Those hungry for action on the recently approved update to the city's comprehensive plan may be pleased to hear a proposal for funding some of the most important PLANiTULSA recommendations could be presented to the City Council by late this month.
Terry Simonson, Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr.'s chief of staff, said he believes he has identified a way to cover most of the cost of rewriting the city's zoning code and hiring a planning director. Once he has lined up all the funding sources, he said, the plan will be presented to the council in the form of a budget amendment. He indicated that could occur within the next one to three weeks.
"Updating the zoning code is not the only thing we've got to do, but we didn't want to trickle those out once a week for six months," Simonson said, explaining that the administration's goal was to present the council with a plan for funding several changes at once.
"By the end of the month, if not the last week of the month, we can begin forwarding a list of these items that have been waiting on funding, and we're hopeful the council will be in support of those."
The zoning code rewrite and the hiring of a planning director are two of the elements included in the PLANiTULSA Draft Strategic Plan. City officials initially had indicated that federal grants might be pursued to help pay for the revamp of the zoning code, but Simonson indicated he believes he has found the funding from in-house savings in the current budget.
"I didn't want to wait for a grant," he said. "We're ready to move forward on this."
District 9 City Councilor G.T. Bynum, who previously had indicated he hoped the zoning code rewrite got started sooner rather than later, is looking forward to seeing the administration's plan.
"I'll be interested to see what their plan is and where they're planning on finding the money and where they're planning on putting the money," he said. "That said, I'm glad they're taking this seriously and moving forward on this. I feel there has not been enough forward progress on this issue after so many citizens spent so much of their time participating in this process. It's been totally stalled out by city government.
"I'm glad to hear they have a plan in place for funding these positions, and I'm eager to find out what it is."
Some of the groundwork for the new zoning code already has been laid. City planner Martha Schultz said last month the city staff has been preparing a request for proposals for firms that might be interested in handling the zoning code revision. Simonson and Schultz both said the estimated cost of that work ranges from $250,000 to $300,000.
But Schutlz told Urban Tulsa Weekly in October that figure covers 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.
Simonson estimated the zoning code rewrite could take 18 months to complete, a timeline confirmed by Schultz. But that won't be the only significant step being taken in regard to the PLANiTULSA recommendations.
The hiring of a planning director -- something the city has never had -- is considered a crucial step, as well, as it will herald a reorganization of the city's Planning Department, according to the mayor. The Draft Strategic Plan notes that Tulsa's planning and development functions currently are split among several agencies and departments, with its long-range planning and current planning functions staffed by the Indian Nations Council of Governments through a long-standing agreement with the city.
"For PLANiTULSA to be successful, it is critical for the city to coordinate development-related activities, to more effectively address changes envisioned by Tulsans," the Draft Strategic Plan states. "Tulsa should enhance staff capacity and technical skills and consider organizational changes that will allow the city to lead in local land use decision-making."
The plan argues those changes would allow the city to move toward the citizens' vision by making development easier, link small area plans with zoning and permitting functions to ensure those plans are implemented, and increase staff accountability.
"The goal of this strategy is to consolidate the city's development-related activities into a Community Development Department and to bring the current and long-range planning functions -- now outsourced to INCOG -- into this new structure," the plan states.
Simonson views the zoning code rewrite, the hiring of a planning director and the reorganization of the Planning Department as three steps toward a common goal. But he said it will continue to take time to implement them, as a job description will need to be created for the planning director and the administration will have to examine how functions now scattered across other departments can be brought under the umbrella of a new Planning Department.
"Just because people don't see something happening doesn't mean things aren't happening," he said. "We want to create a planning department worthy of the 45th largest city in the country."
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