The fate of a proposed small area plan for a stretch of Utica Avenue in Midtown and another one for West Tulsa around the Tulsa Hills Shopping Center was resolved late last week when the mayor submitted a budget amendment to the council that provides funding for both, as well as a third small area plan the mayor wanted for North Tulsa.
That step appeared to head off another potential dust-up between the mayor and the council, giving both sides what they wanted. It was a development that District 9 Councilor G.T. Bynum welcomed with open arms.
"As I told the budget staff in our meeting, I can't tell them how much this means after the last 18 months of the council and the mayor going back and forth," Bynum said after the meeting. "To have the administration not engage in any more negativity but instead in a positive way indicates they share our concerns and the concerns of our constituents.
"I hope this is the sign of a new day," he said, referring to the troubled relationship between the mayor and council. "It's certainly a shift from our default mode."
The road to last week's resolution was a long and twisting one. The council passed a budget amendment last month allocating $225,000 for small area plans, intending that the money go for the Utica Avenue and West Tulsa projects. Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. signed the amendment May 31.
But Bartlett later said the amendment didn't specify where the small area plans were to be done. He then asked the council to consider shifting that funding to a small area plan for North Tulsa, claiming that 83 percent of participants in the PLANiTULSA process of developing a new comprehensive plan for the city favored the idea of beginning small area planning there.
"While I wholeheartedly support the development and implementation of small area plans, I would like the council to consider changing the site of the proposed small area plans to North Tulsa," the mayor stated in a June 14 press release. "Thousands of citizens who contributed time and energy to the PLANiTULSA comprehensive plan indicated that our small area plan work should begin in north Tulsa. We should start there because that is what the citizens have said, and that is what I support."
Bartlett's request could have led to a showdown between the council and the mayor over how the money would be spent. Bynum -- who led the effort to get funding for a small area plan for the Utica Avenue corridor approved as a means of resolving a long-simmering dispute between two hospitals in the area and two historic neighborhoods that lie between them -- pointed out that while the council has the power to allocate the funds, only the mayor can enter into contracts and spend the money. How, or if, he would choose to do that was still unclear to Bynum late last week.
That all changed at a City Council budget meeting on June 16. The administration presented the council with a new $300,000 budget amendment at that meeting that calls for the creation of small area plans for all three areas, eliminating the possibility of an either-or showdown.
Bynum said administration officials said the extra money comes from an adjustment in projections for use tax receipts. He expects the council to approve the amendment this week, setting the stage for the mayor to issue a request for proposals for a firm or firms interested in helping compile the plans.
Small area plans are described in PLANiTULSA as documents that address the specific issues of a portion of the city, covering as little as 10 acres or as many as thousands of acres, and they help guide future development in those territories. Only a handful of such plans have been completed so far.
Power of the Press
Terry Simonson, the mayor's chief of staff, said the mayor was committed to doing what citizens said they wanted during the PLANiTULSA process, despite recent criticisms that he hasn't moved quickly enough to implement the specifics of the new comprehensive plan. (see "Delayed to Death," June 9-15, UTW).
"He's 100 percent committed to the small area plan concept," Simonson said. "He believes it's a good concept. And he believes PLANiTULSA is well thought out, as far as where that begins.
"That's his request to the council -- that we should stay true to PLANiTULSA. He believes we should stay true to the commitment that was made to North Tulsa residents that they'd be first."
District 1 Councilor Jack Henderson, who represents much of North Tulsa, said he appreciated the mayor's support for the area.
"I'm with him on that and think we should find the money in the budget to do just that," he said just hours before the new budget amendment was presented. "Those other areas have already been developed. Tulsa Hills is thriving right now, and Swan Lake (one of the historic neighborhoods in the Utica Avenue corridor) is beautiful. What a small area plan is designed to do is help areas that need development, areas that have none."
But others said the need for a small area plan for the Utica Avenue corridor between 11th and 21st streets was important, as well, given the competing interests at work there. Two hospitals, St. John and Hillcrest, anchor the two ends of the corridor, while two historic preservation districts -- Swan Lake and Yorktown -- are located in between. A proposal to eliminate a zoning loophole that permits commercial development along the borders of the historic districts would have had a major impact on the ability of the two hospitals to expand, while neighborhood advocates have argued they should not have to worry about such commercial encroachment.
Bynum helped craft an agreement under which such development would be banned for six months while the two sides sat down together and hammered out their own small area plan that addressed such concerns. That agreement would have been jeopardized if the small area plan for the Utica Avenue corridor had been scrapped in favor of one for north Tulsa, but that scenario was avoided with the administration's new budget amendment.
Bob Sober, the former chairman of the Tulsa Preservation Commission, said the creation of a small area plan for the Utica Avenue corridor has major implications for development throughout the rest of the city. He has described that territory as a flashpoint between commercial and residential interests, and said if people on both sides can be forced to sit down and reach a compromise on their own, that bodes well for potential trouble spots elsewhere.
Without a small area plan, Sober said, he envisioned the battle over commercial development along the corridor proceeding for years, one piece of property at a time.
"That can all be put behind us by having this partnership where we work together on a small area plan and then going to the Planning Commission with a plan they can all give their blessing to," he said.
The moratorium on commercial development along the historic preservation district corridors lasts until Dec. 1, a time frame that was thought to be adequate to provide for the creation of a small area plan. If it appears the plan will not be done in time, Bynum said he would bring forward a measure to extend it.
He then repeated his belief that the administration had broken new ground by offering a series of new budget amendments that not only provide funding for the small area plans but also for a number of programs that councilors said were important.
"I just can't speak highly enough of the mayor for this step forward and extending a hand to the council," he said. "So many times in the last year, year and a half, I had wished he would do that.
"This is not just about the relationship between the mayor and the council, these are concrete things that are going to benefit Tulsa. I can't applaud him loudly enough."
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