POSTED ON FEBRUARY 27, 2013:
The Pearl Unfurled
Options laid out before code vote
The public feedback is in.
But discussion about backbone featured prominently at a Feb. 20 work session of the Tulsa Metro Area Planning Commission.
The meeting included the first discussion of possibly expanding new property development guidelines since three meetings soliciting public opinion on what's known as the city's form-based code.
COURTESTY OF INCOG
On the table is a proposal to apply the code to a larger section of the Pearl District neighborhood east of downtown, with commissioners agreeing in the work session to vote on several options at their March 6 meeting.
The lengthy process continues to bring out strong opinions, however.
"I believe that our planning commission has continued to pass the buck and pass the ball to staff, and staff was treated like dirt by many people at those meetings," said Brandon Perkins, one of nine volunteer planning commissioners wrangling with the proposal since April. (The 11-member board also includes designees of the Tulsa mayor and the Tulsa County commissioners.)
Perkins added: "What we're charged to do is make tough decisions, which may not be popular with individuals, for the greater good of Tulsa, Oklahoma."
At the earlier public workshop meetings, city staff took notes as citizens talked about changes they would like to see in the code.
Though the code would not require any changes to existing property, its requirements would kick in for new construction or extensive renovation projects.
Proving unpopular were code features like building height requirements (in some designated areas, new construction would need to be two-stories) and a prohibition against using lots solely for parking.
Most 2012 meetings on the proposal focused on the size of the area to possibly expand the guidelines. Initially, the proposal covered the roughly 70 blocks of the neighborhood. Now, however, a pared down plan would apply mainly to portions of E. 6th Street and S. Peoria Avenue.
At the March 6 meeting, commissioners are expected to vote on whether they want to keep the form-based code and its regulations unchanged or move to make changes to the code.
Bill Leighty, the planning commissioner who has been very vocal in favor of the form-based code, spoke again about its importance.
"This is really a philosophical struggle in my view between people who have a death grip on the past and people who want to see progressive changes in our community," Leighty said, noting that he was advised when he first accepted the post not to be intimidated "by a room full of people who want to have their way."
He continued: "Our job is not to be swayed by public opinion as much as it is about doing what is right for our community."
(Leighty is also a UTW contributor.)
Dwayne Midget, the mayor's designee on the commission, spoke about making sure all parties are heard.
"When we started down this road, if during that time people who were going to be impacted was not involved, I think it's incumbent upon on us to pump our brakes, slow down a bit and make sure those who are going to be impacted have an opportunity to participate and have a say so we can hear both sides of the issue," Midget said.
In the meeting, Perkins noted that many of the people involved in the early stages of drafting the form-based code did not attend the three public workshops.
Carolyn Back, a senior planner with the Indian Nations Council of Governments, agreed.
"I do believe, in communicating with that group, that after the last paring down of the regulating plan, that a lot of them have been frustrated," Back said.
But Perkins said he believed there was a flaw in the initial process in developing plans for the area.
"The group that originally put together the Pearl District 6th Street plan, I believe it was done without the input from a lot of very important players in this area," Perkins said.
Whatever decision made by the planning commission will be presented as a recommendation to the Tulsa City Council, so there may be other opportunities for the neighborhood group to make their case in favor of change.
Commissioners also said they would consider a request to amend what's known as the 6th Street Infill Plan, which was adopted in 2006. The amendment request was filed by the Pearl District Property Owners and Business Association, which was formed last year by critics of the form-based code guidelines.
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