Now two years into its planning, design and approval, PLANiTULSA -- the process by which the city's comprehensive plan is being updated -- appears destined to find its way into the hands of the City Council for final approval by July.
Members of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission completed their review of the PLANiTULSA document last week, and a revised version of the document should be posted online by June 1, according to John Fregonese of Fregonese Associates, the Portland, Ore.-based consulting firm that is overseeing the process.
The TMAPC will then take an additional round of public comment on the revised plan at a meeting scheduled for 4pm June 15 in the City Council chambers at City Hall before voting on the document, Fregonese said.
That means the City Council -- which has the final say on PLANiTULSA -- should take up deliberations when the Planning Commission is through with it.
"My gut tells me late July or early August," said Theron Warlick, a city planner who has been involved in the PLANiTULSA process from the beginning.
It's been a long process, but not an unusual one, said Fregonese, whose firm has helped steer the adoption of updated comprehensive plans in cities across the country.
"It's a little bit longer, but on the order of just a few months," he said of his experience in Tulsa. "I think the extra time the TMAPC took really inspires confidence. There's a clear paper trail, so anyone can easily follow any of the changes that were made."
Fregonese singled out Planning Commission Chairwoman Michelle Cantrell for her stewardship of the document through what looked like stormy seas at one time. A controversy erupted earlier in the commission's review process when the Tulsa Metro Chamber asked commissioners to delay taking action on the plan for 60 days to allow the chamber more time to review the document.
That request alarmed many supporters of the plan, who feared the request was merely a ruse to give the chamber time to lobby for the removal of key elements of the plan that were viewed as being unfriendly to development interests. Chamber officials denied that assertion, but the controversy threatened to overwhelm the Planning Commission's review process by late March.
Eventually, commissioners decided that the new comprehensive plan maps would keep the city's historic preservation districts within so-called "areas of stability," a designation that would help alleviate the concerns of homeowners about possible encroachment in their neighborhoods by adjacent health care institutions.
"This whole thing with the hospitals and the neighbors was shaping up to be a giant fight," Warlick said. "But it was resolved without a fight. And that's really what PLANiTULSA is all about."
Fregonese said Cantrell was very judicious in her handling of the issue.
"She made sure everyone had their say, but that the process didn't get sidetracked," he said.
Fregonese acknowledged the fear expressed by some supporters of the plan that the development lobby would try to exercise its influence to alter some parts of the plan behind the scenes. But he said commissioners handled their deliberations in a steady and above-board fashion.
"The TMAPC, to their credit, didn't get all worked up," he said. "This was a very transparent process. Anybody who was there saw them go through point by point and make their decisions. By doing that, people can look back and see what changes were made there ...
They took plenty of time to think it through and come to a thoughtful decision. I've got a lot of respect for them as a deliberative body."
Warlick said the fact that the Planning Commission has taken longer than envisioned to complete its review of the document is anything but a negative.
"The Planning Commission has had a desire to gather and study huge amounts of public input," he said. "The website has been an endless source of comment and thought."
All of the amendments to the document that have been approved by the TMAPC are available for viewing on the PLANiTULSA Web site at www.planitulsa.org. Fregonese described most of the changes as minor and said they generally were adopted by commissioners by consensus.
"There was some contention on some of the language, but we got all that resolved," he said.
He described the latest version of the PLANiTULSA document as a refinement of the one the Planning Commission took up several weeks ago.
"It's a stronger and better document than they started with," he said.
Warlick agreed with that assessment, classifying most of the amendments adopted by the Planning Commission as map changes designed to make sure patterns were consistent.
Fregonese, who has worked on several other master plan updates around the country, said the adoption process varies from community to community. He's worked in cities where the update was approved with little public comment or engagement, but he believes the continued debate over the particulars of the PLANiTULSA document ultimately will add life to it.
"The plans that have lasted longer have had a more contentious path," he said. "Hopefully, this is not just a piece of paper that's going to sit on a shelf. My hope is that PLANiTULSA will make a difference in fulfilling the vision the people in Tulsa have for their city."
Warlick was optimistic the completion of the process is near.
"I'm feeling like we're going to have a plan," he said.
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