"What was the triggering event for this?" asked Planning Commissioner Michael Covey.
He wanted to know more about the motivation behind a proposed city ordinance that would force extra review for any plans to tear down a downtown building and replace the structure with a surface parking lot.
"Within the last five years, within the IDL specifically, there have been 25 partial or interior demolition permits, 11 demolitions resulting in vacant lots and two resulting in parking lots," Dawn Warrick, the city's director of planning and economic development, said in response.
Interpreting that number may be the key task awaiting the Tulsa City Council in considering the ordinance. Already, the Tulsa Metro Area Planning Commission has voted it down -- a non-binding recommendation -- after a Sept. 18 public hearing.
Bill Leighty cast the lone vote in support of the ordinance, after earlier making a motion to postpone a planning commission decision for 60 days. Only two other commissioners, Ryan Stirling and Tulsa County designee Mark Liotta, voted with Leighty for the continuance.
He's upset that on the day of the hearing, Mayor Dewey Bartlett's chief of staff sent an email to Warrick outlining his opposition to the ordinance "for your reference in the TMAPC meeting today," the email states. It was sent by Bartlett's Chief of Staff Jarred Brejcha, with the mayor's designee to the commission, Dwain Midget copied on the message.
Midget then asked that the email be distributed to all commissioners.
"This is political pressure. There's no other way to characterize it," Leighty said, adding that during the five years he's volunteered on the commission, he's not aware of any similar input from an elected official.
Warrick and other planning staffers frequently make recommendations to commissioners about what action to take. Documents prepared in advance of the meeting state that the planners recommended approving the ordinance, which was drafted in an attempt to find a more lasting solution after the council earlier voted to have a moratorium on new surface parking lots downtown (the moratorium expired Sept. 1).
But several property owners in the days before the meeting expressed opposition -- as well as the Downtown Coordinating Council advisory group. Leighty said he heard from "unnamed sources" that a continuance would likely be recommended by Warrick. At the meeting, he asked her about a continuance.
"I want the planning commission to feel comfortable in taking the time they need," she responded.
Downtowners also spoke at the meeting to share their thoughts. Tom Baker, representing the Downtown Coordinating Council, explained extra work that would be required to get a demolition permit would be "onerous to the development process."
The draft ordinance allows demolition if the city has approved a building permit for the proposed new use of the property, or if a health hazard is posed.
Otherwise, however, a property owner would likely have to appear before the city's Board of Adjustment and show that either the building "does not contribute in a significant way" to the quality of the neighborhood or that there is "no viable economic use" for the building.
City Councilor Blake Ewing spoke in favor of the ordinance.
"It's been well documented and kind of common knowledge in the world of planning that people don't like to walk past 'empty.' They want to walk past activity, storefronts and things like that," said Ewing, who represents downtown.
Steve's Sundry, Tulsa's best-known independent bookseller, will go out of business at 6pm on Dec. 31.
"Our lease is coming up for renewal early 2014, and with the current flux of the book industry, I have decided it is now time to begin the next chapter in my life," said owner Joanie Stephenson, according to a statement posted on the store's website.
Her father-in-law founded the store. It has frequently hosted author signings and events, in addition to being well-known for its soda fountain, which is for sale.
"This was not an easy decision. Steve's Sundry has been a part of the Tulsa fabric since 1947; we are an institution. Multi-generations of customers have grown up coming to Steve's to sit at the soda fountain. Hopefully, someone in Tulsa will be interested in purchasing the soda fountain so its legacy will live on," Stephenson said in the statement.
Booksellers everywhere have struggled to compete with online competitors as well as keep pace with the e-book market. Along with well-wishers reminiscing on the Steve's Facebook page, some have inquired about possibly keeping the store open.
Doing so would be quite an undertaking, however.
In the affluent community of Menlo Park near San Francisco, citizens actually protested in 2005 when an iconic family-owned business there, Kepler's Books, shut down. This eventually led to 25 citizens chipping in a total of $1 million, with another half-million raised through a membership drive, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and the store did re-open.
It's now divided into a "community-supported, for-profit" bookselling business and a non-profit arm focused on educational and cultural programming, according to the store's website.
"Social impact" as the bottom line.
In Tulsa, Heavenly Bread Co. isn't just a bakery.
"Adele Beasley, their founder and CEO created the company to employ women in recovery to bake high-quality, handcrafted breads," wrote Taylor Potts, program manager for the University of Oklahoma's Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth.
Heavenly Bread Co.
It's this type of enterprise that Potts and others hope to support with a new social entrepreneurship project. Ten fellows have been selected to pursue a variety of ideas about how best to fund such emerging efforts in Tulsa in a program put together by the Mine, itself a collaborative project involving the OU center, among other partners.
One goal is to develop "one of the best social venture capital funds in the business to increase the sustainability of projects in Tulsa creating long-lasting social impact," according to a news release announcing the fellows.
Another team will focus on helping a venture related to using technology to improve communication between doctors and patients.
The fellows selected for the program are: Rebecca Butcher, Zach Carter, Katy Tipton, Tricia Iven, Ryan McDaniel, Sofia Nagda, Mike Noshay, Stefanie Owens, Cassie Reese, and Carly Schaer.
Really, really not an endorsement.
Third-place finisher in Tulsa's mayoral primary Bill Christiansen held a news conference Sept. 19 to slam Mayor Dewey Bartlett.
Various criticisms leveled at Bartlett included references to a lack of true conservative values and a claim that Bartlett doesn't have a platform of issues.
While Christiansen did not endorse Bartlett's opponent, former mayor Kathy Taylor, her campaign trumpeted Christiansen's criticism on Taylor's website.
Though the mayor's race is non-partisan, both Christiansen and Bartlett are Republicans.
Coding for Tulsa.
The Code for America program has welcomed a Tulsa-based contingent.
Founded in 2009, the national organization strives to "foster and facilitate innovation in government," according to a city news release announcing the affiliation. The effort includes having local information technology professionals interface with local government efforts in hopes of enhancing the community.
The Code for Tulsa effort, with leaders Luke Crouch and John Whitlock, will take part in the national organization's leadership program and receive support from Code for America staff.
"As I have learned more about the innovative approaches we can pursue with Code for Tulsa, I have come to strongly support it," Mayor Dewey Bartlett said in a statement. "I joined with the Council in supporting Open Data in order to use public records to create valuable information tools that will help our citizens and our businesses. This local effort is still in its infancy, and I eagerly look forward to using open source data as a means for more open and transparent local government."
Share this article: