8-foot high wall and at the south end of the screening wall. Chinese Pistache trees 12 feet high and Crepe Myrtles will be planted on the interior of the wall to add to visual buffer as indicated on attached Exhibit C, Landscape Details. Additional shrubs will be installed as shown on Exhibit C, Landscape Details. The remainder of the landscaped area outside the tree and shrub areas will be Bermuda sod.

Beyond the screening wall would be a second parking lot for the new QuikTrip, so this would be a two-entrance store; it just wouldn't have the back entrance on Gary Pl., as I'd suggested in my column. The new QT would be larger than the existing building and just to its west, roughly where the Lassiter & Shoemaker Photography building and the backyards of the residences being removed.

Last month I took some photos of the 21st & Harvard intersection, since there are major changes proposed for the northwest and southwest corners.

Here is an overview of the post-general election Form C-1 ethics reports filed with the Tulsa City Clerk's office by 5 p.m. Monday, the deadline for the post-general filing for the April 1 Tulsa City Council general election.

Perhaps the most interesting report wasn't from a candidate. It was from Build PAC, the developer lobby's political action committee. Build PAC filled out an incomplete report which did not list the names of contributors or amounts of contributions. It did list the candidates which received its largess:

Emanuel Lewis (District 1 Democrat) - $500
David Patrick (District 3 Independent) - $1,500
Eric Gomez (District 4 Republican) - $1,500
Dennis Troyer (District 6 Democrat) - $750
Bill Christiansen (District 8 Republican) - $1,000
G. T. Bynum (District 9 Republican) - $1,000

It was a good year for Build PAC. They elected five of the six candidates they supported, and they timed their donations to avoid being an issue in the campaign. Note also that most of these candidates also received contributions from the ABC PAC (Associated Builders & Contractors) and the Realtors PAC.

Now that we know who the Build PAC Boys are, we'll be watching to see if they toe the development lobby's line or if they demonstrate some independence between now and the next election. This city's future is too important to let it be decided by those who are only out for short-term profits.

Please note that the numbers for Eric Gomez do not include any of the contributions from his May 5th breakfast fundraiser at the Chalkboard Restaurant. Even without those donations, he was able to raise more than he spent.

DISTRICT 1:

Jack Henderson (D)

Contributions this period = $2,700.00
Contributions over $200 = $2,400.00
Contributions $200 or less = $300.00
Expenditures this period = $6,360.72

Total contributions for campaign = $14,228.69
Total expenditures for campaign = $14,173.32

$750 - Tulsa Firefighter Local #176
$500 - Jack Henderson, Roy Ashley
$400 - Mary Blendowski
$250 - DPF PAC Local #523

DISTRICT 2:

Rick Westcott (R):

Filed a statement of inactivity.

DISTRICT 3:

David Patrick (I):

Contributions this period = $9,600.00
Contributions over $200 = $8,000.00
Contributions $200 or less = $1,600.00
Expenditures this period = $8,936.80

Total contributions for campaign = $12,421.13
Total expenditures for campaign = not listed

$2,500 - Tulsans for Truth, P.O. Box 4503, 74159
$1,500 - Build PAC
$1,000 - Realtor PAC; ABC (Associated Builders & Contractors) PAC, 1915 N. Yellowood Ave., 74102
$500 - Margaret Pellegrini, Jeff Parell, Thomas Kennedy, Barry Benoit

Roscoe Turner (D):

Contributions this period = $1,725.00
Contributions over $200 = $1,100.00
Contributions $200 or less = $600.00
Expenditures this period = $4,924.00

Total contributions for campaign = $12,999.37
Total expenditures for campaign = $12,927.25

$500 - K. Anderson
$300 - P. Feist
$250 - Mark Darrah

DISTRICT 4:

Jason Eric Gomez (R):

Contributions this period = $10,700.00
Contributions over $200 = $8,300.00
Contributions $200 or less = $2,400.00
Expenditures this period = $10,057.76

Total contributions for campaign = $13,700.00
Total expenditures for campaign = $13,127.01

$2,500 - Ed Leinbach
$1,500 - Tulsa Build PAC
$1,000 - Realtor PAC, ABC (Associated Builders & Contractors) PAC
$500 - River City Development LLC, Albert Mendel
$300 - Caleb Raynolds
$250 - Peter Walter, Robert & Jill Thomas, Ridge Kaiser, William Thomas

Maria Barnes (D):

Contributions this period = $2,130.00
Contributions over $200 = $750.00
Contributions $200 or less = $1,380.00
Expenditures this period = $4,752.28

Total contributions for campaign = $22,211.71
Total expenditures for campaign = $12,481.41

$500 - Just Progress PAC
$250 - Steve & Norma Turnbo

DISTRICT 5:

Bill Martinson (R)

Contributions this period = $8,550.00
Contributions over $200 = $8,050.00
Contributions $200 or less = $500.00
Expenditures this period = $10,923.88

Total contributions for campaign = $10,967.62
Total expenditures for campaign = $10,923.88

$2,000 - Stan L. Johnson
$1,500 - Bruce Norton
$1,100 - Jeff Stava for City Council
$1,000 - Stacy Schusterman
$700 - Phil Frohlich
$500 - Mike Case, Howard G. Barnett Jr., George B. Kaiser
$250 - James G. Norton

DISTRICT 6:

Kevin Boggs (R)

Contributions this period = $1,300.00
Contributions over $200 = $1,150.00
Contributions $200 or less = $150.00
Expenditures this period = $2,078.23

Total contributions for campaign = $2,573.23
Total expenditures for campaign = $2,523.23

$550 - Kevin & Christy Boggs
$350 - Bill Bickerstaff
$250 - April & Jeff Cash

Dennis K. Troyer (D):

Contributions this period = $7,200.00
Contributions over $200 = $6,000.00
Contributions $200 or less = $1,200.00
Expenditures this period = $5,659.44

Total contributions for campaign = $13,634.90
Total expenditures for campaign = $11,984.34

$2,000 - W. E. Lobeck [Mr. Kathy Taylor]
$1,000 - Transport Workers Union, Greater Tulsa Association of Realtors
$750 - Home Builders Association [Build PAC]
$250 - Jim East, J. L. [Jody] Parker, GBK [George B. Kaiser] Corp, 6733 S. Yale, Larry Mocha, Dan Schusterman

DISTRICT 7:

John Eagleton (R)

Contributions this period = $1,790.00
Contributions over $200 = $800.00
Contributions $200 or less = $990.00
Expenditures this period = $1,790.00

Total contributions for campaign = $1,790.00
Total expenditures for campaign = $1,790.00

$300 - J. & P. Rice
$250 - L. Mocha, M. Barkley

[Expenditures consisted of refunding all contributions to the contributors.]

DISTRICT 8:

Bill Christiansen (R)

Contributions this period = $7,710.00
Contributions over $200 = $5,250.00
Contributions $200 or less = $2,460.00
Expenditures this period = $6,319.49

Total contributions for campaign = $21,830.23
Total expenditures for campaign = $13,140.38

$1,000 - Build PAC, Realtors PAC, Mike D. Case
$500 - Ronald E. Davis, Mike Krimbill, Martin Keating
$250 - Laurie L. Ross, Michael B. Fretz, Ernest & Jeannine Terry

DISTRICT 9:

G. T. Bynum (R)

Contributions this period = $9,850.00
Contributions over $200 = $8,650.00
Contributions $200 or less = $1,200.00
Expenditures this period = $10,556.82

Total contributions for campaign = $58,284.14
Total expenditures for campaign = $29,489.65

$2,000 - Joseph & Kathy Craft
$1,000 - ABC PAC, Build PAC, Realtors PAC
$500 - W. H. Helmerich, Dave Hentchel
$350 - Mary B. Sullivan
$300 - Steve Austin
$250 - Arnold & Pat Brown, Frank & Bonnie Henke, Rosa Lee LaFortune, Richard B. Pringle, Mollie B. Williford, William H. Davis, Fred Daniel Jr., Julie Pringle

More analysis of these reports on Thursday.

PLANiTULSA, the city's first comprehensive planning effort since the 1970s, will be launched today at 4:30 at the Central Center at Centennial Park, on 6th Street west of Peoria. The festivities will include a presentation at 5 p.m. by John Fregonese, head of Fregonese Associates, the firm that was hired to develop Tulsa's plan.

Fregonese was involved in Dallas's first-ever comprehensive plan, Forward Dallas:

ForwardDallas! identifies Dallas' most critical land-use issues: the need for more area plans and fewer planned development districts; the desire for an updated parking ordinance; and demand for a simpler, more transparent development process.

To implement ForwardDallas!, detailed specific area plans were outlined to be pursued in the coming year. Eight small area plans were developed in various parts of the city for ForwardDallas! These plans were used to develop specific policies and actions for ForwardDallas!...

Like every plan on which Fregonese Associates works, ForwardDallas! offers a framework for the future rather than a blueprint.

You can read more about the PLANiTULSA process on the City of Tulsa website.

The intention of the City's Urban Development Department is to have a great deal of public involvement in the development of this plan. Knowing many of the people in that department, I believe that intention is sincere. So whether or not you can be at today's kickoff, plan to be involved in the process. Tulsa's future is too important to be left to those who are only concerned with short-term profits.

P.S. Don't forget to vote today!

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I reflect upon last Thursday's "What about Rail?" public forum, which featured panelists involved with the Denver and Austin public transit systems and the National Transit Authority, the Federal agency that manages grants for things like light rail systems. Jack Crowley, the Mayor's special adviser on revitalizing downtown, presented some details of his concept to use existing track to connect the Evans Electric / Fintube site east of OSU-Tulsa to the soon-to-be-vacated Public Works facility southeast of 23rd and Jackson on the west bank of the river. Crowley believes that building a light-rail line will attract transit-oriented development (TOD), which will in turn generate the density required to make public transit practical. (Here's Brian Ervin's detailed UTW news coverage of the forum.)

In the column, I compare Tulsa's ridership with ridership in Austin and Denver, and I make the argument that frequency of service (short headways) and hours of service will do more to build confidence and ridership for a transit system, regardless of the type of vehicle being used, than the presence of tracks and overhead wires. The A streetcar branch of Boston's Green Line, the Sand Springs Railway, and the Tulsa-Sapulpa Union Railway are all examples where the infrastructure remained in place long after the last passenger service was offered.

I was strongly denounced after my previous column about rail transit for Tulsa, with certain rail advocates all but calling me a rail-hating, car-hugging troglodyte. I expect this column will provoke the same sort of response.

When a regular contributor to TulsaNow's public forum, someone who uses the handle Chicken Little, pooh-poohed my post informing readers about the "What about Rail?" forum: "Oh, please. He's not encouraging anyone to go to the 'What about Rail?' event, he's simply using the notice as a springboard for yet another post that tells us we'd rather drive." This was my reply.

Chicken Little,

As I've said before, I like using rail. I didn't have a car in college, and I depended on the MBTA's network of streetcars, subways, and buses, our fraternity's informal jitney service between the house and campus two miles away, and my own two feet to get around.

I didn't have a car for the summer I spent in Manila, either. Although they had a single rail line connecting the airport to downtown, it didn't go near the house or the campus. Instead, I depended on a network of privately owned buses and jeepneys to get me around.

Back then, I was navigating the public transport network on my own. I could easily tolerate walking a mile in whatever kind of weather between the subway station or bus stop and where I needed to go. Walking the two or three miles between home and campus or work, at a 4 mph clip, was always an option if I had to wait too long for a streetcar or a bus.

Now, a quarter of a century later as a dad with three kids, I can't hit 4 mph walking speed very often, particularly if I have to lug a 30 lb. two-year-old whose legs are tired. If I were to try to manage getting a family around town without a car, it would be crucial that every place I needed to go were within at most a quarter-mile of public transport.

I don't see the advocates of rail in Tulsa, such as yourself, addressing the practical issues I encountered as a public transport user.

You and others seem to be saying that the presence of commuter rail will eventually result in nodes of high-density, pedestrian-friendly, transit-oriented development that will make it possible for people to live most of their lives without a car. In the scenario you seem to propose, everything will be within easy walking distance of the stations, and you won't have to cross massive parking lots on foot to get between the street and the front door of a store.

What I don't hear from you is any attempt to explain how people, particularly families with small children, get from home to work to school to shopping to the doctor's office via public transport between now and when your glorious future is realized.

I want to know how you propose to make it convenient enough for people, particularly families with small children, to use public transport of any form to get where they need to go, convenient enough to forgo using their own cars.

I'd especially like to know, Chicken Little, whether you have any personal experience living without a car for more than a year.

I do not want to see Tulsa spend tens or hundreds of millions on a rail line with three trains a day before we explore more modest and practical ways of providing public transport to far more people.

Chicken Little has yet to answer my question.

I neglected to mention that as a 7th and 8th grader at Holland Hall's Birmingham campus, I rode the city bus every Wednesday afternoon from 26th St and Birmingham to downtown. I'd spend a couple of hours at Central Library then meet my dad at his office. When I lived in Brookside, I even tried using the bus system to get to Burtek on 15th St. east of Sheridan, but the transfer delays meant it wasn't worth the hassle.

Here are some supplemental links to information I used in writing the article:

Tonight, Thursday, April 24, from 6 to 8, INCOG is presenting an open house on the topic of rail transportation. TulsaNow is providing snacks before hand; the presentation begins at 6, followed by questions at 7. Presenters will include:

Sonya Lopez - Principal Planner, Austin

Cal Marsella - General Manager of the Regional Transportation District, Denver

Andrew Howard - Kimley-Horn, consulting firm studying the integration of land-use and transit for the City of Tulsa Comprehensive Plan

Dwayne Weeks Federal Transit Administration, New Starts and Small Starts project review team).

The event will be held, appropriately enough, at our Art Deco Union Depot (officially the Jazz Hall of Fame at Union Station), and it's free and open to the public. Union Station is between Boston and Cincinnati, on the north side of 1st Street.

Although the rail talk has mostly been about commuter rail between downtown Tulsa and Broken Arrow, Brian Ervin has interview in this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly with urban planner Jack Crowley, who is studying the idea of a light rail line connecting two potential transit-oriented development sites: The city maintenance yards at 23rd and Jackson and the Evans Electric / Fintube site north of Archer east of US 75.

[Crowley] explained that the city owns about 50 acres at 23rd St. and Jackson Ave., which is south of downtown, and about 22 acres just north of downtown, at the Evans-Fintube site just north of Archer St. between Highway 75 and OSU-Tulsa.

Also, there's already a railroad track connecting the two sites, which runs through downtown, past the new BOK Arena.

There is currently a best-use study underway for the two sites, among other city-owned plots, but Crowley supposes that three or four-story walk-up apartments would be a wise use of the sites if the city invests in a light rail system along the existing tracks.

"If you had a train station there where you could walk out of wherever you live and get on the train and go to work in the morning, or go to the OSU campus to study, how much value could you get there at that site?" Crowley asked rhetorically.

Having a permanent public transportation route would also attract retail and restaurant developers wanting to capitalize on the availability of potential customers at the rail system's various stops.

If the city leased those two plots of land on each end of the tracks to developers, it could soon make back the $50-70 million he estimates it would cost to build the rail system, and passengers wouldn't need to pay a fare.

Crowley acknowledged an argument Bates made in his piece--that there isn't currently enough population density in downtown and the surrounding areas to justify a light rail system. However, he said, the light rail system would easily attract that density after a lag time of about five or six years after it's built.

He said there is typically a 10-15 year lag time for big cities after they adopt a transit-oriented design.

Also in this week's issue, Paul Tay makes some good points in a letter calling for privatization of public transit:

Tulsa Transit is a failure as a bus system. As long as the City owns and operates the system, there's every reason to expect Tulsa Transit will be a failure as a rail operator. Tulsa Transit and its brothers all over America have NO profit motive to meet the many needs, to include utilitarian and emotional, of the traveling public. If Tulsa Transit's employee parking lot is any indication, even Mr. Boatwright, the general manager, and his employees, the bus drivers, don't ride the bus for their basic transportation needs.

If Tulsa Transit can't even make transit work for its own employees, shouldn't we look for another business model for transit? Getting government out of the business of meeting the needs of the traveling public worked great for the airlines.

Jet Blue would not be possible without airline deregulation. Stylish, 5.4 MHz cordless telephones would not be possible without deregulation either. We would still be leasing black, rotary dial phones from the old AT&T, before its break-up. Divest Tulsa Transit to private operators. Auction the curb rights, similar to the FCC's frequency sales and TV and radio licensing. Deregulate transit.

Tay closes with a reference to a Brookings Institution study: Daniel B. Klein, Adrian T. Moore, Binyam Reja, Curb Rights: A Foundation for Free Enterprise in Urban Transit, Brookings Institution Press (1997). (That link leads to a paper summarizing the argument of the book; you can preview Curb Rights on Google Books.)

MORE: Los Angeles mayoral candidate Walter Moore questions the wisdom of spending $640 million for an 8.6 mile light rail extension in that city, enough to pay for "one bus every 100 yards along the 8.6 mile route, and have over $590 million left over."

Modern Tulsa

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They've been around for about six months, but I just came across Modern Tulsa, a blog and an organization devoted to Tulsa's Mid-Century Modern architecture:

Modern Tulsa is a volunteer endeavor focused on enhancing the appreciation of Tulsa's 20th Century Modern Design and Pop-Culture Heritage. Operating as a committee of the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, Modern Tulsa aims to perpetuate Tulsa's Modern Heritage via promotion, preservation and education.

The bloggers are Realtor Cole Cunningham and architect Shane Hood, who is also president of the Lortondale Neighborhood Association.

There's a launch party for Modern Tulsa coming up on May 8. Click that link for details. (Love the wood grain and avocado green on that poster.)

This Wednesday, April 16, immediately following the regular meeting of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC), the commissioners will go into a worksession to discuss whether to move forward with public hearings that could lead to a Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD) enabling ordinance for the City of Tulsa. The TMAPC will also discuss a proposed sidewalk ordinance.

Although the public won't be allowed to speak at this worksession, the development lobby, the "build anything I want, anywhere I want" bunch, which opposes any form of NCD, is sending out e-mails to have large numbers of their people present in hopes that they can "put this issue to rest for good," as Martha Thomas Cobb put it in a recent e-mail.

It's important for the TMAPC members to hear from the rest of us, those of us who believe the character of our older neighborhoods is worth protecting, those of us who think our zoning code should distinguish between a neighborhood built in the '30s in midtown and one built in the '80s in south Tulsa.

I've said before that the current draft NCD enabling ordinance is extremely mild. It only deals with residential property. Many cities, including Oklahoma City, Austin, and San Antonio, also protect commercial areas, where simple rules are put in place to require new commercial development to match the pedestrian friendly characteristics that already exist in older retail areas like Cherry Street. But that won't happen at all if we can't even get authorization for a much more basic type of conservation district.

The issue before the TMAPC at this point is whether any sort of NCD ordinance will happen at all. The naysayers want to kill the concept in its crib. Reasonable people need to be at the meeting if possible, or to contact the TMAPC by sending an e-mail to its secretary Barbara Huntsinger (bhuntsinger@incog.org), to ask the TMAPC to let the process move forward on NCDs.

The meeting will be held in the City Council chamber -- the small two story building in the City Hall complex. It will immediately follow the regular TMAPC meeting, which begins at 1:30 pm tomorrow (Wednesday) and is likely to be quite short.

My most recent Urban Tulsa Weekly column is about the correlation between urban vitality and the combination of good urban form and older buildings, factors that are actively protected in cities like Austin and San Antonio, cities that Tulsans frequently say they wish to emulate. Those factors seem to make the difference between a lively riverfront, like San Antonio's, and a commercially inactive riverfront like Austin's.

As I mentioned in the column, I visited Austin and San Antonio recently. You can find the photos I took in downtown San Antonio on Flickr. I've geocoded each picture and explained what I found interesting, particularly from an urban design perspective.

Here are some links where you can learn more about San Antonio and Austin's zoning and land use policies:

Twelve years ago, on a week-long business trip to Silicon Valley, I came up with the idea of doing a column for UTW that I would have called "Urban Elsewhere," describing the good and bad examples of urban design that I came across in my travels, describing vibrant districts and trying to explain why they work and how we might apply those examples to Tulsa. It took a few years, but through this blog and my column in UTW I've been able to do that from time to time, which gives me a lot of satisfaction. Perhaps some day our city leaders will draw lessons from other cities that don't involve massive tax increases for major public projects.

By the way, the Austin electronics store I mention at the beginning of the column is a branch of a store I first came across during that trip to Silicon Valley -- Fry's Electronics. It's Nerdvana -- like a Best Buy + CompUSA + Radio Shack on steroids. It's Bass Pro Shops for technogeeks. Every part or gadget you could imagine, you can find it at Fry's. Having a Fry's, or something like it, in Tulsa would do more than acorn lamps along the river to convince tech-heads that they want to live and work here.

On April 24, INCOG, the regional planning agency, is presenting a program to "begin a community dialogue about transportation options, including rail," although from the description, it looks like rail will be the predominant topic:

What about RAIL?

Public Open House
Jazz Hall of Fame at Union Station
Tulsa, OK
April 24, 2008
6 p.m. - 8 p.m.

What would it take to implement a successful regional transportation system with multiple transportation options, including rail?

What is the relationship between development and rail?

How have other cities addressed these questions?

You are invited, along with experts from Denver, Austin, Portland, and the Federal Transit Administration, to discuss these questions and others to begin a community dialogue about transportation options, including rail.

JAZZ HALL OF FAME
at Union Station
111 E First Street
Tulsa, OK 74103
Map and Directions

Refreshments provided by Tulsa Now

AGENDA
6:00 p.m. - Open House Begins
6:15 p.m. - Formal Presentation
7:00 p.m. - Discussion and Questions
7:45 p.m. - Closing Remarks

That's a Thursday night, so our City Councilors won't be able to attend.

As I've said before, I'm a rail fan. I went car-free during my years in the Boston area, relying on the subway system, buses, and my own two feet. As I wrote in a January column about rail transit, Tulsa doesn't have the urban form to make it possible for Tulsans to plan their lives around a commuter rail line. You would need frequent service and a feeder network of public transit lines -- whether bus or streetcar or jitney -- to take people between the commuter rail station and within comfortable walking distance of where they want to go, anytime they want to go there. Otherwise, people will prefer to use their cars, even if it means an increasing piece of their budget goes to buy gasoline.

MORE: Paul Weyrich, a founding father of the modern American conservative movement, served on the Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, and he supports their recommendation for "an increased role for public transportation, including electric rail and bus vehicles." The commission was authorized by the latest Federal transportation act, and its final report was submitted to Congress on January 15, 2008. You can read the STPRSC's final report, "Transportation for Tomorrow," online. Weyrich has a website devoted to streetcars and light rail: The New New Electric Railway Journal.

Feedback on columns and blog entries is always appreciated, especially if it's positive. Urban Tulsa Weekly received a note earlier this week from Daniel Carey, southwest regional director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, regarding my March 5th column on the specific provisions of the first draft of a Neighborhood Conservation District enabling ordinance. (You can read the draft for yourself here, and here is City Council researcher Jack Blair's analysis on the topic.)

Here is Carey's comment:

Michael Bates' recent column, "Looking Under the 'Hood" is a spot-on analysis of the benefits of Neighborhood Conservation Districts (NCD's) as well as a sterling defense of the very public and measured process through which this issue is being vetted. I commend his assessment and agree with his conclusion that NCD's can be an effective planning tool to assist neighborhoods facing extreme development pressures.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation selected Tulsa to host the National Preservation Conference in the fall of 2008 (October 21-25). In part, that decision was made because Tulsa is 'turning the corner' when it comes to revitalizing its downtown and protecting its neighborhoods. The conference theme is Preservation in Progress-a double entendre that reinforces the fact that preservation and progress can exist in balance.

That's exactly what conservation zoning affords via NCD's-a way to respect height, massing, scale, setback and other character defining features of Tulsa's great neighborhoods.

It is nothing less than a shame, then, that some uninformed members of the real estate community choose to cry, "Wolf!" about the loss of property rights. Instead of fretting about individual property rights, it's time
Tulsans recognize the value of the whole."the tout ensemble" as it is known in New Orleans. And, in anticipation of those that would say that such "controls" negatively impact property values, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has hard evidence that the opposite is true. NCD's take the larger view; not the narrow single-interest approach. As such, they should be afforded the opportunity to prove themselves as
legitimate means to achieve the legitimate end of preservation.

While I think individual property rights are well worth fretting about, land-use policies are about recognizing that what I do with my property affects the value and enjoyment of my neighbors' properties. An NCD is one tool in the land planning toolbox to provide a stable environment for long-term investment in a neighborhood.

Note the reference to the upcoming 2008 NTHP convention in Tulsa. My hope is that the convention will raise awareness of Tulsa's endangered buildings and neighborhoods and of the economic benefits of preservation and conservation.

"Democratic government will be the more successful the more the public opinion ruling iit is enlightened and inspired by full and thorough discussion....The greatest danger threatening democratic institutions comes from those influences which tend to stifle or demoralize discussion." -- Carl Schurz

For a serious contender, Jason Eric Gomez is running one of the most bizarre campaigns for City Council I think I have ever witnessed.

In 2004, Gomez ran as the pro-neighborhood candidate against incumbent Tom Baker, former Tulsa Fire Chief and the pro-developer-lobby, establishment candidate. During his years as fire chief Baker famously characterized leaders in Renaissance Neighborhood, of whom Gomez is one, as C.A.V.E. People -- Citizens Against Virtually Everything. Despite Baker's massive funding advantage and Baker's endorsement by the Tulsa World, Gomez came within 24 votes of Baker.

Instead of building on that nearly-successful formula, this time Gomez is pitting himself against Midtown neighborhood advocates, attacking me and every other neighborhood advocate who thinks neighborhood conservation districts (NCDs) are an idea worth pursuing.

An NCD is a zoning designation that allows new development while protecting the characteristics that made the neighborhood attractive for development in the first place. Most large cities in the region have this designation -- Oklahoma City has had an equivalent designation for a quarter-century, with even more stringent requirements on infill development in the downtown and Bricktown areas.

There is a draft NCD enabling ordinance that has been discussed during the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission's (TMAPC) work session. The proposed ordinance is limited in scope -- much more so than similar ordinances in Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and other cities -- and it is very early in the process.

There is an opportunity to have a reasoned discussion about the pros and cons of the proposed ordinance. Skeptics could identify specific provisions that are problematic and suggest alternative provisions and safeguards that would be sufficient to win their support. Those who would never under any circumstances support an NCD ordinance should say so plainly and set out their philosophical objections to the concept, and they should be prepared to explain how those objections fit within a coherent philosophy of land-use planning and zoning, something Gomez wasn't prepared to do at the Pearl District Association forum:

The obvious follow-up question came toward the end of the forum:

"Doesn't all zoning infringe on property rights, and if so, why is the idea of conservation district different from that? Why is it a further infringement on property rights that are already infringed by zoning?"

Gomez's verbatim reply: "We already regulate land use. We already regulate what you can and cannot do with your property. When people buy a property, they look at what the policies are, they understand what the zoning is, and if that should change, there has to be a--it's a fine line, I believe, between private property rights and zoning, and absent of covenants that are not easily enforceable, when you buy a property in an older neighborhood--I live in an older neighborhood--you do understand that these things may happen and it, um..." As his voice trailed off to a mumble, he sat down.

Rather than engaging in reasoned debate about the issue, Gomez is taking shots at people who supported him four years ago, whose votes he needs to win this election.

Gomez made his pitch to the voters in an op-ed in the current issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. (Maria Barnes had her say last week.) Gomez had this to say about NCD supporters:

Neither the politically connected special interest nor the screams of the tyrannical minority should be able to trample on their neighbors personal property rights.

So I'm part of a screaming tyrannical minority who want to trample on their neighbors' personal property rights. And here's what he thinks of his opponent, Councilor Maria Barnes, who supports the idea of NCDs:

Our current city councilor is a nice human being, but manically obsessed with special interests.

While he obviously doesn't like the draft NCD, he doesn't single out any provision as dangerous, but says that "the lack of specifics within the proposal could significantly harm all neighborhoods." The proposal is in fact very specific, as specific as the zoning code provision that enables Planned Unit Developments (PUDs), a form of zoning overlay that is very popular with developers.

In the debate over how we protect the character of some of our city's greatest assets -- our Midtown neighborhoods -- Gomez has opted to attack rather than offer a solution. That's a great disappointment to me.

I first got to know Eric in 1998 when we were both involved in the Infill Task Force zoning subcommittee, which discussed a proposed NCD ordinance that was much more far-reaching than the current proposal. Eric endorsed me when I ran for City Council in 2002 (as did Maria). I was happy to endorse him during his 2004 run, noting his record as a defender of his neighborhood's integrity and character, fighting against development that would have intruded on the residential part of the neighborhood.

When I received an e-mail from a very vocal anti-NCD advocate claiming that Gomez absolutely opposed NCDs, I found it hard to believe, based on his record.

So I e-mailed Eric on March 9, asking him if the claim was true, and asking him to reply with what he would change about the proposed NCD draft (which I included as an attachment) to make it something he could support. Here's what I wrote:

Eric,

Congratulations on your primary win!

Neighborhood Conservation Districts have been in the news lately, and I have some questions for you about your position on the issue.

You'll recall that we served together on the zoning and subdivision regulations subcommittee of the Infill Task Force, back in 1998-1999, along with Sharry White, Scott Swearingen, and Charles Norman. We discussed the concept of neighborhood conservation districts and even reviewed a draft ordinance that had been prepared by INCOG staff.

I was convinced then and remain convinced that we need to move beyond our one-size-fits-all zoning code. Just like Oklahoma City and many other cities in our region, Tulsa should have rules in place that are objective and clear but customized for each neighborhood, allowing infill while protecting the character of the neighborhood. The issue was at the heart of my 2002 campaign for City Council and the reason I won the support of nearly every neighborhood leader in District 4. My position also earned me the opposition of the Tulsa World and the developers' lobby.

So I'm happy to see that at long last there's a working draft of a Neighborhood Conservation District ordinance before the TMAPC, even if it is very limited in scope.

Unfortunately, some people are spreading fear and falsehoods about the proposal. I've been forwarded several e-mails from Martha Thomas Cobb, who seems to be leading the opposition to NCDs. She seems to think you're on her side on this issue. In one message, she wrote: "Also, I vistied with Eric Gomez who is running against Maria Barnes. He opposes this ordinance because of the property rights issue. Good to know. He is a good man and understands the property rights infringement and property price drop that will follow with more restrictions."

That doesn't fit with my understanding of your position, but I want to be sure my understanding is correct. So I've attached a copy of the working draft NCD ordinance. I'd ask you to read it and answer the following questions:

1. If you were on the City Council, would you vote to approve this ordinance as written?

2. If not, what specific changes would have to be made to this ordinance in order for you to vote for it?

3. If you wouldn't support an NCD ordinance under any circumstances, are there any other measures you would approve as a city councilor to protect the character of our midtown neighborhoods against inappropriate infill?

I'd like to be able to reassure neighborhood leaders and other homeowners that no matter who wins the District 4 election, our councilor will move forward with a Neighborhood Conservation District ordinance.

Thanks,

Michael Bates

Instead of replying by e-mail, Eric phoned me. He didn't want to get specific about his objections to the draft NCD ordinance, but repeated his concern about "functional obsolescence" (nothing in the ordinance prevents the demolition and replacement of a functionally obsolescent building -- or any other building for that matter) and said that he thought it was being rushed along. He also said he didn't have time to study the issue and rewrite the ordinance in the midst of a campaign.

I told Eric I thought it was important for him to spell out his philosophy of zoning and land-use and to explain how he would address the concerns raised by teardowns and McMansions in Midtown if not with an NCD ordinance. I told him that he would need the support of people who are concerned about the issue.

I had hoped that Gomez's race this year against Maria Barnes would be a situation where both candidates would be solid on neighborhood and planning issues. I have had my differences with Barnes over her support for the City Hall move and her opposition to the Council resolution requesting immigration status checks to be run on people taken into custody by the Tulsa Police Department. I wish she were tougher on budget issues.

Gomez has apparently changed since his last race, but it's hard to know why. His campaign manager is (and was in 2004) Jim Burdge, who worked on the unsuccessful 2005 campaign to recall City Councilors Chris Medlock and Jim Mautino, an effort heavily funded by the development lobby. Gomez's op-ed is reminiscent in style of the Tulsa Tribunal attack tabloidsused during the recall campaign, which smeared the councilors as mentally and emotionally unbalanced.

This year the Tulsa Whirled has endorsed Gomez making Barnes' support for NCDs the main reason to vote her out of office. The Whirled condemned me for the same reason, although they were unwilling to say so in their editorial. The fact that they have to address the concept of zoning reform and attack it openly, rather than sweep it under the rug, is a sign of progress.

(Is it just me, or are there striking parallels between the Whirled's editorial and Gomez's op-ed? They seem to hit exactly the same talking points.)

I've been supporting the neighborhood conservation district concept for more than a decade, but I could still tolerate having a City Councilor who was opposed to the idea but willing to discuss it. I can't accept having a City Councilor who thinks people on the other side of the debate are screaming tyrants.

The race for Tulsa City Council District 4 is one of the most hotly contested in this year's general election. First-term incumbent Maria Barnes, a Democrat, is being challenged by Eric Gomez, a Republican. My column in this issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly is an account of the District 4 candidate forum, held on March 11 and sponsored by the Pearl District Association. It was one of the most informative forums I've ever attended, focused on zoning, planning, and land use issues, particularly Neighborhood Conservation Districts (NCDs).

Here's the audio for the event. (Flash plugin required):



(You do need to have the Shockwave Flash plugin installed in order for the player to work. If you'd prefer to download the 7 MB MP3 file, here's a direct link: Tulsa City Council District 4 candidate forum, Maria Barnes and Eric Gomez, sponsored by Pearl District Association.)

Here is the text of Maria Barnes's NCD "mythbusters" handout, which I mention in the story.

Also, in this issue of UTW: RELATED:

Charles G. Hill, who lives in an Urban Conservation District in Oklahoma City (very similar to Tulsa's proposed NCDs), explains the aims and impact of such a designation.

My column two weeks ago was about the specifics of the draft Neighborhood Conservation District ordinance for Tulsa.

The February column linked in this entry dealt with the theoretical rationale behind NCDs and the political aspects of the development industry's opposition.

Here is the draft Neighborhood Conservation District enabling ordinance (45 KB PDF) and here is the report on NCDs by Council policy administrator Jack Blair (1.5 MB PDF).

This entry links to my conversation about NCDs on Darryl Baskin's real estate radio show.

Here's an earlier blog entry that links to my November 2007 column on NCDs and has many links on the topics of teardowns, McMansions, and neighborhood conservation.

Candidates for the District 4 seat on the Tulsa City Council will face off tonight (Tuesday, March 11) in a forum sponsored by the Pearl District Association. The event runs from 6 p.m. to 7:15 p.m., at the Central Center (aka "The Boathouse") in Central Park, on the south side of 6th Street, west of Peoria. Councilor Maria Barnes and challenger Eric Gomez will answer written questions from the audience.

I would expect quite a few questions related to zoning and land use planning. The Pearl District is seeking to be a pilot area for form-based codes -- a kind of land use regulation that focuses on the form of the building rather than the use its being put to. Neighborhood Conservation District zoning is another topic that is sure to come up; it works within traditional zoning to seek consistency of building form in a neighborhood within broad criteria.

I've heard that a number of opponents of NCDs plan to be present to make some noise. I hope supporters of the idea will be there as well to show their support for planning that accommodates new development while preserving the character of our midtown neighborhoods.

Sorry for the late notice, but I only just learned about it myself.

UPDATE: It was very informative. Most of the questions, submitted by the audience, were advanced-level questions on land-use planning and zoning. The candidates had plenty of time to give thoughtful answers, and Jamie Jamieson, the moderator, did a good job of adding context to the questions where appropriate. I will post audio here sometime tomorrow morning.

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.

Conclusion:

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.

Past columns in Urban Tulsa Weekly have dealt with the concept of Neighborhood Conservation Districts -- a type of zoning to accommodate new building in established neighborhoods while protecting the character of the neighborhood that made new development attractive in the first place. While opponents of NCDs try to nip the idea in the bud by spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD, for short), there's now a concrete proposal that can be examined, critiqued, and compared to the alarums of the developers' lobby. In the current issue, I examine the draft Neighborhood Conservation District enabling ordinance and find it reasonable and modest in scope.

So you can read and decide for yourselves, here is the draft Neighborhood Conservation District enabling ordinance (45 KB PDF) and here is the report on NCDs by Council policy administrator Jack Blair (1.5 MB PDF).

Also in this issue, Brian Ervin has a fascinating and carefully written cover story profile of Steve Kitchell (who is associated in some vague way with but doesn't actually technically own nightclubs where bad things happen) which begins thus:

"If you libel or slander me, I'm warning you--there will be horrible consequences," said nightclub impresario Steve Kitchell during a recent telephone conversation.

His ominous warning came in response to an offer to interview him after 21-year-old Eric Bell was shot to death at Club UV late last year, once again bringing the name and notoriety of longtime nightclub impresario Steve Kitchell back into the forefront of the public's attention.

This week, Ervin also covers another midtown businessman with a mixed reputation, Dan Perry of Perry Properties, owner of apartments and rental houses:

When the Houston-based Bomasada Group announced its plans last week to build a high-end, 5-story apartment complex in Brookside, many residents celebrated the development as an eventual end to the "blight" currently resting on the site at 39th St. and Rockford Ave, otherwise known as the Brookside Annex and Brookside Courtyard apartments (for the latest on that, see accompanying sidebar).

A persistent attitude among many of the neighborhood residents is that the blight in question is the deliberate creation of the landlord, Dan Perry of Perry Properties.

And much, much more of interest in the latest issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly.

I had the privilege of being on the air with Darryl Baskin this morning. He has a very interesting and thoughtful Saturday morning show, 7 a.m. on 1170 KFAQ, mainly about real estate, but touching on all sorts of related issues.

Neighborhood conservation districts, a zoning tool that allows new development while protecting the character of established neighborhoods, was our main topic of conversation. As a Realtor, he's concerned about not adding red tape to the process, but he also understands the value inherent in a neighborhood's character. I tried to make the case that NCDs can be done in a way that adds protection but doesn't complicate the process or stifle development.

Darryl's co-host, Neil Dailey of Baskin Dailey Commercial Real Estate Sales and Leasing, had a salient question about the conflict between neighborhood conservation and New Urbanism, which encourages infill to achieve higher densities. I pointed out that the residential teardown type of infill -- the kind that NCDs address -- usually just replace one house with another and add nothing to the overall population. New Urbanist infill would work better in, say, a vacant area downtown that could be replaced with a mixture of retail, office, and residential, where you'd be replacing a population of next to nothing with hundreds or thousands of residents.

We also talked briefly about streets and paving.

Here's a direct link to the podcast for this morning. You can also find it on the KFAQ podcast site. My segment is in the last half-hour of the show.

Midtown City Council forum

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Candidates for the two midtown Tulsa City Council Districts, 4 and 9, will present their views on neighborhood issues tonight, Feb. 25th, at 7:00 p.m., at All Souls Unitarian Church, 30th & Peoria. Doors open at 6:30. I expect you'll hear a number of questions about infill and zoning issues, such as neighborhood conservation districts and teardowns.

The forum is sponsored by Brookside Neighborhood Association, PreserveMidtown, Coalition of Historic Neighborhoods, and the South Peoria Neighborhood Connection Foundation.

My column in this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly is about two aspects of city planning: the planning failure that resulted in a jail and homeless services being located right between revitalizing older neighborhoods and an arts and entertainment district, and the need for a land-use planning tool like neighborhood conservation districts to permit infill while protecting the character of our older neighborhoods. You can read more about the idea on the Preserve Midtown website.

In my column, I mention the notion of using lawsuits instead of zoning to regulate land use. This idea was proposed in "Beyond Zoning: Land Use Controls in the Digital Economy," a 1998 paper by John A. Charles, Environmental Policy Director for Cascade Policy Institute. It sounds appealing in theory, but I think it would be a practical disaster, as I point out in the column.

Also in this week's UTW, Kent Morlan, who both resides and owns a business downtown, points out the waste in the way downtown streets have been rebuilt. I like the idea of reopening closed streets and turning one-way streets into two-way streets, but the massive use of concrete pavers and other streetscaping has overcomplicated what should have been a simple idea.

Midtown Tulsa is on Preservation Oklahoma's 2008 list of the state's most endangered historic places.

Details will be released later tonight, along with the other locations on the list. Here's the Preserve Midtown press release:

Midtown Tulsa has been placed on Oklahoma's Most Endangered Historic Places List for 2008.

On Thursday, January 31, 2008, Preservation Oklahoma will announce the 2008 Endangered List at the Gaylord-Pickens Oklahoma Heritage Museum, 1400 Classen Drive, Oklahoma City, 6:00pm.

Since 1993, Preservation Oklahoma and the State Historic Preservation Office have sponsored the Most Endangered Historic Places List. It serves as a sample of the thousands of landmarks across Oklahoma in need of our attention. Three proposals were entered from Midtown Tulsa neighborhoods: Yorktown Homeowners Assoc., Maple Ridge Homeowner's Assoc and from the grassroots organization PreserveMidtown.

The purpose of this list is to inform a larger public about the property and to focus attention on the challenges historic places face. While the listing does not ensure the protection of the site or guarantee funding, the designation has been a powerful tool for raising awareness and rallying resources to save these endangered sites.

Previous years' lists have included Downtown Tulsa and Route 66 motels. Tulsa is the site for the 2008 National Preservation Conference, presented by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

For nearly ten years, I've been urging Tulsa to enact a neighborhood conservation district ordinance. Sometimes they're called urban conservation districts or some other name, but these zoning districts are aimed at ensuring that new development in an established neighborhood is compatible with existing development. Unlike a historic preservation district, a conservation district doesn't require exterior features to reflect a particular style or era. Instead, conservation districts focus on issues like size, setbacks, height, and location of parking. Oklahoma City has had conservation districts since the early '80s, and the practice was expanded to cover areas like Bricktown and near-downtown mixed-use districts in the late '90s.

Conservation districts can also be used in unique areas of the city that need special protection -- for example, Tulsa ought to have design guidelines for development along the Arkansas River, so we don't wind up with more convenience stores that turn their backs to the river.

Conservation districts were discussed by Mayor Susan Savage's Infill Development Task Force, but she flinched at implementation. The idea has been slowly gaining momentum in the intervening years, particularly as the composition of the City Council has become more neighborhood-friendly and as more neighborhood associations realize that our current zoning laws do little to protect the essential qualities of their neighborhoods.

Monday night, Tulsa City Councilor Maria Barnes, who represents an area that could greatly benefit from conservation districts, is hosting a neighborhood leader meeting on the topic on Monday, January 28. It will be held at the Central Community Center in Centennial Park, 1028 E. 6th, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. TMAPC member and Yorktown neighborhood resident Michelle Cantrell, Susan McKee from the Coalition of Historic Neighborhoods, and Steve Novick of Preserve Midtown will be among the speakers. It's a good opportunity to learn about how the concept is used in other cities and how it might be applied in Tulsa.

Speaking of Councilor Barnes, I want to take this opportunity to address a strange rumor being floated around town. Someone is claiming that I am running her re-election campaign. (And they're saying it as if it would be a black mark on her!)

I am not running anyone's campaign. I don't have the time or the organizational skills to run anyone's campaign. Last time around I volunteered my time to help friends like Rick Westcott, Jim Mautino, John Eagleton, and Chris Medlock who were running for city office. Westcott and Eagleton were re-elected without opposition and Mautino and Medlock are retired from politics, so none of them need my help this time out.

Maria Barnes is a friend of mine, too. We became acquainted through the Midtown Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, and for many years we served together as officers. I was proud to have her endorsement when I ran for City Council in 2002. I was happy to endorse her in her Democratic primary race against Jack Wing in 2006.

Just a handful of Tulsa's city councilors were first neighborhood activists and leaders. Terry Doverspike, Roscoe Turner, Jim Mautino, and Maria Barnes are the only names that come to mind. These are people who came into office having already dealt with code enforcement, INCOG, the Board of Adjustment, the TMAPC, and other city departments. I haven't always agreed with those councilors, but on the whole, I think it's a good thing to have that kind of experience and perspective on the City Council.

I'm happy to have a number of friends on the City Council and proud to count Maria Barnes in that number. I've spoken to her a couple of times on the phone recently, and I've also spoken to a couple of her opponents. I'm happy to talk to anyone running for city office who wants to pick my brain about city issues. But I'm not running Maria's campaign or anyone else's.

MORE: Here's a collection of links to past BatesLine and Urban Tulsa Weekly items about conservation districts. (The legislative bills mentioned would have damaged a city's ability to enact and enforce historic preservation districts and neighborhood conservation districts.)

November 2003: Hiding the agenda
December 2003: Even McDonald's can blend in
January 2004: Tom Baker: A bureaucrat to the core
January 2005: The video game test
January 2005: Historic non-preservation
July 2004: Whirled calls demolitions "improvements"
July 2005: Not so Safeway
February 2006: UrbanTulsa.com - 2006 City Council Questionnaire
April 2006: Mayoral responses to the Urban Tulsa Weekly questionnaire
May 2006: SB 1324 is still lurking
May 2006: UrbanTulsa.com - An Eye on City Hall
May 2006: Citizens' Commission starts winding down; SB 1324 update
May 2006: SB 1324, HB 2559, Susan Neal, and non-partisan elections
January 2007: Neal down and prey
October 2007: October 16th forum on neighborhood conservation and teardowns
November 2007: Conserving Midtown neighborhoods

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I tackle the teardown trend, infill development, and the concept of Neighborhood Conservation Districts as a means of ensuring that new infill construction is compatible with existing development.

I have two photo credits in this issue: A photo from the statehood procession reenactment from the big statehood centennial celebration in Guthrie, which graces the table of contents, and a photo of the prime example of out-of-scale and out-of-character infill development which accompanies the column. A hat tip to tulsanow.net forum member "yayaya" for tipping everyone off to this monstrosity. You can see more pictures on my Flickr set page, Tulsa Midtown McMansions.

Here are some supplemental links on the topic of teardowns and neighborhood conservation districts (NCDs):

For any OKC readers who were offended by a recent entry about the Oklahoma River, let me say that neighborhood conservation is an area where Oklahoma City is decades ahead of Tulsa.

Reflecting on the decline of the standalone video rental storefront, Steve Patterson directs our attention to the importance of building form over any given use:

It is interesting to see all these changes in the video market, something that didn't exist 30 years ago. Many storefronts, often built for these places, are left scattered around the landscape. Some will remain vacant while others will find new uses. This is yet another reason why the building form should be a higher priority over the use of a structure. The use will likely change over the years but the building form remains in place as long as the building remains standing. As a society, we cannot afford to change buildings for each and every change of use.

People are amazingly creative in the reuse of buildings, but buildings designed for multiple small storefronts seem to be the most flexible. This is evident as you look at the history of Cherry Street or Brookside. What was built to house a small grocery might become a used bookstore and then a restaurant. It's possible to combine several small spaces for a larger use, but it's much harder to take a building designed for one large tenant (a big box) and split it up in a practical way for many small tenants. Part of the problem is the depth of the building. How would you take a 100,000 sq. ft. building, like a small Wal-Mart, and split it practically into spaces of 1,000 to 2,000 sq. ft.?

It's my impression -- commercial real-estate experts correct me if I'm wrong -- that the bigger the space, the harder it is to find a tenant.

UPDATE: In the comments manasclerk mentions the book How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand. I haven't read it, but I'm impressed by what I read in this Wikipedia entry about one of the concepts discussed in the book: Shearing layers.

The Shearing layers concept views buildings as a set of components that evolve in different timescales; Frank Duffy summarized this view in his phrase: "Our basic argument is that there isn't any such thing as a building. A building properly conceived is several layers of longevity of built components."

The layers that make up a building are, in descending order of longevity from eternal to ephemeral: site, structure, skin, services (electrical, HVAC, plumbing), space plan (walls and partitions), and stuff.

According to the Wikipedia entry, Brand says that traditional buildings are more adaptable because they "allow[] 'slippage' of layers: i.e. faster layers (services) were not obstructed by slower ones (structure)." New construction (and by "new" I mean anything built since World War II) generally doesn't allow slippage -- the structure, skin, systems, and space plan are too tightly coupled, probably because that's a less expensive way to build.

No time to elaborate, but here's a comparison for your consideration -- two Tulsa hotels that once catered to VIPs, the Mayo and the Camelot.

TRACKBACK 2007/11/29 from the Planning Commissioners Journal Planning Quote of the Day blog, which I am now adding to my Newsgator page.

Here's a press release about an important event next Tuesday night.

NEIGHBORHOOD GROUPS HOSTING FORUM AND PANEL DISCUSSION
Taming the Teardown: A Moratorium to Save our Heritage

PreserveMidtown in association with The Coalition of Historic Neighborhoods of Tulsa will hold a forum and panel discussion on Tuesday, October 16 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at All Souls Unitarian Church, 2952 South Peoria. The educational forum will focus on the controversy over the practice of tearing down small houses and replacing them with larger ones, particularly in the mid-town Tulsa area. It will address questions of why teardowns occur, the economic impact to neighborhoods and individuals and what can be done to protect existing homes.

Moderator for the evening will be Stephanie Arnold de Verges, Certified Professional Facilitator with a master's degree in government and non-profit management.

Presenters include Guy de Verges, Amanda DeCort and Steve Novick.

Guy De Verges will speak on the environmental concerns of teardowns. He is an environmental consultant with a master's degree in environmental engineering.

Amanda DeCort will address the economic implications of tearing down and replacing houses. She has a master's degree in community planning with an emphasis in historic preservation and is the staff person for the Tulsa Preservation Commission.

Steve Novick will speak about conservation districts. He is an attorney in private practice specializing in civil rights and employment law. In recent years he has become a neighborhood preservation advocate and presently serves as president of the Ranch Acres Homeowners Association.

Following the presentations there will be a panel discussion that will include Michelle Cantrell with Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC); Cason Carter, District 9 City Counselor; and Maria Barnes, District 4 City Councilor. The audience will be invited to ask questions and express their views.

PreserveMidtown was formed as a result of poor infill practices in hopes of educating the public and influencing change in the way developers build in existing neighborhoods. The Coalition of Historic Neighborhoods of Tulsa was organized to provide a stronger voice to neighborhoods and to protect historic resources throughout the City of Tulsa through sound public policy. The coalition is comprised of members throughout the city.

Contacts:
Susan McKee, Coalition of Historic Neighbors
Smac96@cox.net
918.749.5160

Barbara VanHanken, PreserveMidtown
sophiabkv@aol.com
918.749.9093, 671.6217

For more information on the issue of teardowns, visit PreserveMidtown.com (or for a satirical twist on the issue, visit the website's evil twin, DestroyMidtown.com). And you can read Jessica Naudziunas' story on PreserveMidtown in the October 4-10 issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly

Part of the Oklahoma Local Development Act, 62 O. S. 860, a provision to encourage restoration of buildings historic neighborhood commercial districts, by allowing local governments to exempt taxation on the incremental property value (emphasis added):

D. A project plan may contain a provision that ad valorem taxes may be exempted in a commercial historic preservation area that is adjacent to and serves designated historical residential areas for neighborhood commercial preservation purposes in order for the neighborhood to retain its basic character and scale. No ad valorem tax exemption may be granted on the value of property which has been assessed or which is subject to assessment prior to the adoption of the project plan. No ad valorem tax exemption shall be granted pursuant to the provisions of this subsection for single-family residences. The governing body may grant the exemption only on the increase in value of the property. The exemptions may be granted for a specific period of time as determined by a written agreement between the property owners of the area and the governing body and may be renewed. Uses of the property eligible for this exemption may include but not be limited to commercial, office or multifamily residential use.

Is this actually in use anywhere in the state? Maybe only in Oklahoma City?

Found via the 2007 Oklahoma Business Incentives Tax Information Guide -- 60 pages worth of brief descriptions of tax exemptions, credits, and other incentives that Oklahoma offers to companies doing business in the state.

Very cool! INCOG now has, on its website, color-coded maps showing zoning classifications, covering Tulsa County and neighboring sections of Creek, Osage, Rogers, and Wagoner Counties.

It's all in PDF, so you will need Acrobat Reader. You'll also need broadband: The files appear to be quite large. Start with the index map, which shows county boundaries, municipal boundaries, major streets, and the township and range grid. Click on the place of interest, and a detailed PDF for the six mile by six mile township will appear.

Township boundaries run along 186th St. N., 126th St. N., 66th St. N., Archer St., 61st St. S., 121st St. S., and 181st St. S. Range boundaries run along 273rd West Ave., 177th West Ave., 81st West Ave., Peoria Ave., Mingo Rd., 193rd East Ave., 289th East Ave. Each map includes about 1/8th of a mile of overlap, so, for example, you can see both sides of Peoria through Brookside, even though Peoria is a boundary between map sections.

Here's the detailed map covering most of midtown.

The detailed map shows streets, lot boundaries, and zoning boundaries and is color coded for major zoning classifications -- green for agricultural, white for single-family residential, brown for multi-family residential, gray for industrial, red for commercial, yellow for office. Blue dashed lines indicate planned unit developments (PUDs), green dashed lines mark overlay districts, such as historic preservation districts. Labels show the legal zoning classification (e.g., RM-3, CS, IM, CBD), which will vary from one jurisdiction to another.

Of course, what you can and cannot do with a piece of land is affected not only by the underlying zoning, but also by any zoning overlay that may exist, the conditions and development standards attached to a PUD, if any, and any special exceptions or variances that may have been granted by the Board of Adjustment; you'll need to visit the INCOG offices to see the detailed records. But for most purposes, this will give you a clear and detailed picture of how our city can be built and rebuilt. The maps are current as of June 2007.

Next on the online wishlist: The comprehensive plan -- even though we're going to replace it, it would be helpful to have the current plan online, including detailed small area plans and master plans covering places like TU, the hospitals, and the Fairgrounds.

While we're wishing, maybe someday Tulsa County could have real estate records available online, navigable via a map. Sure, you can get to them when the library is open, but even then it isn't a user-friendly system. I've heard the reasons why not from our Tulsa County officials -- too expensive, privacy reasons, etc. But the website of Oklahoma County Assessor (and former Republican state representative) Leonard Sullivan provides access to records through a map viewer. Zoom in and click on a parcel, and it shows you who owns the land, how much it was assessed for, the physical description, the legal description (subdivision, block, and lot). A second click, on the account number, brings up a history of transactions, photos and sketches (used by the assessor to evaluate the size and condition of the house as part of assessing its value). Another click takes you to a list of comparable properties or a list of recent sales in the subdivision. It's all a matter of public record, everything the County Assessor's staff uses to do their jobs, and the Oklahoma County Assessor is making it as accessible to the general public as it is to developers and real estate professionals. The only flaw I can spot is that zoning information doesn't appear to be included. If Oklahoma County can do it, surely we can do it in Tulsa.

UPDATE: Commenter JW raises "the BS flag" on Tulsa County officials' cost objections to online land records:

This is nothing more than short sightedness and someone protecting their fiefdom. The state of Oklahoma offers tons of assistance to get counties land records online in a GIS web mapping application. INCOG and Yazel don't have a leg to stand on. Data can be obscured to protect privacy....

The data is already stored in GIS format. All they need is $800 in hardware and $0 in software to make it available online. Their excuses are borderline lies.

Another commenter makes the point that Tulsa County's data "is already made available and used daily by realtors and sites such as Zillow." Currently, a substantial fee has to be paid for access to the county data.

Here's Zillow's page for 2811 S. Columbia Pl., the 18,610 sq. ft., three-story, seven-and-a-half bath home of Mayor Kathy Taylor. If you enter a CAPTCHA code, you can see recent sales and tax data for the property. Zillow doesn't include ownership information, transactions other than sales, or data on non-residential property.

The City of Tulsa's Planning Department is holding a meeting in each council district to gather citizen input on the upcoming update to the City's Comprehensive Plan. They've also been meeting with a variety of community groups, asking three questions:

  1. This survey seeks to determine what do you think is most important for Tulsa to achieve over the next 10 to 20 years (regarding where you live, work, shop, learn, visit and play). Please list three that you think are most important, in order of priority.
  2. What do you think are Tulsa's most valuable or important assets or opportunities? Please list three that you think are most important, in order of priority.
  3. In the same manner as above, what do you think are the most critical issues, problems, or concerns confronting Tulsa? Please list three that you think are most important, in order of priority.

The answers to those questions given at earlier community meetings have been posted on the Planning Department's website. You can provide your own answers to those questions through an online form.

Or you can show up tonight at 6 p.m. in the Great Hall of the University of Tulsa Allen Chapman Activity Center (5th Place & Florence Ave) or tomorrow night at the Wright Elementary School auditorium (45th Place & Madison). Other upcoming meetings, all starting at 6 p.m.:

May 21 - Memorial High School auditorium, 5840 S. Hudson Ave.
May 22 - Hardesty Regional Library Redbud Auditorium, 8316 E. 93rd St.
May 23 - Tulsa Community College Northeast Campus, 3727 E. Apache St.
May 29 - Martin Regional Library auditorium, 2601 S. Garnett Road.
June 4 - Rudisill Regional Library Ancestral Hall, 1520 N. Hartford Ave.

Although they're holding a meeting in each City Council district, you can attend any meeting that is convenient for you.

The point of these meetings is to let the public know about the Comprehensive Plan update process and to gather input that will shape the next step in the process: selecting a planning firm to put an update together. The Planning Department wants your perspective, so they can create a plan that reflects the concerns and priorities of all Tulsans.

The City of Tulsa is moving ahead with a complete rewrite of its Comprehensive Plan, the first thorough revision since the '70s. Amendments minor and major have been adopted over the years, often to retroactively change the plan to reflect a zoning decision that was not compatible with the plan. Special area plans involving the city's hospitals, the University of Tulsa, Brady Village, 6th & Peoria, Crutchfield, Brookside, the Charles Page Boulevard Corridor, and the Arkansas River have been adopted into the Comprehensive Plan.

We have some excellent planners in the City's Urban Development Department. They are in earnest about getting the involvement of ordinary Tulsans all through the process of developing a new plan.

One of the first steps is happening mainly this month and next, going out to talk to neighborhood associations and other community groups to find out what they want to see in a Comprehensive Plan and how they want to be involved in the process. The input the planners gather will shape the Request for Proposals for an outside planning firm to handle the process of developing the new plan.

If you're in charge of speakers for a neighborhood or civic group, e-mail planning@cityoftulsa.org or phone Martha Schultz at 596-2600.

If you want to shape the city's future growth, this is the most strategic way to do it. Check out the website for the new Comprehensive Plan process at www.planitulsa.org. There you'll find a list of the steering committee, and an outline of the process.

UPDATE: Fixed the link. It doesn't work without the www.

L'essence de la Rue Cerise

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What makes Cherry Street (15th between Peoria and Utica) the lovely place it is, maybe the nicest street in Tulsa? This week's Urban Tulsa Weekly column tries to distill the essence of Cherry Street so that we can learn and apply the right lessons from its success.

Also in UTW this week:

The following comment, by Tom Gulihur of CalCoast Realty, was posted on a much earlier entry, Will the Real New Urbanism Please Stand Up? Gulihur is a California-based real estate broker and financier with a fascinating resumé and deep Oklahoma roots.

This essay wasn't likely to get much readership in the comments of an old entry, so I'm posting it here. I think you'll find it as thought-provoking and well-written as I did.

I come from land rush era Oklahoman stock on both sides of the family and I lived in Oklahoma until I was ten years old, when my family moved to LA, like true Okies. Parents and grandparents are OU alums and paternal grandparents are OSU alums. I love Oklahoma in a nostalgic way, but I understand why many people outside of Oklahoma blanche at the corny Wal-Mart mentality there (and the rest of the South and Midwest).

But some real estate development business is bringing me back to OK. There's a downtown revitalization occurring in Tulsa and I'm involved in a project there. I've been reading gobs of information on Tulsa and urban renewal there and want to explain a fundamental challenge that Tulsans need to overcome. I've seen San Diego's urban renewal and have studied New Urbanism enough to understand how this has to work. First, the public has to buy-in to most of the concepts of New Urbanism or the whole thing will flop. Here is a quick version of what it requires:

  • Create dense and intense development at the urban core using form based zoning code. That means don't classify building by use, but rather by their shape. Encourage mixed-use buildings but not only retail-office-residential; enable all mixed uses similar to the early 1920’s in America (it should basically look like Disney’s Main Street USA).
  • Create a pedestrian-friendly environment. Expand public transit to de-emphasize the use of the car. Of course this is difficult in an economy that is based on big oil and Detroit steel (now Japanese and German steel too).
  • Design an attractive public realm. Plant corridors of street trees, install traffic-calming devices, open corridors of greenbelts with paths and walkways to enable pedestrian and bicyclist activity, build 'vest-pocket parks'. Honor public institutions through architecture and placement. A well designed public realm, whether it’s a residential neighborhood (think of Georgetown, in Washington, D.C.), a public square, a village green, a park or a retail shopping street, they should all encourage people to want to ‘hang out’, ‘hang around’ or walk through it and walk to it. All this hanging out and walking around has a second major benefit to society besides the individual’s personal enjoyment of the experience, is that CRIME IS REDUCED where there are a lot of citizens with their eyes open. Democratic values are also strengthened when the public realm is strong.
  • Build using environmentally sustainable techniques. Use all active and passive solar technologies available and use recycled or recyclable building materials.
  • Mix housing types in random and close proximity. Don't just build high-rise condos that all cost from $300k to $500k because that fosters elitist classicism. This is the biggest challenge facing New Urbanists everywhere because of the conventional way residential projects are financed according to target market segments that naturally form socio-economic groups that lead to isolation of other groups. A truly democratic and vibrant culture occurs when a CEO and a janitor can live as compatible neighbors, although that's an extreme example.

It's important for the public to learn more about New Urbanism, which is also called Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND), Transit Oriented Development (TOD), Smart Growth, or other similar concepts. The American leader in this concept is Andres Duany and his wife Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. Their architecture and urban planning firm is at DPZ.com and at CNU.org (The Congress for the New Urbanism). Better yet, read Duany's entertaining book, SUBURBAN NATION, THE RISE OF SPRAWL AND THE DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN DREAM. Then you will ‘get’ New Urbanism.

Some conservatives see a political subcurrent to it and there really is an environmental concern and inclusionary aspect to it. But hey, the icecaps seem to be melting from global warming aren't they? Ten years ago you could argue against that assertion but it's different now. The inclusionary aspect of democratic society is an important part of New Urbanism that doesn't necessarily disagree with a conservative agenda, unless it includes environmental abuse.

In my experience, residential development always leads retail development because retail business owners cannot follow the ludicrous mantra of 'build it and they will come'. Retail will die on the vine if there it is not surrounded by a sea of 'rooftops', meaning the rooftops of consumers. So there's always a lag of retail development behind residential development. And the biggest complaint of the first wave of downtown dwellers when a city starts a downtown renaissance is that there is no convenient or good grocery store downtown. And there are the homeless, who often represent a security problem for wealthy urbanites.

But if Tulsa wants to be the next SOHO or downtown Vancouver, or Portland, or San Diego then it needs to loosen up the archaic liquor laws, IMHO. You need to get a Trader Joe's in downtown for sure, and TJ's needs to be able to sell its selection of wines and beers, which is probably only about 10% of their business, but a crucial 10%. So you guys need to dump the blue laws and welcome to the 21st century. Get out of the Wal-Mart fundamentalist attitude, open your minds and live and let live.

Tulsa has always enjoyed a more cosmopolitan flair than larger Oklahoma City (from where my family hails), although some people on the left and right coasts would snort at the words 'cosmopolitan' and 'Oklahoma' in the same sentence. What Oklahoma has all over the snobbier coastal societies is a warm friendliness that says 'you're OK!', to borrow a partial phrase from Transactional Analysis and Rogers and Hammerstein.

Good luck Okies! I'm rooting for you. But you'll need to loosen your liquor laws and learn about New Urbanism before real progress can move forward.

A couple of comments: (1) Of course I'm curious to know which downtown Tulsa project Gulihur is involved with, and pleased to know someone familiar with these concepts is involved in a downtown project. (2) There's a reference in his comment to financing, and Gulihur is involved in the financial end of real estate. One of the obstacles to building mixed-use or traditional neighborhood developments is that the money people don't understand it and don't have comparables to guide their lending decisions. (The Next American City had an in-depth article on the topic, "Why Building Smart Is So Hard," in the inaugural issue.) I'd be interested in Mr. Gulihur expanding on that issue from his experience.

The Marketplace radio program had a report on eminent domain reform ballot initiatives. In four states, the reform measures have a strange twist:

Reforming eminent domain is supposed to be about limiting the government's right to bulldoze a house to put up a freeway or a mall.

But some of these measures go much further. They would let citizens sue when government authorities enforce land-use or other laws they personally don't like and think might cost them money. Even though those laws are there to protect the community's interest.

So if you don't mind your next-door neighbors starting a disco nightclub at their house and then suing taxpayers when the government tells them they can't, these are the initiatives for you.

Sound absurd? Oregon enacted just such a law two years ago. Oregonians have since filed 2,700 lawsuits against state and local authorities asking for $6 billion of taxpayer money.

The idea behind these proposals is that any government regulation that limits use of a piece of property should be considered a "taking," and the owner should be entitled to just compensation. The Marketplace story suggests that the language of the amendment could provide a grounds for challenging any regulation, even if it has nothing to do with real estate.

The proposed eminent domain reform initiative in Oklahoma was of the same variety, something I wasn't aware of when I signed the petition. (Shame on me for not reading the whole thing.) In the end, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down the petition on the grounds that it dealt with two separate topics, in violation of the State Constitution's single subject rule. Here's part of the Supreme Court ruling describing the provisions in question:

IP 382 next proposes that an owner of private real property is entitled to just compensation for any reduction in the fair market value of the property caused by the enactment or enforcement of a zoning law, with the following exceptions: 1) zoning laws that protect public health and safety; 2) zoning laws required by federal law or nuisance law; 3) zoning laws limiting the use of property for nude dancing or selling pornography; and 4) zoning laws enacted prior to the effective date of the proposed act. IP 382 also contains provisions placing the burden of proof on the public body and providing for an award of attorney fees, costs, and expenses to the landowner. IP 382 sets no minimum amount of reduction in property value to constitute an actionable claim, does not establish the method of valuing property, does not delineate how a landowner may establish causation between a reduction in property value and a zoning law, and sets no statute of limitations for making a claim. Construed broadly, IP 382 renders inefficacious any zoning law that falls outside of the exceptions in subsection 3.

Effectively, it's a zoning freeze amendment. It might even make it impractical for the city to approve zoning variances, special exceptions, and rezonings requested by the owner. Potentially, a neighboring property owner could sue the city on the grounds that granting the zoning change reduced his property value.

Back in August, in an Urban Tulsa Weekly column, I wrote about the reaction to a set of five modest proposals (the CORE proposals) to address historic preservation in downtown Tulsa.

TulsaNow has put together a compelling seven-minute video in support of downtown historic preservation. Click the play button below to watch:

The video's narrator (I think it's TulsaNow board member Sarah Kobos) mentions that Tulsa is second in the country for the percentage of its downtown devoted to surface parking lots. (Who's number one? And if we try hard, can we catch up? ;) ) Take a look at the map below (click to enlarge), and you won't doubt it for a minute:

The video spotlights some of the dramatic architecture seen on and inside historic downtown Tulsa buildings, but it also rightly points out the importance of modest older buildings to downtown's revitalization. Of the 30 restaurants and nightclubs open on evenings and weekends in downtown (not including the ones in the hotels), 28 of them are in older buildings. Older buildings provide an affordable incubator for new businesses.

The only point that I might have added to the video is one I made in my column on the topic: that the large amount of public investment in downtown, specifically for the purpose of downtown revitalization, makes it reasonable for the public to protect its investment by putting in place these moderate historic preservation measures.

An edited version of this piece was published in the August 23, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The edited, published version of the piece is online in the Internet Archive. Posted on the web September 17, 2013.

Property owners owe Tulsans downtown preservation

By Michael D. Bates

A memo from the not-too-distant future

Dear Delegate,

Welcome to Tulsa and the 2008 National Preservation Conference! We want to do everything we can to make your stay a pleasant and memorable one.

Tulsa is a young city, but one with a rich history. As you walk the streets of downtown, we invite you to imagine the bygone days of wildcatters and oil barons and to imagine the bygone buildings where they did their deals, dined, shopped, and were entertained.
For those of you staying at the Westin Adam's Mark Crowne Plaza whatever the heck it's called now, you're sure to enjoy the history of the walk between the Convention Center and your hotel.

Fourth Street was once Tulsa's Great White Way, home to vaudeville and cinematic spectaculars. Close your eyes and you can imagine the Ritz (southeast corner of 4th and Boulder, now a parking garage), the Majestic (southwest corner of 4th and Main, part of the same parking garage), and the Orpheum (east of Main, south of 4th, now part of one of downtown Tulsa's foremost attractions, the Heap Big Hole in the Ground).
Don't miss the site of the Skelly Building on the northeast corner of 4th and Boulder, designed by famed architect Bruce Goff, now an exclusive deluxe gated parking community owned by the Tulsa World.

As you head north on Main Street, you'll be awed by the Totalitarian-Moderne Tulsa World building, a design inspired by the pillbox gun emplacements built by longtime Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha.

Main Street dead-ends at 3rd, cut off by your hotel's conference rooms, symbolically celebrating the irreparable division between north and south Tulsa.

We hope you'll take time to get some kicks on old Route 66. 11th Street, also known as the Mother Road, is today a lovely tree-lined boulevard, no longer cluttered with unsightly old motels and diners, which were cleared out to provide an attractive approach to the gateway to the portal to the grand entrance to the University of Tulsa.

We've got an "explosive" event planned for the final night of the conference - or should we say implosive! This town will rock! Promptly at sunset, every downtown building at least 50 years old will be simultaneously demolished in a symphony of light, sound, and debris. "Clean Slate 2008" is made possible through the generous sponsorship of Twenty-First Properties, the Tulsa World, Ark Wrecking, the Tulsa Parking Authority, and Downtown Tulsa Unlamented.

Enjoy your visit!

Tulsa Convention and Visitors Bureau

A bit farfetched? Perhaps, but the National Preservation Conference is coming to Tulsa in October 2008, and you have to wonder how many historic downtown buildings Tulsa will have left to show the visiting delegates.

The conference is put on each year by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, bringing preservation and urban planning professionals and lay people from all over the world for five days to exchange ideas and to tour local preservation success stories. I have no idea why they agreed to come to Tulsa, except perhaps to learn what not to do.

In the last two years we've seen the demolition of the Skelly Building and the 3rd and Main Froug's, two small retail buildings on the east side of Main just south of the Heap Big Hole in the Ground, and the Tulsa Auto Hotel, a parking garage that was demolished for - naturally - a surface parking lot. An aerial view of downtown reveals the effects of fifty years of heedless demolition.

The NTHP's local affiliate, Preservation Oklahoma, has named downtown Tulsa one of Oklahoma's most endangered historic places. While many Tulsans are rightly embarrassed by this and are working on a practical plan for action, the big downtown property owners are whining about the prospect any effective downtown preservation initiative.

Last week, a group called CORE Tulsa issued a set of five modest recommendations to the Tulsa Preservation Commission:

  1. Review all downtown buildings.
  2. Be proactive in meeting parking demand with structured parking, and discourage surface parking.
  3. Make downtown preservation a key component of Tulsa's new comprehensive plan.
  4. Create and promote incentives for redevelopment.
  5. Create a demolition review panel, to be designated by the Preservation Commission, that could halt demolition of a significant building for up to four months.

These measures have been a long time coming. Most cities took similar steps many years ago. Even many of Oklahoma's small cities have been more proactive than Tulsa in protecting their historic business districts.

I would have hoped that downtown property owners would get behind this effort, but instead their loud complaints have pushed these recommendations back to the drawing board, where they will no doubt be watered down.

I would have hoped that Mayor Kathy Taylor, who during the mayoral campaign praised the "Main Street" preservation efforts that she observed as Secretary of Commerce, would show some leadership and bring these recommendations forward. Instead, she seems to be heeding the advice of her aide Susan Neal, a former vice president of Downtown Tulsa Unlamented, who applauded the decision to withhold the recommendations.

(I know - it's really "Unlimited" not "Unlamented" - but the organization deserves the name change for their longstanding lack of resistance to the paving of downtown.)

In her Sunday Tulsa World column, Janet Pearson writes that "developers and building owners saw [the CORE recommendations] as potential project-killers." I'd be more impressed by that concern if it looked like the complaining property owners were actually doing anything with the land they've been sitting on. Other than the slow-but-steady renovation of the Mayo Hotel, there's not much happening in the downtown core.

What was most ironic and outrageous about the response of the development industry was the assertion that these preservation measures trampled on property rights and the free market.

Donovan D. Rypkema, a self-described "crass, unrepentant, real estate capitalist Republican type," gave a speech called "Property Rights and Public Values," in which he makes the case, from the basis of free markets and limited government, for land use regulation.

(You can find Rypkema's speech on the web at http://www.law.georgetown.edu/gelpi/takings/rypkema.htm)

These sentences from the speech are particularly relevant to the topic at hand:
"Most of the value of an individual parcel of real estate comes from beyond the property lines from the investments others - usually taxpayers - have made. And land use controls are an appropriate recompense for having publicly created that value."

Think about public investment in downtown Tulsa. Tulsa County taxpayers are investing over a quarter-billion dollars in downtown through Vision 2025. City of Tulsa taxpayers have invested tens or maybe hundreds of millions through bond issues and the third-penny -- building Main Mall, removing it, providing incentives to downtown residential development, acquiring land for the Williams Center through eminent domain, streetscaping, changing streets from one-way to two-way, etc. Then there's the federal and state investment in the highway network that provides rapid access to downtown from every part of the metropolitan area.

We didn't pay all that money to accelerate the conversion of downtown to an enormous surface parking lot.

The express purpose of much of that public investment is the revitalization of downtown. Many Tulsans want a downtown where historic buildings are protected, a downtown that is an attractive and interesting place to walk around, not a downtown that looks like the Woodland Hills Mall parking lot.

Every time a property owner knocks a building down for surface parking, it devalues that public investment. It is legitimate and reasonable for local government to protect that investment with modest regulations.

Oklahoma City has an Urban Design Commission with the power to block demolition.
That's how they saved the Gold Dome building at 23rd and Classen, now a multicultural center anchoring the city's Asian District.

In 2002, during a bus tour of Oklahoma City's downtown and Bricktown, I asked then-Mayor Kirk Humphreys how they convinced developers to go along with restrictions on what they could do with their property. Humphreys said that the City pointed out how many millions of dollars the City had invested in that area (the canal, the ballpark, the Ford Center, and more), and that it was reasonable for the City to take steps to protect its investment.

It's high time that our elected officials, the stewards of Tulsa's public investment in downtown, made that same case to our downtown property owners.

This week's UTW column begins with an imaginary letter from the Convention and Visitors Bureau to delegates to the 2008 National Preservation Conference, inviting delegates to admire the parking lots where historic buildings used to stand.

Don’t miss the site of the Skelly Building on the northeast corner of 4th and Boulder, designed by famed architect Bruce Goff, now an exclusive deluxe gated, 12-space parking community owned by the Tulsa World.

More specifically it's about the CORE Tulsa recommendations for historical preservation in downtown Tulsa (PDF document) and the hysterical response of certain downtown property owners, who don't recognize the obligation placed upon them by the enormous amount of public investment that has boosted their property values:

We didn’t pay all that money to accelerate the conversion of downtown to an enormous surface parking lot. The express purpose of much of that public investment is the revitalization of downtown. Many Tulsans want a downtown where historic buildings are protected, a downtown that is an attractive and interesting place to walk around, not a downtown that looks like the Woodland Hills Mall parking lot. Every time a property owner knocks a building down for surface parking, it devalues that public investment. It is legitimate and reasonable for local government to protect that investment with modest regulations.

One of the organizations who complained about the CORE recommendations gets a new nickname: Downtown Tulsa Unlamented. (I couldn't find this in the Whirled archives, but I seem to recall reading an article about the demolition of the old Cadillac dealership in south Boston, in which a DTU official was quoted as saying that no one would miss that old building. Anyone else recall that?)

(Added on September 30, 2006, to fill in the gaps in my Urban Tulsa Weekly column archive.)

If I weren't going to be making the rounds of watch parties this evening, I'd be going to this, which is worth your attention if you're concerned about protecting what's left of Tulsa's historic buildings and neighborhoods:

In lieu of a monthly meeting
The Coalition of Historic Neighborhoods
is please to announce
A Round Table Discussion

"How Do We Save Our Historic Resources:
Downtown and Our Neighborhoods"

Tuesday August 22, 2006
6:30 pm - 8:00 pm
Marquette School
15th and Quincy

Our Guest Presenters include:
Jamie Jamieson on Form Based Codes
Steve Novick on Neighborhood Stabilization
Amanda DeCort on Historic Preservation Overlay Zoning
Shawn Schaefer on Urban Planning

Sean Griffin will moderate

Have you ever asked this question?
Then you need to participate in this discussion.

Open to any and all.

TANSTAAFL

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The response of the downtown building owners and their lobbyists to proposals for downtown historic preservation is ironic, with their talk of capital and free markets. I didn't hear any of them suggest that it was a violation of capitalism to tax groceries to pay for a venue for privately-owned, for-profit sports teams and musical acts, or to spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars to boost their property values.

Up in my linkblog, I linked to a speech by Donovan D. Rypkema, who describes himself as a "crass, unrepentant, real estate capitalist Republican type." The speech is about the rationale and legitimacy of land-use regulation. In particular, he addresses the assertion that land use regulation constitutes a taking for which a property owner should be compensated.

One paragraph in the speech seemed especially relevant to the debate over downtown historic preservation:

Most of the value of an individual parcel of real estate comes from beyond the property lines from the investments others � usually taxpayers � have made. And land use controls are an appropriate recompense for having publicly created that value.

Think about public investment in downtown Tulsa. Tulsa County taxpayers are investing over a quarter-billion dollars in downtown through Vision 2025. City of Tulsa taxpayers have invested tens or maybe hundreds of millions through bond issues and the third-penny -- building Main Mall, removing it, providing incentives to downtown residential development, acquiring land for the Williams Center through eminent domain, streetscaping, changing streets from one-way to two-way, etc. Then there's the federal and state investment in the highway network that connects downtown with the rest of the metro area.

The express purpose of much of that public investment is the revitalization of downtown. Many Tulsans want a downtown where historic buildings are protected, a downtown that is an attractive and interesting place to walk around, not a downtown that looks like the Woodland Hills Mall parking lot.

Every time a property owner knocks a building down for surface parking, it devalues that public investment. It is legitimate and reasonable for local government to protect that investment with modest regulations.

In my column in last week's issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly, I wrote about the many ways that Oklahoma City uses land-use regulation to protect strategic and historical parts of the city, such as the Northeast Gateway and Bricktown. Special districts have been established, with rules and processes specific to each. Bricktown and other older commercial districts, such as NW 23rd St., are under urban design review, which affects major exterior renovation, new construction, and demolition, to ensure consistency with the character of the neighborhood, protecting public investment and the investment of neighboring building owners.

A few years ago, the Urban Design Commission denied three applications to demolish the Gold Dome at 23rd and Classen, a geodesic dome originally built as a bank. The building is now being used for offices and a multicultural center to anchor the city's Asian District.

In 2002, I went on a Tulsa Now bus tour of Oklahoma City, and for part of the ride then-Mayor Kirk Humphreys was our tour guide. I asked him how they convinced developers to go along with restrictions on what they could do with their property. He said that the City pointed out how many millions of dollars the City had invested in that area (the canal, the ballpark, the Ford Center, and more), and that it was reasonable for the City to take steps to protect its investment.

Paul Wilson, one of the property owners who was quoted as complaining about the preservation recommendations in the Whirled's story, was a member of the Dialog/Visioning Leadership Team, the group that put together the Vision 2025 sales tax package. He and his business associates had been pushing for a new taxpayer-funded sports arena since the mid '90s. The last time I checked land records downtown, firms connected to Wilson owned a significant amount of land along Denver Avenue between Highway 51 and the arena site.

No one is proposing to take his land away from him, but now that the City has given him so much of what he asked for, and has significantly improved the value of his investments, it is reasonable for the city to insist that he act in a way that upholds the value of the taxpayers' investment.

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch.

Condemning TU

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This week's UTW column is about the University of Tulsa's aggressive expansion policies, facilitated by the City of Tulsa's abuse of eminent domain on TU's behalf. Not only is it an immoral use of state coercion, it's a violation of the Oklahoma Constitution and bad urban design. I point to the Savannah College of Art and Design as a better example of how to build an urban campus that enhances both the city and the college experience, "the kind of imaginative win-win solution that never seems to occur to Tulsa’s leaders."

An edited version of this piece was published in the August 9, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The edited, published version of the piece is online in the Internet Archive. Posted on the web April 28, 2013.

Condemning TU
By Michael D. Bates

Usually it's the daily paper's editorial page that gets my dander up, but it was an article about the University of Tulsa's campus expansion in last week's edition of this paper that nearly had steam coming out of my ears.

It wasn't the way the story was reported, written or edited - Ginger Shepherd did a fine job - but the arrogance of TU's officials as this private institution uses the threat of government force to property owners to sell their land to TU.

2005's U. S. Supreme Court decision in the Kelo v. City of New London case drew national attention to the government's power of eminent domain - the ability to condemn property, forcing someone to sell their land to the government. But that wrongly-decided case didn't open the door to the abuse of this public power for private benefit. The City of Tulsa has been blighting and then condemning property on TU's behalf for decades.

TU's latest blitzkrieg is to the south, to create a grand entrance on 11th Street. Never mind that TU is already very visible on 11th, thanks to Skelly Stadium and the Reynolds Center. Never mind that TU already has a grand entrance on Delaware at 6th Street, with a grassy mall providing a dramatic view of the tower of McFarlin Library.

TU even had a chance to create a grand entrance on land it already owned. TU VP Kevan Buck told UTW that they kicked around building a main entrance next to the Reynolds Center on Harvard, but they didn't follow up on it at the time. Later, evidently, they changed their mind.

Most organizations would decide that they had their chance and missed it. They would make do with what they had, maybe use some signage and landscaping along Harvard south of Keplinger Hall to lead visitors into the heart of campus.

But if you're TU, you don't have to make do. Like Jezebel telling Ahab that she wanted Naboth's vineyard (see I Kings 21 for the first recorded use of eminent domain in history), TU just has to clear its institutional throat and the Tulsa Development Authority (TDA, the city's urban renewal trust) will step and fetch the land TU wants.

The City's willingness to condemn property for TU has allowed TU to be thoughtless about how they use the property they own. They have a half-mile of arterial frontage along Harvard. They have a quarter-mile of frontage along 11th.

Rather than building up - taller classroom buildings, parking structures - TU has sprawled outward. They don't have to worry about persuading a property owner to sell; the city will make the owner an offer he can't refuse.

Now, this is not a new story. TU and the TDA have been doing this little dance for decades, and this particular expansion has been in progress for a year or more - Starship Records was forced to move last year.

What got to me last week is the realization that the purpose of this grand entrance is purely for the sake of marketing TU. It won't improve the quality of the education, but it will impress the parents of prospective students.

On what planet is marketing a private college a legitimate public purpose justifying the use of eminent domain?

Would we use condemnation to improve a retail store's visibility? If Wal-Mart said to the City, that Macaroni Grill makes it hard for drivers on Memorial to see our new store, should the city force the Macaroni Grill to sell to Wal-Mart?

You say that's an unfair comparison - TU is a non-profit, a private university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA. All right - my church (also Presbyterian, but PCA) is on 51st Street east of Lewis. I'll bet it could attract more congregants if it could be seen by passing traffic on I-44. Should the City condemn land so that our church can acquire and demolish the apartment complex that stands in our way?

Of course not, and city officials would never do such a thing for my church, even if we asked nicely. TU can make it happen because they have some very powerful people on their board of directors, including Robert E. Lorton, chairman of World Publishing Co., and his wife Roxana.

But city officials shouldn't be doing it for TU anyway. It's a violation of the Oklahoma Constitution.

It's too late for Starship Records and Tapes, but I hope the owners of Metro Diner will take note of this May's Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling in Board of County Commissioners of Muskogee County v. Lowery. The Oklahoma court noted that the Oklahoma constitution has more stringent and specific requirements for the use of eminent domain than the U. S. Constitution.

According to the Institute for Justice, the Lowery case involved Muskogee County taking "an easement for water pipelines for a private electric generation plant." Surely there is even less constitutional warrant for taking a private business for the sake of an unobstructed view of a private institution.

TU apologists will argue that the university serves an important public role in Tulsa as an institution of higher learning. The City's assistance to TU may have been justified in the 1950s, when it was the only degree-granting institution in town, and many if not most TU students were Tulsa kids still living at home. Today Tulsa has a community college, four public colleges, a second private university, and extensions of a half-dozen other colleges which offer programs for non-traditional students.

And commuter students are no longer TU's target demographic. TU is trying to compete with other regional private colleges for affluent high school grads from other cities; they're not fighting with state schools over local yokels. Helping TU's marketing program isn't a valid use of government force.

No doubt someone will point to blight as a rationale for condemnation. But if anything, neighborhood blight has been created by TU's aggressive acquisitions and other public policies designed to aid TU. In the '60s, the area west of TU was blanket rezoned for multifamily dwellings, which encouraged developers to bulldoze craftsman-style homes and put up crummy little apartment buildings that could fit in a single house lot. Later, the constant threat of condemnation discouraged people from upgrading and maintaining their homes.

I remember, back in '79 or '80, walking to Roughnecks games through the neighborhood east of Skelly Stadium, where the Reynolds Center now stands. The homes there were attractive and well-maintained. The only way they could be considered blighted is under the overly broad definition of "blight" in our state statutes.

Because the Comprehensive Plan designated the area for TU expansion, the homes were "blighted" by virtue of not being in accordance with the Comprehensive Plan. No one's home or business is safe under that loophole, and the legislature needs to close it.

There is another, better way for a private university campus to co-exist with the surrounding city. The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has been in existence for just shy of 30 years, but they already have twice the enrollment of TU. (And that's despite charging more for tuition, too.)

Rather than create an enclave, isolated from the city, SCAD has restored and repurposed dozens of buildings throughout the historic district of Savannah - everything from the old 19th century Armory (now the admin building), to a 1960s Quality Inn (a dorm), to a block-long department store (the library), to two historic movie theaters (the drama department and the school auditorium). The integration of school and city has made the school a more attractive place for students and has made the city a livelier place for residents and tourists.

It was an approach born out of the founders' values, but also out of necessity. SCAD didn't have the money for new construction or the political clout for eminent domain, but it did have sweat equity and students and faculty with the skills to make an old building new again.

SCAD's approach is the kind of imaginative win-win solution that never seems to occur to Tulsa's leaders. It's said that creativity loves constraints, and TU hasn't had any constraints on its territorial ambitions, allowing it to take a ham-handed brute force approach. Perhaps a court challenge to the unconstitutional and immoral abuse of eminent domain that has fueled TU's expansion will help the university to take a more creative approach to campus building in the future.

Sidewalk to nowhere?

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Last week, the Whirled had a story about one developer's refusal to comply with city sidewalk regulations. The developer is Chris Bumgarner, and he is going to court to fight the TMAPC's insistence that he build a sidewalk along the eastside of Utica Avenue in front of his new development, just south of Utica Square. He calls it a sidewalk to nowhere, ending at Cascia Hall's property line, and says it will encourage people to cross Utica to the neighborhood in mid-block.

His attorney is Lou Reynolds. Yes, the Lou Reynolds whose reappointment to the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Board was first rejected by the City Council, then approved when then-Councilor Sam Roop reneged on a written pledge to oppose the appointment. (Roop was later appointed to a six-figure job in the Mayor's office.) The very Lou Reynolds whose controversial reappointment was cited as a reason for recalling Chris Medlock and Jim Mautino from office.

Here's what this prominent and influential land use attorney thinks about sidewalks:

Attorney Lou Reynolds said developers look at sidewalks as a waste of money and land.

"We don't have pedestrians because everyone in Tulsa has cars. You don't see people walking around and it's not because of the absence of sidewalks that they're not walking around. The fact is that Tulsa has such little density that you have to have a car to get around," he said....

Reynolds said the sidewalk policy is idealistic and not very practical.

"It's not perceived as necessary (by developers) because we've got along just fine without them for the past 50 to 60 years," he said. "To really use sidewalks you've got to have somewhere to go to."

And Utica Square is somewhere to go, designed to be friendly to both auto and pedestrian traffic. Just a bit north, is the medical corridor connecting St. John's and Hillcrest. Cherry Street is within walking distance, too. And a large number of bus routes converge on the 21st and Utica intersection.

What Reynolds is spouting is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you design a city so that walking somewhere is impossible, citizens will become increasingly dependent on having a car and driving dozens of miles a day just to go about everyday business. Sidewalks aren't enough in themselves -- there need to be a mixture of uses within walking distance -- but without them we can't create a more walkable, sustainable city.

A version of this column was published on August 2, 2006, in the August 3-10, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly under the headline, "Intelligent Design." Below is the column as originally submitted. The as-published version of the story is available on the Internet Archive. Submitted version posted on BatesLine on March 29, 2016.

Making the most of Tulsa's unique places
By Michael D. Bates

So I was changing my baby boy's diaper in the men's room of the Johnny Carino's at 98th and Riverside - they have those nice changing surfaces that pull down from the wall - and I was thinking: "If they just had a window here in the men's room, I'd have a lovely view of the Arkansas River and the Oklahoma Aquarium."

The diners at Johnny Carino's don't have that lovely view. The building is a franchise-standard, cookie-cutter design, oriented toward the street, and what windows there are face the parking lot and Riverside Drive.

For all the talk of development along the river and in light of the standard that has been set by Riverwalk Crossing in Jenks, it's hard to understand why all the development to date on the Tulsa side turns its back to the river. Here we are, poised to spend millions on low-water dams, and for what? So that the Kum-n-Go dumpster and the Red Robin grease pit can have spectacular views of the water?

Even the greatly anticipated Kings Landing is oriented away from the river. Just a couple of the spaces appear to have windows (and small ones at that) facing the Arkansas.

I had hoped that private developers would have the imagination to see and exploit the unique opportunities presented by riverfront property. My guess is that the financing and construction process, with the focus on reducing risk to the investors, is enough to quench anything imaginative.

As much as possible, we ought to leave it to the free market to decide the best use for a piece of land. But there are certain places which, by virtue of some natural feature (e.g., a river) or publicly-funded facility (e.g., a freeway, an arena), offer unique opportunities for a city's growth, quality of life, tourist appeal, and economic development.

Many cities have concluded that the only way to make the most of their unique places is to establish special design requirements and a design review process for nearby developments.

Oklahoma City has done this for its river, establishing a "scenic river overlay" zone that follows the path of the Oklahoma River (nee North Canadian) through the city. New developments are scrutinized for compliance with the city's String of Pearls Master Plan, helping to ensure that OKC taxpayers get what the kind of riverfront experience they hoped for when they approved funding for low-water dams.

The river isn't the only special place that Oklahoma City protects through special regulation. In Bricktown, new construction and exterior modifications must be approved by the Bricktown Urban Design Committee, using guidelines designed to maintain consistency with the historic brick warehouses that give the district its name. The design review process protects both the massive public investment in the area.

They aren't making any more Main Streets, so a similar design review process is in place for Oklahoma City's pedestrian-oriented shopping streets, in recognition of the way places like NW 23rd and Capitol Hill add to the appeal of city living.

Southwest of downtown, Stockyards City is an authentic remnant of Oklahoma City's history as a cowtown, and there are special zoning regulations that apply to the commercial district and its main approaches.

Oklahoma City has also made it a priority to protect one of its front doors. I-44 & I-35 funnel traffic in from Wichita, Kansas City and points north, and Tulsa, St. Louis, Chicago, the Great Lakes region, and the northeastern U. S., heading to Texas or Southern California.

The area just south and west of where the two roads divide has a high concentration of tourist attractions - the Oklahoma City Zoo, the Omniplex, Remington Park, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, the National Softball Hall of Fame, and the National Firefighters Hall of Fame.

In 1981 - 25 years ago - Oklahoma City recognized the importance of this area by designating it the Northeast Gateway Urban Conservation District. The purpose of the district, as designated by ordinance, is "to ensure continued conservation of aesthetic appeal within a unique area; to encourage quality development; and to recognize the unique quality and character of the Northeast Gateway."

In the Northeast Gateway district, building facades must be of stone, masonry, glass or wood. Metal buildings aren't allowed to front onto public streets. There are special requirements for landscaping, screening, street setback, building height, and noise. Heavy equipment repair, truckstops, outdoor swap meets, and sewage treatment plants are prohibited. These extra requirements are designed to help the city make a good first impression.

Tulsa's leaders haven't been as foresighted in protecting our special places.

Here's one example: We've allowed our own northeast gateway, the heavily-traveled stretch where I-44, US 412, and State Highway 66 join together, to develop in an ugly way. Instead being lined with places for tourists to spend money and generate sales tax, this corridor is filling up with industrial uses, auto auctions, and truck storage.

The area has developed in this way partly because, 40 years after Tulsa annexed the area, the city still hasn't provided the infrastructure needed for more profitable uses. The lack of city sewer is a particular hindrance.

To the south of this corridor are some of the largest blocks of undeveloped land remaining within the city limits. Historic Route 66 is just a mile to the south.

Tulsa needs to be smart about how this region develops. And while we can't do anything about what's already there, city officials can make planning decisions that will begin to turn the area around.

Last Thursday the City Council approved a zoning change that is a step in the wrong direction. Some property in this corridor, near 145th East Ave and Admiral, was rezoned industrial. I'm told that the rezoning will make it harder for neighboring property owners to develop their land as anything but industrial.

Some of those nearby parcels were potential sites for residential development. Just within the last month, a sewer line was completed to the area which would make residential development feasible, but it is unlikely to happen if industrial development springs up nearby. The industrial rezoning could also hinder retail development at 129th East Ave and I-44, a site identified as a prime retail location.

Tulsa needs a comprehensive plan that reflects the importance of this and other strategic areas, and we need ordinances that help us put the plan into action.

Oklahoma City's zoning overlays may not be the best approach - they're really an attempt to superimpose the form-based planning approach onto an outdated use-based system - but OKC's example gives Tulsa a place to start.

Tulsa only has so much highway frontage, so much open space, so much riverfront. They aren't making any more of the stuff (to paraphrase Will Rogers), so we need to make the most of what we have.

Jim Beach's appointment to the Board of Adjustment is on tonight's Tulsa City Council agenda. You can read my reasons for opposing this appointment in my June 15th column. Despite reports that at least six and as many as eight councilors will vote no, Mayor Kathy Taylor is determined to get her way. The BoA is the guardian of the integrity of our land use regulation system. If you want to keep the BoA free of conflicts of interest, if you want the BoA to continue their recent practice of sticking to the law when granting variances, you need to be present tonight and voice your concerns to the City Council. The meeting starts at 6, and the appointment will be early in the agenda.

UPDATE: The Beach nomination will NOT be on tonight's Council agenda.

UPDATE 2: The nomination could still be discussed tonight, if even one Councilor objects to removing it from the agenda. If you can be there at 6, just to be on the safe side, please do.

Found on a MySpace blog during a Technorati search for "Tulsa", this is from Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck:

Another word for dependent is burden, and that term better describes these parents' perception of the children who rely upon them for mobility. Mothers often derail their careers so that their children can experience a life beyond the backyard. The role of journalist, banker, or marketing director is exchanged for that of chauffeur, with the vague hope that their career will resume when the last child turns sixteen; thus the term soccer mom -- a distinctly suburban euphemism. The plight of the suburban housewife was powerfully conveyed in a letter we received in 1990 from a woman living outside of Tulsa:

"Dear Architects:

"I am a mother of four children who are not able to leave the yard because of our city's design. Ever since we have moved here I have felt like a caged animal only let out for a ride in the car. It is impossible to walk even to the grocery store two blocks away. If our family wants to go for a ride we need to load two cars with four bikes and a baby cart and drive four miles to the only bike path in this city of over a quarter million people. I cannot exercise unless I drive to a health club that I had to pay $300 to, and that is four and a half miles away. There is no sense of community here on my street either, because we all have to drive around in our own little worlds that take us fifty miles a day to every corner of the surrounding five miles.

"I want to walk somewhere so badly that I could cry. I miss walking! I want the kids to walk to school. I want to walk to the store for a pound of butter. I want to take the kids on a neighborhood stroll or bike. My husband wants to walk to work because it is so close, but none of these things is possible. . . And if you saw my neighborhood, you would think that I had it all according to the great American dream."

TRACKBACKS:

See-Dubya, out on the Left Coast, says we should count our blessings:

You live in one of the greatest little cities in America, lady. Id love to have your problems. Id be up at Grand Lake this weekend, buzzing around in my bass boat with the rich people. Id go all Lileks on one of the most beautiful Art-Deco downtowns in the country. Id take my kid to the JM Davis gun museum or Woolaroc or Gilcrease or Philbrook or out to wander around in some little brick downtown with an Indian name like Warneka or Beufala that still has its feed stores right there on Main Street....

I can walk three blocks to a grocery store here, too, and its a fancy-pants rinky-dink Whole Foods knockoff thats never open when I need it. Safeway is two miles up a commuter-jammed highway. I could walk to church, but to find one that actually believes in the Trinity requires a five-mile trip in the family truckster.

Charles G. Hill, down at the other end of the turnpike, sees a lot of walkers in his neighborhood, but not a lot of kids:

And I don't expect this to change any time soon: if you're buying a house in town and you've got school-age kids, your friendly agent will steer you away from my neighborhood, despite its manifest advantages, because it's in an urban school district and you can't possibly want that.

(My apologies for not having trackbacks turned on, but I got tired of deleting 40-60 spam trackbacks a day, and my old spam-deterrent techniques were no longer working. As soon as I get MT 3.2 installed, I'll turn them back on. In the meantime, I'll manually add trackback links as I find them or if they're e-mailed to me at blog at batesline dot com.

Beach-ed appointment

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This week's column in UTW is about Mayor Kathy Taylor's first batch of appointments to city authorities, boards, and commissions (ABCs), particularly the appointment of Jim Beach to the Board of Adjustment, a move that has drawn opposition from neighborhood leaders and may provoke the end of Taylor's honeymoon. Taylor's appointment of Steve Berlin, a Great Plains Airlines board member, to the TARE board is also controversial.

Yesterday, long after I filed the story, I got word that the Taylor administration had pulled Beach's appointment off of this Thursday's Council agenda, and in fact it is missing from the online agenda, while the other appointments are still present.

Someone has said that any appointment to the Board of Adjustment is bound to be controversial, and that's true. You're almost certain to upset either the development lobby or the homeowners' groups. You have to choose which group you want to please and which group you want to anger, and Kathy Taylor has chosen to please the development lobby and anger neighborhood leaders with her first pick. That says a lot about the direction of her administration.

Also in this week's issue is Ginger Shepherd's story about the planned cleanup of Tent City, an unauthorized campground for the homeless between the north bank of the Arkansas River and the levee, west of downtown.

Shepherd also has a story about former Councilor and mayoral candidate Chris Medlock and his campaign for State House District 69.

An edited version of this piece was published in the June 7, 2006, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The edited, published version of the piece is online in the Internet Archive. Posted on the web September 17, 2013.

Remembering Jane Jacobs
By Michael D. Bates

"This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding. It is also, and mostly, an attempt to introduce new principles of city planning and rebuilding, different and even opposite from those now taught in everything from schools of architecture and planning to the Sunday supplements and women's magazines.... It is an attack... on the principles and aims that have shaped modern, orthodox city planning and rebuilding."

She was labeled a naysayer and an obstructionist, anti-growth and anti-progress. She had no training in city planning or architecture, but she challenged the professionals and the experts. In the mid-'50s, when her neighborhood was threatened with demolition by New York's orgy of expressway construction, she and her neighbors fought back and won. Their victory opened the door for the economic resurgence of the neighborhoods of lower Manhattan.

She transcended political boundaries. In the late '60s, she and her family left the United States for Toronto to keep her son out of the Vietnam War draft, and yet two of her books were listed among the hundred best non-fiction works of the 20th century by the conservative fortnightly National Review.

What Jane Jacobs had was a keen eye for detail, a gift for description, and a stubborn determination to see streets, neighborhoods, and cities as they really are, not distorted through the lens of academic theory. It is that quality that makes her landmark book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, still fresh and relevant nearly half a century after its publication.

Her death on April 25, at the age of 89, brought to an end Jane Jacobs' long and productive life. She deserves to be remembered, and so do her observations about what makes a city a safe and pleasant place to live and work and, just as important, an incubator for new businesses and new ideas.

Here are just three of the lessons she taught, lessons that many of Tulsa's leaders have yet to learn:

1. Believe your eyes, not your theories:

Jacobs' ideas about cities ran counter to the accepted wisdom of city planning, which she considered a dangerous kind of quackery, as apt to kill the patient as heal it: "As in the pseudoscience of bloodletting, just so in the pseudoscience of city rebuilding and planning, years of learning and a plethora of subtle and complicated dogma have arisen on a foundation of nonsense."

Planners clung to their dogma, regardless of its real-world effects: "The pseudoscience of planning seems almost neurotic in its determination to imitate empiric failure and ignore empiric success."

Jacobs wrote of a friend who was a city planner in Boston, who told her that the North End, the old Italian district with its chaotic tangle of narrow streets and untidy mixture of homes and businesses, was a dreadful, crowded, unhealthy slum that needed to be cleared. And although he concurred with her observation that the neighborhood was a lively, pleasant, and safe place, an observation backed up by low crime and mortality rates, he chose to believe the negative view of the neighborhood dictated by accepted planning theory.

Here in Tulsa there seems to be a reluctance to catalog and acknowledge the planning failures of the last fifty years. Perhaps it is because many of the responsible decision makers of the '60s, '70s, and '80s are still living and still influential. But until we are willing to admit that following the fads of the past - urban renewal, superblocks, pedestrian malls, urban expressway loops - caused more damage than good, we will remain susceptible to ignoring reality and uncritically embracing the next fashionable concept.

2. The safety of a city is a function of its design:

Jacobs saw, in the traditional urban neighborhoods that had escaped dismemberment by urban renewal and expressway construction, a complex organic system that planners tamper with at their peril.

The mixture of residences, jobs, and shopping gives people a reason to be on the sidewalks, coming into or through the neighborhood from early in the morning until late at night. That, combined with buildings that overlook those sidewalks, creates a kind of natural surveillance - a phenomenon she called "eyes on the street." She wrote, "No amount of police can enforce civilization where the normal, casual enforcement of it has broken down."

Contrast that with a typical 1970s Tulsa subdivision. The neighborhood has sidewalks, but they don't lead anywhere you would need to go. The houses turn a blind eye to the street; living rooms look out on the back yard, with no windows facing the street. It doesn't matter how many street lights you put up; if no one needs to be walking down the street, and no one can easily look out to observe the street, you have only managed to create a well-lit workplace for vandals and car thieves.

3. Old buildings matter:

"Cities need old buildings so badly it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them. By old buildings I mean not museum-piece old buildings... but also a good lot of plain, ordinary, low-value old buildings, including some rundown old buildings."

Think about the most lively and interesting places in Tulsa, the kind of places you'd take a visitor for a night on the town: Brookside, the Blue Dome District, Brady Village, Cherry Street, 18th and Boston. Each of those districts had an abundance of old buildings, buildings that are for the most part unremarkable. But those buildings provided an inexpensive place for someone with a dream to start a new business.

You might have seen the same kind of vitality develop in the south part of downtown, with business springing up to serve the tens of thousands who attend classes at TCC's Metro Campus or participate in activities at the downtown churches, but so many of the buildings have been taken for parking by the churches and by TCC that a prospective business owner would be hard-pressed to find a location.

"As for really new ideas of any kind - no matter how ultimately profitable or otherwise successful some of them might prove to be - there is no leeway for such chancy trial, error and experimentation in the high-overhead economy of new construction. Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings."

Time and space allow us only to scratch the surface of Jacobs' wisdom here. You will have to read The Death and Life of Great American Cities for yourselves to see what she had to say about why some parks are lively and safe and others are dull and dangerous, why certain areas become magnets for used car lots and other unattractive uses, how to accommodate cars without killing an urban neighborhood, and how to keep a successful district from self-destructing.

The principles Jacobs drew from her observations are timeless because they are grounded in unchanging human nature, although the application of those principles will vary from one place to another. Would that every City Councilor and every planning commissioner would read and ponder Jacobs' works.

As Tulsa revisits its Comprehensive Plan for the first time in 30 years, as we consider moving from use-based to form-based planning, we have the opportunity to align our practices with those timeless principles, so that once again our urban core can become a lively and dynamic engine for the culture and prosperity of our city and our region.
Jane Jacobs showed us the way. Perhaps, a half-century later, Tulsa is ready to follow her path.

My column this week in Urban Tulsa Weekly looks back at the Oklahoma legislative session just ended and the state election filing period next Monday through Wednesday, June 5 through 7.

SB 1324, the bill that would have interfered with local control of zoning, was dealt a humiliating 42-3 defeat in the State Senate, while its sister bill HB 2559 died in conference committee. SB 1742, a landmark pro-life bill, won by overwhelming margins in both houses and was signed by the governor. The legislators on the wrong side of those issues deserve special scrutiny as they face re-election this year, but they won't get any scrutiny unless they have an opponent.

In particular, District 70 Representative Ron Peters and District 72 Darrell Gilbert haven't faced opposition in six years and eight years respectively, and I'm hoping someone will step forward to challenge each of them.

District 3 Tulsa County Commissioner Bob Dick has yet to announce his plans, and it's beginning to look like Dick is trying a J. C. Watts-style handoff to his handpicked successor. You'll recall that Watts announced at the last minute in 2002 that he wouldn't be seeking re-election to Congress. Candidates that might have run for that open seat were caught flat-footed, but Watts' political consultant and chosen heir, Tom Cole, had advance knowledge of Watts' plans and was ready to run right away.

Speculation is that Dick's chosen successor is either Tulsa City Councilor Bill Christiansen or former State Sen. Jerry Smith. The district covers the southern part of midtown Tulsa, south Tulsa, Broken Arrow, and Bixby. (Click here to see a map of the Tulsa County Commission Districts.) The district is heavily Republican, and there has to be some man or woman of integrity and wisdom among the tens of thousands of registered Republicans in the district who would be willing to step forward and serve as a candidate.

Given the huge pot of money under the control of the Tulsa County Commissioners -- well over half a billion in Vision 2025 money, plus Four to Fix the County tax dollars, plus millions more money available to lend in their role as the Tulsa County Industrial Authority -- and the County Commission's propensity to avoid competitive bidding, we need to clean house at the County Commission. Having Bob Dick or his handpicked successor in office is not an acceptable result.

If you are considering a race for any of those seats, or would like more information about being a candidate, I'd be glad to talk with you. Drop me an e-mail at blog at batesline dot com.

UPDATE: The Whirled is reporting that Bob Dick is running for re-election and Bill Christiansen plans to challenge him. Not much of a choice. With the fans of insider deals splitting their votes between Christiansen and Dick, a conservative reformer could easily gain enough primary votes to make the runoff and then win the runoff. (That's more or less how Tim Harris came out of nowhere to win the DA's office back in 1998.)

East Tulsa neighborhood activist Jennifer Weaver has been keeping a close eye on Eastland Mall and its owner Haywood Whichard, an out-of-state investor who has a reputation buying distressed shopping malls and sitting on them until they're condemned for redevelopment.

There is a move afoot to rezone the mall from CS to IL -- light industrial. Jennifer has been trying to find out what is in store for Eastland Mall and has a detailed report on Meeciteewurkor's blog.

Jennifer says we need a comprehensive plan for Eastlamd Mall. In fact, on Wednesday the TMAPC took a bus tour (click for PDF of tour route) of the five-square-mile area included in the East Tulsa Neighborhood Plan. The plan covers US 169 to 145th East Ave, 11th Street to 31st Street. The plan is complete, but has not yet been adopted by the TMAPC or City Council as an official part of the City's Comprehensive Plan.

An edited version of this piece was published on May 31, 2006, in Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web, with hyperlinks to related articles, on August 18, 2010.

"No man's property is safe while the legislature is in session." So goes the old saying, and it very nearly held true this year, as two bills at the State Capitol, SB 1324 and HB 2559, threatened property values by trying to undermine local control of zoning and historic preservation.

But HB 2559 died in conference committee, and SB 1324 emerged last Tuesday only to be blown out of the water by a humiliating vote of 42 to 3 in the full State Senate.

We've been following these bills for about six weeks, ever since historic preservation groups sounded the alarm. We've learned several lessons in the process.

The first lesson is that if you care about your city, the State Legislature deserves every bit as much scrutiny as City Hall. In Oklahoma, municipalities are creatures of the state, limited to the authority granted them by the Oklahoma Constitution and Statutes. A lot of good work locally could be undone at the state level.

Lesson two: It's very hard to get a clear idea of where a bill stands. Striking the title, shell bills, committee substitutes, riders -- there are so many different ways to derail or completely change a piece of legislation. We've only begun to get an education in the legislative process as it is practiced in Oklahoma City. Don't assume that you get it just because you watch C-SPAN as your daily soap opera; Oklahoma's procedures and traditions are very different from those of Congress.

Lesson three: Legislators are forced to consider an incredible amount of legislation each year - thousands of bills and resolutions are introduced, and hundreds make it to the floor for debate and a vote. They can't possibly give each bill the attention it deserves.

Consequently, they put a lot of trust in their colleagues and in lobbyists to decide whether a bill deserves scrutiny. In the case of HB 2559 and SB 1324, the bill's sponsors - Sen. Brian Crain and Reps. Ron Peters and Jeannie McDaniel, all from Tulsa - told their colleagues that the provisions weren't controversial at all.

The same message was carried by lobbyists Karl Ahlgren and Russ Roach, representing the interests of "Utica Partners". Roach used to live in Swan Lake, a zoned historic preservation neighborhood in midtown Tulsa. Nowadays Roach lives south of Southern Hills Country Club, living large and milking his connections to his former colleagues for all their worth. He seems to have forgotten the challenges faced by homeowners in older parts of Tulsa.

Until preservationists got wind of the bill, and word spread to neighborhood associations, city councilors, and others concerned about urban