If you compare PLANiTULSA to a horse race, you might say the process is entering the home stretch.
"We are," said John Fregonese, president of Fregonese Associates, the Portland, Ore.-based consulting firm hired to steer the process of collecting public input and helping draft recommendations for the update to the city's comprehensive plan. Fregonese estimated his firm's work, which began in April 2008, is 90 percent complete.
"This is basically the official hand over," he said.
But if you were to continue that analogy, maybe this is just the Kentucky Derby and there are a couple more races if the Triple Crown if to be achieved.
So expect a few more details to be ironed out. And, perhaps the most important step in the process--debate and adoption of the plan by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and the Tulsa City Council--remains.
Fregonese estimated the plan would be in the hands of the Planning Commission by Jan. 19. When it is approved by that body, it goes to the council for deliberation.
No one expects the TMAPC and council to simply rubber stamp the plan, said Theron Warlick, a Tulsa city planner who has been deeply involved in the process.
"We'll be looking for a lot of guidance," he said. "It goes without saying these are tough economic times, and we have to be very focused, and we have to prioritize. We have to prioritize in the ways city fathers want."
And that, he said, is how planning commissioners and city councilors are likely to leave their mark on the process. Warlick said it helps to think of PLANiTULSA as having three components--the vision, the plan and the action steps. The vision was the first to be completed, while the plan is being wrapped up now. Then it will be up to elected officials to make decisions about the elements they want implemented in a particular order.
Since Dec. 10, the PLANiTULSA Web site (HYPERLINK "http://www.planitulsa.org"www.planitulsa.org) has featured chapters on each of the plan's five areas of concern--land use, transportation, economic development, housing and parks, open space and the environment. Detailed maps indicating how those plans would impact specific parts of the city will follow soon, Warlick said.
"Those chapters are one part of the plan draft, and the maps are the other part," he said. "We should have both online soon with a feedback link. We want people to get in there and tell us what they think. We're depending on their expertise. Call it Tulsans' civic duty to take part in this."
Fregonese was scheduled to meet with the Planning Commission and the council earlier this week to brief them on the newly released chapters.
And a workshop was scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 16 that was designed to illustrate how the internal mechanisms of the PLANiTULSA plan were built. Warlick said that workshop likely would feature members of the North Tulsa Economic Development Initiative, as well as architects, developers and city staff members.
Fregonese said his firm still has some writing to do in finalizing the report, but he marveled at the way Tulsans seemed ready to embrace a sweeping change in the city's long-range plan. Even among people with different points of view and different goals in mind, such as a desire to promote economic development or control taxes, there was a great deal of common ground reached.
"That allowed us to avoid a lot of differences of opinion that could have really slowed us down," Fregonese said. "I've been pleased about it, and I'm very encouraged about the potential of this. I think what you're going to see is a new approach to planning in Tulsa ... There could be a whole new look to Tulsa in five years."
Fregonese said that new look likely would take the form of a resurgent city core, and new neighborhoods and districts that are substantially different from anything the city has now. There will be new businesses, new types of housing and new approaches to transportation that, while not radical, will still be different from the current variety, he said.
He said minor changes would occur within the first year of the plan's adoption, but most elements of the plan would become evident within five years, especially as Tulsa and the rest of the nation emerge from the recession and economic activity picks up.
Fregonese and Warlick both acknowledged that certain aspects of the plan are likely to remain fluid until the day it is formally adopted by the council. But neither expects major changes to take place, despite the addition of four new council members and a new occupant in the mayor's office.
"The individual council members and the mayor adjust the priorities, but the fundamentals remain the same," Fregonese said, explaining that the long and detailed process of soliciting public input was designed to craft a plan that had broad-based support that would remain throughout time.
Warlick said the PLANiTULSA team engaged all the candidates for municipal office from an early stage and has already been in contact with the staff of Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr., who has been in office less than two weeks. He also pointed out that newly elected councilors Roscoe Turner and Maria Barnes were directly involved in the PLANiTULSA process.
"So they're actually way ahead of the game," he said. "We've continued to talk to the others and answer any questions they might have, so we're pretty comfortable with it ... I don't think anybody ran against PLANiTULSA."
Fregonese acknowledged that the potential for substantial change remains during the approval process--"That's what public meetings are for," he said--but he said it would be unusual.
"I've never been through one where they make fundamental changes," he said. "But at the same time, I've never been through one where they didn't make some changes."
Warlick said his department has been studying the approval process thoroughly to avoid letting the plan's adoption become mired in red tape.
"We want to make sure we've predicted every possible outcome in advance so there are no surprises," he said. "It's been a long time since we've updated the plan in this dramatic a way."
Fregonese said his firm works on 15 to 20 planning projects for different cities each year, but this is only the seventh comprehensive, long-range plan update Fregonese Associates has done. With the end of his firm's involvement in the Tulsa project now in sight, he's as anxious as anyone else to see it take root.
"Each of these things takes a couple of years, so they don't come along every day," he said. "These are big, and they're very special. It's an important step; it's not routine."
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