Two of the most important elements of the PLANiTULSA strategic plan -- the hiring of a planning director and an update of the city's zoning code -- now appear to be on the verge of becoming reality with the passage of a budget amendment last week by the City Council that provides $400,000 to fund the moves.
That development was welcome news to supporters of the city's comprehensive plan update, as those two moves are expected to play a major role in implementation of the plan's specifics. District 9 City Councilor G.T. Bynum was among them.
"Having that type of planning director is something the city has needed for a long time," he said. "I think I can speak for everybody on the council in that we're all excited to see that person be hired and get to work and begin to implement the changes the citizens of Tulsa called for in that report."
Local developer and neighborhood activist Jamie Jamieson, one of the most vocal supporters of PLANiTULSA, was particularly enthusiastic about the council's passage of the budget amendment.
"I'm very pleased," he said. "I was expecting them to do this, and I'm glad they've done it so early in the new year. This is a good start to what could be a purposeful new year."
Terry Simonson, Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr.'s chief of staff, said passage of the budget request means nothing is holding back either of those steps now.
"We'll begin the search for a director of planning and finish up the request for proposals for the update of the zoning code," he said. "We see those happening simultaneously."
Simonson said he expects the city to begin interviewing candidates for the newly created planning director's position by early to mid spring, while the city should begin to hear from vendors interested in performing the zoning work at the same time. Much of the work to prepare for those steps already has been done, he said.
"We have a job description for the director of the planning department," he said, adding that city officials also have conferred with John Fregonese -- president of Fregonese Associates, the Portland, Ore.-based firm that guided the PLANiTULSA adoption process -- about companies that have helped other cities update their zoning code.
"There's no reason for a delay once the funds have been approved," Simonson said.
The mayor's chief of staff said a national search would be conducted for a planning director.
"We'll search for the best planning director we can find," he said. "Any time you're looking at such an important position, you want someone with top-flight credentials."
Simonson said he is hopeful that a planning director could be in place by the beginning of summer.
He said he was even more optimistic about the timeframe for the hiring of a firm to update the city's zoning code, though he acknowledged much of that would depend on what kind of deadline the city sets for responses in its request for proposals.
"That may be a little quicker (than early summer)," he said. "There are companies out there that do this, but we'll still have to go through a process of soliciting responses, interviewing, selection and negotiating a contract. But I would hope that, no later than the beginning of summer, this should be in place, as well."
Bynum said the approval of the budget request was a good example of the fact the fact that the council and the mayor can work together despite their well-documented differences.
"There's always so much focus on the council and the mayor's disagreements," he said. "This was something everyone agreed on. It was simply a matter of finding a way to pay for it."
While the new planning director will oversee a beefed-up city Planning Department -- a function the city largely has turned over to the Indian Nations Council of Governments for the past several years -- the zoning code update is viewed in many circles as a development that will codify many of the changes outlined in broad strokes in the comprehensive plan update.
Jamieson is eager to see the zoning code overhauled.
"Just as the comprehensive plan really is a radically different document, so, too, I think, the zoning 'update' is likely to be just as significant a shift from the current zoning code," he said. "It's been pretty obvious to people in many walks of life that there are some fundamental weaknesses in the current zoning code. It's not equipped to address the realities of the 21st century."
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