It's been more than two months since the City Council concluded a two-year adoption process by formally approving the PLANiTULSA update of the city's comprehensive plan, raising the issue of when elements of the plan will begin to be put in place.
PLANiTULSA's Draft Strategic Plan includes six specific priority strategies that plan organizers have recommended be initiated by the mayor and City Council immediately.
While some of those have yet to be addressed, city planner Martha Schultz, who helped lead the process by which the update was completed, noted that Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. indicated the city is committed to hiring a city planning director in his State of the City address in mid September, a step that ties in with strategy No. 6 in the plan -- organize planning and development functions for implementation.
"It's significant because the city of Tulsa has never had a planning director," she said.
Last week, Bartlett reaffirmed that commitment in an interview with Urban Tulsa Weekly.
"Two things are ongoing now, they just haven't gotten a lot of publicity because of the (recent release of the) KPMG report," he said. "We have to have a very experienced, world-class planning director. We have started that process. That will happen."
But the mayor took things a step further, indicating other changes are in store.
"The reorganization of the Planning Department will occur at the time the new planning director is put in place," he said. "The emphasis on planning is extremely necessary and will be a serious focus, bringing all sorts of planning into play, whether it's related to utility line maintenance or street maintenance or housing construction or transportation, whatever it is. Planning is an integral part of bringing all that together at the same time."
Bartlett also alluded to his plans to implement a second element of the strategic plan.
"The second important focus is that we need a total redo, a revamping, of our zoning code to coincide with PLANiTULSA," he said. "We're now attempting to identify a source of funding to accomplish that. I've already had discussions with a few city councilors regarding that. So that will be accomplished fairly soon. I think a request for proposals has been begun in order to find a contractor or company that can help us revamp and modernize our zoning codes."
Schultz confirmed that the city staff already is working on compiling an RFP for firms that would be interested in handling the zoning code revision. She also said staff members at the Indian Nations Council of Governments have begun preparing grant applications that would help pay for the code revision, which is recommended in the plan's first strategy.
But the new zoning code won't come cheap. Bartlett put a rough estimate of $150,000 to $200,000 on the cost, while Schultz said the preliminary ballpark figures she had been working with were more -- $250,000 to $300,000. And she emphasized that would cover only part of the job.
"That was not to rewrite the zoning code, that was to supplement it with certain chapters not covered in the original code," she said. "Until you define the scope of the work, it's hard to define that."
Those figures are likely to represent a significant hurdle to progress, given the city's still-shaky financial situation. But at least one member of the City Council doesn't want to see the mayor delay the zoning code revision indefinitely.
"I certainly hope he's not thinking of putting all this on hold until he finds the money to do that," District 9 Councilor G.T. Bynum said, explaining that he believes the city's existing Planning Department is capable of doing much of the work.
"We have an outstanding city planning staff that helped create this plan," he said. "The notion that they're not capable of being involved, I disagree with strongly. I think if he wants to find a way to pay for it, great, but that's a separate issue."
Schultz said the code revision likely will be a lengthy process, as well.
"Once we start the clock, it would take easily 18 months to makie that happen," she said. "We haven't started the clock yet."
Bynum said he had not heard from the mayor at all in regard to the other four strategies recommended in the plan -- conducting neighborhood and small area planning in targeted areas, creating a viable redevelopment strategy, initiating and completing several PLANiTULSA prototype buildings as demonstration projects, and developing a new transportation strategy.
"I know the mayor's focus has been on the KPMG audit and getting that completed, and it certainly doesn't surprise me we haven't received anything yet," he said. "If six months have gone by and we haven't heard anything, I'll be more concerned."
There has been some movement on one other part of the plan.
The strategy calling for neighborhood and small area plans to be created in targeted areas, and the Downtown Area Master Plan already has been approved by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and will go before the City Council for consideration on Oct. 14, according to senior planner Stephen Carr.
Additionally, a small area plan for the Brady Arts District likely will be submitted to the TMAPC soon, although Carr noted last week that plan needs some additional work and has been sent back to Brady supporters for fine tuning.
Schultz noted that both those plans -- which deal with the specifics of how development should proceed within their districts' boundaries -- were being created at the same time as the PLANiTULSA process was unfolding, so it's not as if they were hurriedly assembled after the plan update was adopted.
She said no new small area plans have been initiated.
"There haven't been any priorities established" as for which areas of the city will be included in that process next, she said. "That's something that's under discussion right now, how to establish that. How does someone raise their hand to say, 'We need one'?
Schultz said one interesting development that arose from the citizen input process when the new comprehensive plan was being compiled was a community-wide consensus that certain areas of Tulsa -- the north, east and west sides, specifically -- were underserved and are deserving of more attention.
The strategy that is likely to draw the most attention from the public -- initiating and completing several PLANiTULSA prototype buildings as demonstration projects -- also has not been addressed, according to Schultz.
"I don't have any information on that," she said. "That is something we would be looking at in the small area plans."
The impetus for executing the rest of the plan and establishing priorities lies largely with the mayor's office, Schultz said, though she noted the council controls the purse strings. That leaves her department trying to keep the plan moving to the degree that it can until further direction is provided.
"We're peddling as fast as we can without any gas in the tank," she said.
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