Tulsa Zoning: July 2011 Archives

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.


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:


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.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Zoning category from July 2011.

Tulsa Zoning: May 2011 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Zoning: August 2011 is the next archive.

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