Tulsa Zoning: June 2015 Archives

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:

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa Zoning category from June 2015.

Tulsa Zoning: October 2014 is the previous archive.

Tulsa Zoning: March 2016 is the next archive.

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