At first, Tulsa real estate watcher Brian Donahue couldn't help but express surprise at the thought of a proposed apartment moratorium in southwest Tulsa near the Tulsa Hills Shopping Center.
"I'd be hard pressed to believe that people wouldn't want what they're building around there, because it's such a nice product," said Donahue, a senior associate with real-estate firm CB Richard Ellis of Oklahoma.
Completed within the last four years, two complexes just west of U.S. 75 each have over 300 units. Together, they go by the name Tuscany Hills at Nickel Creek under the management of Case & Associates -- and they received a "Luxury A" designation by CB Richard Ellis of Oklahoma in the company's mid-year survey of apartment construction.
Nevertheless, nearby residents have grown concerned about potentially more apartments being built, according to Councilor Jeannie Cue. She described these concerns at a Nov. 1 meeting of the council's Urban and Economic Development Committee meeting.
In context, Cue described the concern as related to construction that might go on before completion of the small-area plan for the neighborhood. Over the last 10 years or so, the city has thrown firm support to the concept of small-area plans, which focus on a neighborhood and provide "policy guidance and recommendations for land-use, housing, transportation, parks and open space, economic development, and urban design," according to the website for PlaniTulsa, the city's primary long-range plan adopted in 2010.
"The residents have been very active in participating in this, and I've been asked by a group to see if we just could do a moratorium ... until they get the finalization of the small area plan what they feel is needed for the area, the desires of the community and the desires of anyone that has a stake in that area," Cue told her fellow councilors.
Concerns include traffic and crime, she said, if apartment building continues. Elsewhere in Tulsa, the glut of apartments near East 61st Street and South Peoria Avenue has been blamed for making that neighborhood a high-crime area.
However, the demographics are decidedly different in the West Highlands/Tulsa Hills neighborhood, which is perhaps best known for the boom in big-box stores within the last eight years or so.
In the small-area plan, its northern and southern boundaries are West 61st Street and West 91st Street, respectively. To the west, South 33rd West Avenue forms the boundary, with a jagged boundary to the east that includes Elwood Avenue.
TUSCANY HILLS AT NICKEL CREEK
OURTESY OF TUSCANY HILLS APARTMENTS
The community's demographics are relatively rich (a $58,939 median household income, compared to $39,289 for the city as a whole in 2010) and family-oriented (68 percent family households, compared to 58 percent in Tulsa in 2010).
Cue described a proposed new apartment complex as "lower-end apartments," adding that she's been told they would likely rent for about $550 a month -- probably low compared to Tuscany Hills, with advertised rents of about $769 for a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment. But in the first six months of 2012, the average rent in Tulsa was $488 for a one-bedroom unit, according to CB Richard Ellis of Oklahoma.
In an interview, she confirmed the proposed project is Greens at Page Belcher. Similar projects in Owasso and Broken Arrow have a "Luxury B" rating from CB Richard Ellis of Oklahoma, and the Arkansas-based developer behind those, Lindsey Management Co., Inc., has an "F" rating from the Better Business Bureau.
The developer was scheduled to appear Nov. 7 before the Tulsa Metro Area Planning Commission seeking approval to build apartments northeast of West 71st Street and South Union Avenue. The meeting took place after press time, as did a Nov. 7 public meeting scheduled by Cue to get more opinions about an apartment moratorium.
It's not a single developer issue, she stressed, describing frequent inquiries from other developers wanting to build apartments in the neighborhood. She also noted the neighborhood as other apartments besides the Tuscany Hills development.
To councilors, she emphasized that any moratorium would be temporary until the small-area plan's expected completion in June.
An overflow crowd of more than 50 people attended a Nov. 5 evening meeting to discuss plan details. Among them was Carmella Anderson, a 16-year-resident of the neighborhood who lives on West 81st Street, west of two-lane South Union Avenue.
In an interview, Anderson said she enjoyed the relatively rustic setting for her neighborhood, explaining she lived near some ranchland. She said she opposed new apartments.
"I feel it's too much. Our streets can't handle it," Anderson said, adding that she didn't mind commercial development as much because traffic eventually dispersed after closing time.
No city official could recall such an apartment moratorium ever in Tulsa, said city spokeswoman Michelle Allen - though other cities have put in place such moratoriums.
At the council committee meeting, Councilor David Patrick said he's "not a big supporter of moratoriums," but added that "moratoriums sometimes are necessary."
Councilor Skip Steele said he isn't "totally opposed to moratoriums." However, "it almost looks to me on the surface without knowing the detail, we're interfering with some development, and I think we ought to be encouraging development rather than discouraging it." The council could vote on the issue this week.
Real estate pro Donahue said local apartment occupancy rates "are sitting at 92, 93 percent," with newer complexes up to 96 percent occupied, he said. With those numbers, he expects rents to rise and new apartment construction.
Thinking over the issue, however, he said, "I don't think it's a bad idea to have some responsible zoning in place," he said, adding, "when they're new, it's not that big of a problem, but 10 years down the road, it can lead to ... just the oversupply of too many."
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