Urban Tulsa Weekly: April 2006 Archives

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly is about HB 2559, a bill in the Oklahoma legislature which represents an unwarranted state intrusion on local government control over zoning and land use regulation. (The column also covers the latest BOk Center bids, which put the arena at least $30 million over budget.)

HB 2559 would limit a city's options for handling appeals of decisions made by the city's Board of Adjustment (BoA), which considers variances and special exceptions to zoning requirements. The bill was amended in the State Senate to make it easier to remove historic preservation (HP) zoning from a parcel of land.

Since filing the story, I've learned about a parallel bill which originated in the State Senate called SB 1324. Like HB 2559, SB 1324 is sponsored by Sen. Brian Crain and Rep. Ron Peters. Like HB 2559, it would restrict a city's options for handling BoA appeals. Unlike HB 2558, SB 1324 also grants new powers to a Board of Adjustment:

[The board of adjustment shall have the power to] Hear and decide proposals for accessory elements associated with an allowed building use, where appropriate general performance and design standards have been established which promote greater economic value and provide a harmonious relationship with adjoining land uses by ordinance or by administrative rule or regulation. Such proposals and performance or design standards may include, but are not limited to, such accessory elements as sound, building material, runoff, lighting, visual screening, landscaping and vehicular considerations....

Earlier today I spoke to someone in the Clerk's office of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. My understanding is that HB 2559 is headed for a conference committee, but the conferees have yet to be named. SB 1324, on the other hand, was passed unanimously by the State Senate on March 9 (44-0), and passed unanimously on April 17 by the State House (98-0), but with a very small amendment. If the Senate votes to accept the House amendment, SB 1324 goes to the Governor for his signature. (The House amendment adds the phrase "and subsequent appellate courts" to the section forcing BoA appeals to District Court.) The final vote on SB 1324 is likely to happen this week.

Whatever the merits of BoA appeals and HP regulations, these matters should be handled locally, not dictated from Oklahoma City. Both of these bills should be scrapped.

If you want to make a difference on this bill, you need to contact your State Senator as soon as possible. To find out who represents you in Oklahoma City and how to contact them, click here, input your address, and click "Submit." The result will show you who your representatives are, their district office phone number, and their Capitol office phone number, and e-mail address.

It is amazing that these bills would pass without much opposition. I have to assume that legislators voted for it because they weren't aware of anyone who was against it, not because they had actually studied the measure. The supporters of the bill did a fine job of keeping it quiet so that potential opponents wouldn't be alerted.

It didn't happen this time, but I would hope that in the future, seeing Title 11 (Cities and Towns) on a bill would move legislators to consult with municipal officials in their districts. I would also hope that the City Council would assign a staffer to keep an eye on legislation affecting Title 11. Bills affecting Title 26 (Elections) and Title 60 (Trusts) might also have an impact on City Hall.

With these bills, the Tulsa development lobby seems to have exported our local debate over land use policy to the State Capitol. Until now, Republicans who disagree on local issues have nevertheless been united on state matters like taxation and tort reform. By putting a divisive issue into play at the state level, it may depress grass-roots enthusiasm to help Republican legislators keep the State House and win the State Senate.

Scary bypass

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An edited version of this piece was published on April 26, 2006, in Urban Tulsa Weekly. The archived version is no longer online. Posted on the web on August 18, 2010.

It appears that Tulsa's development lobby, discouraged by the results of the Tulsa City Council elections, has decided to take its fight to the next level. Three Tulsa legislators have sponsored a bill that would interfere with local control of Board of Adjustment (BoA) appeals.

The bill, HB 2559, would require all appeals of Board of Adjustment decisions, whether variances or special exceptions, to go to District Court, with the attendant expenses of attorneys and court costs. The BoA can grant a variance to zoning ordinances if a hardship exists. The BoA can grant a special exception to allow certain uses that aren't allowed by right by the zoning of a piece of property.

In the past, Councilor Roscoe Turner and then-Councilor Jim Mautino have argued that certain BoA decisions should be first appealed to the City Council. While the BoA acts as a quasi-judicial body in many cases, in special exception cases it has the discretion to consider subjective matters like neighborhood compatibility. A special exception can have the impact of a zoning change, and neighborhood advocates argue that the City Council should have the opportunity to review such decisions before the courts are involved.

Under current law, Tulsa's City Council could modify our ordinances to tailor the BoA appeals process to balance the concerns of developers and neighboring property owners. HB 2559, sponsored by State Reps. Ron Peters and Jeannie McDaniel and Sen. Brian Crain, would take away this local discretion over the process and would dictate a one-size-fits-all solution for the entire state.

HB 2559 passed the House on March 8 and passed the Senate on April 19. Because the House "struck the title," the bill must go back to the House for one more vote before it can go to the Governor's desk. All of Tulsa's state representatives and all but two of our state senators supported the measure. (Republican Senators Randy Brogdon and Scott Pruitt voted against.)

An amendment to the bill that would have interfered with local control over historic preservation (HP) overlay zoning was also considered by the State Senate on April 19, but it failed by a 21-24 vote. Of Tulsa's senators, only Judy Eason-McEntyre voted yes.

Five historic Tulsa neighborhoods (and the park around the Council Oak) have special protection under Tulsa's zoning code. Exterior modifications and new construction within an HP zoning district need a certificate of appropriateness from the Tulsa Preservation Commission (TPC) before proceeding, to ensure that the historic character of the neighborhood is maintained. Demolition permits can be delayed for up to 60 days.

HP protection serves the same value-protecting purpose that deed restrictions serve in newer subdivisions. If you buy a home in an HP neighborhood, you can invest in maintaining your home to historic standards with the assurance that your neighbors are subject to the same rules.

But the protection is undermined if someone can easily buy a property in an HP-zoned neighborhood and have it removed from the district. The failed amendment to HB 2559 would have cut the TPC and the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (TMAPC) completely out of the process of removing lots from an HP district.

In contrast, the process of creating an HP district or expanding its boundaries requires a great deal of time, historical research, and public input. As a rule of thumb, HP districts need the support of 80% of property owners in the district to move forward through three separate levels of review. Removing a property from the district ought to require a similar high standard of review.

Tulsa's development lobby is used to getting its way 100%. Rather than sitting down with other Tulsans to develop a land-use system that will serve the needs of everyone, they have tried and failed to recall two councilors from office, tried and failed to dismember three City Council districts and replace them with citywide supercouncilor seats, and tried and failed to pack the Council with people they can control. In a move akin to plugging your ears with your fingers and singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," they excluded then-Councilor Chris Medlock from their mayoral candidate forum.

I was hopeful when I learned of the departure earlier this year of Josh Fowler from his post as the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa's executive director. I was hopeful that the development lobby had finally recognized that the pit bull tactics he epitomized were no longer working. I was hopeful that the developers were ready to take a more conciliatory approach to public policy. This legislative end-around shows that my hopes weren't well-founded.

Frustrated by the fact that ordinary Tulsans are paying attention to City Hall, Tulsa's development lobby is now trying to dictate local land-use policy from Oklahoma City. Whatever the merits of BoA appeals or of moving parcels in and out of HP districts, those are local matters that should be settled locally.

We need to let our state legislators know that HB 2559 is unacceptable. Homeowners and other property owners should object to local decisions being made a hundred miles away, where it's harder to keep an eye on things. Our City Council and municipal officials across the state ought to object loudly to this infringement on their prerogatives.

In his 2000 campaign book, A Charge to Keep, George W. Bush wrote that he is a conservative because he believes that government closest to the people governs best. I expect to see my fellow Republicans at the State Capitol uphold this fundamental Republican principle, and I expect them to defeat HB 2559 when it comes back to the State House of Representatives for a final vote.

In other City Hall news:

Last Friday the latest round of bids on subcontracts for the construction of the BOk Center were opened.

This was after a two-week delay to give bidders "more preparation time," according a report to the Tulsa World. Despite reassurances that all was well, there was good reason to assume that the delay was because of concerns that bids were coming in way over budget.

As it turned out, the lowest bids on each item exceeded budget by $32 million, about a 50% overage. The total of all five bid packages, plus the cost of land acquisition, plus the amount paid for architectural, project management, and other professional services comes to just shy of $150 million. The remaining bid packages are budgeted at around $30 million, which would bring the total for the arena alone to $180 million.

Remember that the Vision 2025 package allocated $183 million of that sales tax to pay for both the construction of an arena and improvements to the Convention Center, including the conversion of the existing arena into ballroom space. It looks like we won't have anything left to fix the facility that, we have been told again and again, is crucial to bringing outside dollars into the local economy.

When Councilor Chris Medlock raised concerns last fall about money being shifted from the Convention Center to the arena, he was shouted down by the monopoly daily paper and even by members of the overview committee who are supposedly keeping an eye on project finances on behalf of us taxpayers.

Back during the mayoral campaign, Democratic candidate Don McCorkell said he would stop work on the arena in order to get a handle on how much the facility would cost to complete and how much it would cost to operate and maintain. If the cost is going to exceed the budget by a wide margin, Tulsa's voters ought to decide whether or not it's worth proceeding. McCorkell's idea looks better all the time.

The fact that we've already put tens of millions into the arena doesn't mean it makes sense to throw good money after bad. (See "sunk costs, fallacy of.")

Meanwhile, County Commissioner Randi Miller, who had been mum about potential overages, not wanting to jeopardize renewal of the County's 4-to-Fix-Tax, now seems to be trying to recast herself as a taxpayer watchdog.

Some of us can remember when she was asked by Republican leaders, back in 2003, to make the arena a separate item on the Vision 2025 ballot, to give the voters a clear opportunity to vote against the arena without having to vote against the higher education improvements that were tied with it.

Miller stood by and did nothing at the time. She continued to go along to get along, voting with the other commissioners to sole-source the Vision 2025 financial contracts to favored vendors. After Vision 2025 was approved, when Medlock raised concerns about oversight and governance, Miller was silent.

On the other hand, Miller was more than happy, back on March 20, to grant a Murphy Brothers a 10-year exclusive contract to operate the Tulsa State Fair midway, despite complaints about rising prices and declining quality of the Murphy Brothers operation. The midway contract was not put out for competitive bids. Miller's support for the sweetheart deal with Murphy Brothers came after her mayoral campaign received a $5,000 contribution from Loretta Murphy, wife of Murphy Brothers owner Jerry Murphy.

Medlock, a genuine taxpayer watchdog, is continuing to keep an eye on arena expenditures at his blog, medblogged.blogspot.com.

If I ruled the world...


... or if I at least ruled the TMAPC, here's what land use regulation (aka zoning) in Tulsa would be like, as summarized in my column in this issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The Tulsa Whirled editorial board wrote that if I ever was appointed to the TMAPC, "the city might as well erect billboards at the edges of the city instructing developers to just keep on moving to the suburbs." Here's what I wrote in response:

I don’t expect I’ll ever be named to the TMAPC, much less be named the Pope of Planning, but if it were to happen, the City of Tulsa should erect billboards at the city limits saying, “Tulsa offers a fair, transparent, and up-to-date land-use system that maximizes freedom while protecting the investments of all property owners and our city’s quality of life. Tulsa welcomes developers who will work with us to build a better Tulsa.”

Click the link above, and read the five characteristics that a Michael Bates-designed planning system would have.

(Added on September 30, 2006, to fill in the gaps in my Urban Tulsa Weekly column archive.)

LaFortune in Laodicea

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This week's Urban Tulsa Weekly column is an analysis of the result of the mayoral election, a defeat for Bill LaFortune that was four years in the making. How did he go from having broad and enthusiastic support in 2002 to having no significant base of support in 2006? Special attention is given to the role that the local Republican Party organization might have played in keeping LaFortune connected to the GOP grassroots.

(I don't normally write my own headlines, but I submitted this one, and it was used. I think it's pretty apt.)

The rest of the current issue has a whole bunch of articles by city reporter Ginger Shepherd: on the mayoral transition, the high-rise sprinkler requirement, home security, syphilis, and the PAC's new ticketing system. Pick up an issue today at fine establishments citywide.

UPDATE: If the term Laodicea isn't familiar to you, read this.

My latest column in Urban Tulsa Weekly, which was filed on Monday, before the election, recommends switching city elections from the current primary/general structure to a multi-partisan instant-runoff election. Note that I said multi-partisan, not non-partisan. (I don't write the headlines or cutlines for my stories.) My column explains the distinction and how my proposal gives voters more choice and more information than either the current system or a non-partisan system.

Since these haven't yet been posted on the UTW website, I'll post them here:


Below are the responses submitted by Bill LaFortune to the Urban Tulsa Weekly questionnaire. Democrat nominee Kathy Taylor and Independent candidate Benford L. Faulk did not submit replies.

Paul Tay submitted his reply prior to the primary, and did not respond to the opportunity to reply to the two additional questions (11 and 12) added to the general election questionnaire. You can read Tay's response, which includes his proposed cabinet, a couple of vulgarities, and a lengthy digression about the deflation of his erstwhile inflatable companion, on his blog.

The City Council website has details about the six charter amendments, including ballot language and the changes to the charter text for each. UTW endorses passage of all six.

For more information about the candidates, www.TulsaTopics.com has links to all the candidate websites, a printable "tournament bracket" for the city elections, and audio of the mayoral forum sponsored by TulsaNow and Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa. David Schuttler�s Our Tulsa World blog has video from many Mayoral and Council candidate forums.

Homeowners for Fair Zoning has posted their endorsements in the City Council races and on the charter amendments.

Here's the complete BatesLine archive of entries about Election 2006.

The Tulsa Whirled is making its archive of Election 2006 stories available outside their firewall. Sumite cum grano salis.

To look up your district and polling place and to see sample ballot images, visit the Tulsa County Election Board website.

Other UTW election resources:

Click the "continue reading" link to see LaFortune's questionnaire responses.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Urban Tulsa Weekly category from April 2006.

Urban Tulsa Weekly: March 2006 is the previous archive.

Urban Tulsa Weekly: May 2006 is the next archive.

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



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