A fine legal point has paved the way for planning commissioners to reconsider an earlier 6-3 vote against new regulations for the Pearl District.
Commissioners will hold a work session Oct. 3 to review their vote and the proposal to apply a regulating plan for new building construction in the Pearl District, a roughly 70-block neighborhood east of downtown and south of I-244.
The decision came at the Sept. 19 meeting of the Tulsa Metro Area Planning Commission. Two weeks earlier, the commission voted down a recommendation by planning staff to apply what's been called a regulating plan to a large portion of the Pearl District.
The plan involved specifying areas where the city's form-based code -- sometimes known as FBC -- would apply. But the proposal nixed by planning commissioners didn't consider formally changing the zoning in the neighborhood -- a problem for the attorney who provides advice to the commission.
"In order to have a complete disposition of this matter, you need to have a consideration of the regulating plan under the form-based code and the FBC zoning change considered in tandem," said Janine VanValkenburgh at the meeting. "If you adopted a regulating plan alone, you would establish land use regulations. But without changing the underlying zoning to FBC, there would be great confusion as to what regulations applied."
Before the Sept. 5 vote, some commissioners who voted against the proposal said they wanted to continue working on the concept, which elicited strong opposition from a variety of businesses and property owners in the Pearl District. Still, the Sept. 5 vote seemed to be at least a significant blow to proponents of change, as it wasn't clear exactly how the proposal might be revived after the vote.
Now, the commission can continue to tweak the proposal, which has already undergone substantial change since first coming to the commission in April.
The proposal initially involved applying form-based code regulations to the entire Pearl District. However, business interests, including representatives from McDonald's, complained that the code would harm their businesses.
The form-based code would essentially replace traditional zoning, which is based on how a building is used. The new regulations outline how a building should look from the street, an approach to planning designed to spur pedestrian traffic as opposed to more auto-centric designs.
Proponents, who include an organized group of Pearl District residents and property owners known as the Pearl District Association, state that the new code gives property owners more flexibility because it allows for a variety of uses for property.
However, many business and property owners have voiced an unwillingness to back the change. Most have cited concerns about how the change would affect future plans for their property.
Planning staff reduced the size of the plan after the outspoken complaints from some business and property owners, limiting the proposal to mostly the section of the Pearl District south of railroad tracks that cut across the neighborhood.
Even after that change, opponents of the plan organized to form the Pearl District Business Owners and Property Association. Members of the organization did not respond to requests for comment about the planned work session.
However, the group had already started an effort to amend a city planning document known as the 6th Street Infill Plan. In August, the group submitted a request to change that document. Among other changes, the group specifically wants to ensure that parking regulations remain the same as they are currently, requesting that the 6th Street Infill Plan "be amended to provide for no reduction in required parking as currently provided in the Tulsa Zoning Code until such time as public parking facilities and/or public transportation are available in the Plan area which, in fact, reduces the demand for parking."
Under the form-based code, parking lots would be allowed in the rear of buildings, with the idea to avoid parking lot moats around businesses as a way to spur pedestrian-friendly development.
Any changes to the 6th Street Infill Plan would likely affect the Pearl District proposal, as planning professionals with Tulsa and also the Indian Nations Council of Governments have repeatedly referenced the 6th Street Infill Plan when making changes to the Pearl proposal.
At the most recent meeting, VanValkenburgh also described how the city council might become involved in the process. The planning commission would only make a recommendation in the case of the Pearl District proposal. If it approves the regulating plan and zoning changes, it would be up to the Tulsa City Council to decide whether to accept the recommendation.
VanValkenburgh stated at the meeting that the council would, in fact, review even a vote against the Pearl District proposal.
"I believe it would go [to the city council] if denied as well," VanValkenburgh said at the Sept. 19 meeting.
Commissioners and staff seemed to settle at the Sept. 5 meeting that a negative vote would not automatically go the city council. After the 6-3 vote against the plan, Planning Commissioner Bill Leighty made a motion to refer the proposal to the city council, but no one seconded his motion.
At the Sept. 19 meeting, Dwain Midget, the Mayor's designee to the commission, spoke about a desire to move forward with the process.
"I am particularly interested in reexamining this and continuing to move it forward. From what I gathered, the citizens and property owners that came before us and spoke ... they would be interested in continuing discussions on this," said Midget, who voted against the proposal at the Sept. 5 meeting.
One planning commissioner spoke about the need to act quickly.
Planning Commissioner Brandon Perkins, one of three commissioners to vote in favor of the proposal, said the group needs to act "as early as practical" or "this wound is going to continue to fester." Perkins also said the group must move forward "in a well-orchestrated direction."
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