Tulsa Zoning: March 2008 Archives

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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Zoning category from March 2008.

Tulsa Zoning: February 2008 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Zoning: April 2008 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

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