POSTED ON JULY 17, 2013:
Shaping the Pearl
What belongs in neighborhood re-invention plan?
Once again, the future of the Pearl District has the spotlight.
A July 24 scheduled work session will give planning commissioners a chance to review proposed changes to development guidelines for the roughly 70-block neighborhood just east of downtown and south of I-244.
Should they be adopted, amendments to the 6th Street Infill Plan would emphasize the importance of existing industrial businesses.
"I guess there are kind of two ways of looking at it," said Susan Miller, director of land development services for the Indian Nations Council of Governments. "I think the property owners are looking at it, there is still viable industrial business in some of those areas right at this moment, and there's some industrial zoning right at this moment. But the plan looks to the future, and clearly those areas are in transition."
Meanwhile, the city will pay $30,000 to have a Chicago-based consultant examine its form-based code, a type of property zoning new to Tulsa that became a lightning rod for controversy last year.
Dawn Warrick, the city of Tulsa's planning and economic development director, wrote that the money "was cobbled together from savings within the PED department budget." The deal involves amending a $355,000 contract with Duncan Associates to update the city's zoning code.
On March 6, planning commissioners capped some 15-months of debate on the form-based code in the Pearl District with a vote to essentially go back to the drawing board and re-examine the code.
Like the name implies, the code seeks to regulate building based on how structures look, with an emphasis on pedestrian-friendly designs and an eye toward promoting mixed-use development.
But it met with stiff opposition from a diverse group of small and large businesses concerned with how the code might affect future plans for their property.
The opposition formed a new group, the Pearl District Business and Property Owners Association, which includes some large organizations like QuikTrip Corp. and Hillcrest Health System, as well as more than a dozen small businesses.
On March 6, the group presented several proposed amendments to the 6th Street Infill Plan.
That plan, adopted by the city in 2006, had a vision no less ambitious than to "reinvent the art of city life in Tulsa." Put together with citizen input, it calls for the "struggling near-downtown neighborhood" to be transformed into a "diverse, walkable, and desirable place to live, work, and play." It also calls for taking a "new approach to land-use planning for the City of Tulsa," and has been cited by those in favor of form-based code expansion.
A spokeswoman for the new group, Katy Brown, an official with Indian Health Care, also a group member, wrote in an email that the group prefers an August date to be on the planning commission agenda.
Specifically, one proposal from the group is for industrial-zoned property to be included in the 6th Street Infill Plan's "Manufacturing Warehousing" designation. The plan includes a recommendation that, outside of major corridors, those areas -- currently identified as mostly near the railroad line, all north of E. 6th Street -- have "standards for design and development" to remain "unchanged."
Miller said she will update commissioners on industry in the Pearl District at the meeting.
Another amendment would remove from the plan properties east of the center line of S. Utica Avenue and south of the center line of E. 11th Street.
The group had submitted other amendments, but those won't be the focus of the work session, Miller said. In a vote on March 6, planning commissioners tried to set aside which proposals merited further consideration.
Miller said planners met with the new Pearl group once after the March 6 meeting to discuss the proposed amendments.
"They wanted us to consider all of them. We said, well, a lot of those really go against the vision of the plan, and it would require an entirely new plan with an entirely different focus and vision, and that's not something we can put in our queue right now," Miller said.
For example, one proposed amendment calls for an "auto-centric" designation to be placed on all of S. Utica Avenue and E. 11th Street within the Pearl District, as well as the portion of S. Peoria Avenue north of E. 6th Street.
Thom Crowe is president of the Pearl District Association, an older group that supports the form-based code to help the neighborhood develop. He and his wife, Christine Sharp-Crowe, own a crafts business, make: Tulsa, on E. 6th Street, where other businesses have opened recently, including The Phoenix, a café owned by City Councilor Blake Ewing, also a proponent of the form-based code.
"We're looking at an entire community, an entire area, and not just trying to do one or two streets," Crowe said. "Our association has residents and businesses at each and every meeting," Crowe said, adding that the group will help with a planned Aug. 10 event to do minor repairs, painting and trash removal throughout the neighborhood.
"The other focus is simply on maintaining the status quo, which I don't see a benefit to," Crowe said. "It's a great area. It's a wonderful, underused resource."
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