North Tulsa residents have been told to expect a new grocery store and a complex of 10 franchise businesses in the near future on Peoria Avenue just north of Pine Street.
That's a good start, but residents also hope to revamp public transportation, add biking trails, establish safe recreation venues for children and create a walkable, village-type atmosphere in a part of Tulsa that has fallen on hard times.
More than 60 people braved one of the coldest nights this winter to add their 2 cents to a discussion of North Tulsa's future Dec. 9 at Booker T. Washington High School. The 13 plans that small groups of participants produced that night showed North Tulsans share a common vision for the community, and it's a vision that may not have been pursued if those residents hadn't shown up.
As part of the PLANiTULSA exercise to create a new comprehensive plan for the city, participants indicated on maps of North Tulsa where they would like to see specific types of buildings and transportation infrastructure. The planning area for the workshop stretched roughly from Hartford Avenue on the west to Lewis Avenue on the east and from 28th Street on the north to Newton Street on the south.
John Fregonese, president of Portland-based consultant Fregonese Associates, which is running the PLANiTULSA effort, said the planning area included about 1,500 households and 3,820 residents, most of whom earn less than $20,000 a year. He noted that about 55 percent of residents in the area rent their homes, compared with 45 percent across Tulsa. Additionally, 37 percent of residents in North Tulsa pay more than 30 percent of their income toward housing. Development in North Tulsa should therefore include affordable housing and should help more residents become homeowners. Fregonese said a 50-50 balance between owners and renters is a good goal.
Earlier PLANiTULSA meetings, in which participants laid out plans for the entire city, showed that people felt North Tulsa needed road improvements, a north-south transit line with frequent service and business growth that would spur job creation. Those elements were widely discussed in the Dec. 9 workshop, but there were also many unexpected ideas that could help shape a better North Tulsa.
"The jogging and biking trails (participants presented) surprised me. There was a lot of interest in that," said City Councilor David Patrick, whose district includes Booker T. Washington and a large portion of North Tulsa. "And I really liked the idea of a train station, with train tracks running right down along Highway 75 ... and having retail development and stuff around the station. I thought that's pretty unique."
Imagination Gone Wild
Nicole Petty's group was one of the teams that suggested having a light rail station with shops, restaurants and a parking garage by Highway 75. Additionally, Petty said there should be a bus hub, similar to the one downtown, in North Tulsa. Her group also called for a focused effort to increase activity near Peoria Avenue and Reading Street, where the former Albertson's grocery store site is again expected to house a grocery store. Patrick said the plans for the train station and the grocery store development made a lot of sense and really tied the area together.
"Near the Albertson's grocery store, we would like to develop a village area, where you've got a variety of housing options mixed with retail shops, bookstores, cafes and plaza areas," Petty said. "We thought greenscapes and landscapes are important so it's an area that looks attractive as well ... and we'd like some mid to high-rise office buildings with duplexes behind them, because we know that affordable housing is an issue."
Petty's group also suggested combining Booker T. Washington High School, KIPP Tulsa College Preparatory and other educational institutions into one large campus with a university feel, which should have shops and cafes developed around it. The educational campus suggestion was unique to Petty's group, but concentrating development around focal points such as parks and schools in North Tulsa was one of the strongest recurring themes.
Developer Jamie Jamieson, who also participated in the Dec. 9 workshop, said the meeting was the most focused, purposeful, energized gathering to plan for North Tulsa that he has seen since moving to Tulsa in 1997. He also said the process of planning for a small area was more dynamic than the citywide PLANiTULSA workshops, because planning for the entire city is more abstract and it's difficult for participants to picture the final result.
Jamieson's 14-year-old son Adam, a freshman at Booker T. Washington High School who participated in the workshop, said students who walk to his school risk getting run over by cars. His vision for the area around the school again evoked the "village" description, with walkable streets, crosswalks, shops and plazas. He also suggested building housing units above retail shops and establishing senior housing near the plazas so seniors could enjoy the outdoors and watch children play. The younger Jamieson also came up with another idea that garnered applause from the other groups: He proposed establishing a police substation within a neighborhood near Crawford Park.
"That would help stabilize the neighborhood and keep a benevolent eye on the park and be there for the children and other people using it," Jamie Jamieson said.
While many people said they would like the planning area to become a walkable environment, some said they don't feel safe walking in parts of North Tulsa at night -- particularly north of Apache Street, because there are not enough street lights. Fregonese said the suggestion of additional street lights is an important idea that rarely appears on planning maps during these types of sessions. When combined with other efforts suggested Dec. 9, it would foster a neighborhood feel for North Tulsa that residents say has been missing for years.
"We [want] to put a big paintbrush over this whole [area], and ... put light bulbs all over this [area], because the first thing we need to do, we need to establish our neighborhoods and get them back to where they used to be, where we were our own community," said Clyde Moore, one of the residents who participated in the planning session.
"Once we start doing that, then some of this other stuff we're talking about will come into play, because if there's nobody here to support your grand plan, it's not going to happen."
And Yet More Plans
Fregonese Associates held a workshop for East Tulsa on Dec. 9 as well, and six more workshops for small areas of Tulsa are being planned for next year. There will also be a transportation workshop in January or February. When the workshops are completed, Fregonese Associates will draw up four scenarios for Tulsa's growth during the next 25 to 30 years. Tulsans will then vote on their favorite part before Fregonese comes out with a "vision plan" around June.
Once approved by the City Council, the comprehensive plan will guide development in Tulsa but will not have the power of an ordinance. To implement the plan, the city will need to separately vote to modify the zoning code, invest in infrastructure and pass incentives for desired types of development. Tulsa last updated its comprehensive plan in 1978.
"I can't say anybody [on the City Council] has gone through this before, so it will be new to most of us," Patrick said. "It's going to be a long process. Even when the plans are done and it gets down to the development part, we're going to have to rely a lot on private developers for retail and new and creative housing developments."
It will be many years before residents' full vision for North Tulsa is realized, but hopes for a grocery store are expected to be fulfilled soon. Earlier this month, local investor group Omega Alpha Development announced it had agreed to pay $1.5 million for the 66,000-square-foot former Albertson's store, a nearby gas station and convenience store and 7.5 acres of adjacent, undeveloped land. Omega Alpha said it has already entered talks with grocery store chains and is aggressively pursuing a grocery store to fill that space.
Just across Reading Street from the Albertson's shopping center, the City of Tulsa is planning to build a structure to house 10 franchise businesses that will be owned by local residents and supported by business loans offered by the North Tulsa Economic Development Initiative, which was created by Mayor Kathy Taylor last year.
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