Tulsa Zoning: August 2008 Archives

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.


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:



WHEREAS, pursuant to 63 O.S., ยง 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.

About this Archive

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

Tulsa Zoning: July 2008 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Zoning: September 2008 is the next archive.

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