Tulsa Zoning: February 2006 Archives

A vision is a "compelling description of your preferred future," not a collection of public construction projects. This week's column is about comprehensive planning and developing a real vision for Tulsa's future. Tulsa's comprehensive plan is about 30 years old, but the process to get a new one is underway. Kansas City redid theirs in the '90s, and they have an ongoing effort to implement it. Dallas has unveiled a draft comprehensive plan with a strong theme of making more of Dallas pedestrian-friendly. Tulsa could learn a lot from these cities, but the scorched-earth approach of the development lobby may stop Tulsa from having the kind of visionary leadership we need.

I first learned about the Dallas plan thanks to this topic on the TulsaNow forum.

Some supplemental links:

The report of Comprehensive Plan Process Task Force: transmittal letter, draft report, and draft process.

Tulsa City Council's resolution adopting the recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan Process Task Force.

ForwardDallas, Dallas's comprehensive planning effort.

ForwardDallas's draft comprehensive plan documents.

The urban design element of ForwardDallas (14.5 MB PDF).

Dallas Morning News (free registration required) story on the plan: "Pedestrians, not cars, star in draft of plan, but code changes sought"

Dallas does moratoriums, too. One example: building permits and certificates of occupancy within 1000 feet of a section of Fort Worth Avenue were halted for four months, to allow time for a development study to be completed. This is much stricter, although shorter in duration, than the eminent domain moratorium being proposed for Tulsa.

The big infill development battle in Dallas has been over McMansions -- tearing down smaller homes in older neighborhoods and building houses that fill their lots and dwarf neighboring homes. Here's a blog devoted to the fight against McMansions. (In Tulsa, it's been more typical to replace a sprawling ranch home on a multiple-acre lot with several multi-story houses.)

DallasBlog.com is an interesting community blogging effort at creating an alternative news presence online. I intend to explore it further.

Here's the home page for FOCUS Kansas City.

A proposal for a one-year moratorium on the use of eminent domain for economic development will be before the Tulsa City Council this Thursday night. (Click here for a PDF of the proposal.) The resolution would establish as the "policy of the City of Tulsa" the implementation of a "one-year moratorium on the use of economic development against the will of the property owners." This policy would "extend to the fullest extent possible as allowed by law to the City of Tulsa, its agencies, boards, authorities, and trusts."

Last summer's Supreme Court decision in the Kelo v. New London case woke Americans up to the misuse of government's condemnation powers. The word "blight" could be defined as anything different than what a politically-connected developer wants to build in the targeted area. Although local governments have for years been using condemnation to serve the interests of private businesses and organizations, most property owners were unaware of it, unless they'd personally been affected by it. What was shocking was that the Supreme Court would uphold what seemed to be an obvious violation of the Fifth Amendment. Americans got the message: "My home is my castle, unless the city thinks it can boost tax revenues by taking it away from me."

Legislators across the country have responded with proposals to limit how states, counties, and cities may use the eminent domain power. Here in Oklahoma, State Rep. Mark Liotta and State Sen. Brian Crain are sponsoring such legislation, but it likely won't be approved until the end of session in late May, and wouldn't go into effect until November. It would be a tragedy if, in the meantime, homes, business, or churches are taken by condemnation under conditions that would be illegal a few months later.

That's where a moratorium comes in. That long Latin word seems to confuse folks like non-Councilor Randy Sullivan. Maybe it sounds to him like crematorium or mortuary, but it has nothing to do with "killing" eminent domain permanently. Moratorium is from the Latin word morari, which means "to delay." The proposed moratorium would delay the use of eminent domain for economic development under certain conditions for one year, to give the legislature time to put some protections for property owners into place.

Here's what the proposal would not do:

  • It would not stop the use of eminent domain for acquiring land for publicly-owned facilities like streets, schools, arenas, and parks.
  • It would not permanently end the use of eminent domain for economic development. The moratorium would only delay such takings for a year, giving the legislature time to decide what restrictions on the practice are necessary to protect property owners.
  • It would not prevent or delay the use of condemnation to remove structures that are a danger to health and safety.
  • It would not prevent or delay the city from acquiring land for economic development from a willing seller.
  • It would not prevent or delay the use of condemnation with the property owner's consent in order to deal with title, easement, or probate problems.

Mayor Bill LaFortune opposes any moratorium, calling eminent domain an important tool for cities. It is indeed a tool. A crowbar is also a tool, but it makes all the difference whether I use it to pry off your hubcap to help you change your tire or to crack open your door to steal your jewelry or to bash in your head. This moratorium doesn't mean we're throwing the tool away; we're just going to avoid using this tool in potentially damaging ways until we have some clear guidance on its proper, moral, and just use.

This resolution is a reasonable and measured response to the Kelo decision and the state legislature's initiatives. Tulsans concerned about protecting our property rights (especially the rights of the "little guy") ought to be at the City Council meeting tomorrow night, February 9, 6 p.m., to show your support.

UPDATE (2/9/2005): The Council approved the resolution by a 6-2 vote, with a couple of fixes to minor scriveners' errors. Henderson, Medlock, Turner, Martinson, Mautino, and Christiansen voted yes; Sullivan and Neal voted no; Baker was absent. Steve Roemerman has more analysis of the vote and its political implications. He notes that two City Council candidates spoke in support of the moratorium: Rick Westcott, running in the Republican primary in District 2, and Al Nichols, running in the Democrat primary in District 5.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Zoning category from February 2006.

Tulsa Zoning: December 2005 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Zoning: March 2006 is the next archive.

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