POSTED ON JULY 16, 2008:
Big Plans for Brookside
If area homeowners can hold city to its zoning principles, there is hope for future "human scale" development
Thursday night, the Tulsa City Council will face another test as they hear big time Houston real estate developer Bomasada's rezoning request for its proposed four-story "Enclave" development at 39th and Rockford.
Brookside neighbors are protesting the new development as out of scale for the neighborhood and out of accord with the neighborhood's infill plan, which is a part of the City's comprehensive plan and should guide officials as they consider requested changes to the zoning map ordinance.
Whether you live in Brookside or not, all Tulsa property owners have a stake in the outcome, as it will show whether this City Council will stick with or set aside the development standards that were negotiated by homeowners, business owners, and developers and formally adopted by the city. Consistent application of the rules is the issue at hand.
The Bomasada proposal exceeds the height and density for area designated as residential in the Brookside plan. In the Brookside residential district, new development is supposed to mimic the setbacks, heights, and open space of the single-family homes that dominate the neighborhood.
The plan makes allowances for higher residential densities where the designated residential area abuts the designated business area but only "if (a) appropriate design elements and improvements are provided in conformance with area design guidelines to enhance the value, image and function of area properties and (b) if consistent with District 6 Plan goals, objectives, policies and guidelines."
A group of four-story brownstone apartment buildings with individual entries and paths allowing better pedestrian access between the neighborhood and the Old Village Shopping Center might meet those criteria. The massive, monolithic, insular apartment building proposed by Bomasada does not.
While the developer made some concessions to get the plan through the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, word is that the developers think they can get council approval for their original proposal.
In conducting in-depth interviews for Tulsa's new comprehensive planning effort, the public opinion research firm Collective Strength found a recurring theme: "Fatalism about lack of zoning and code enforcement and special favors for the wealthy." Approval of this development would only reinforce that well-founded cynicism and would undermine optimism that a new comprehensive plan would be fairly applied to all.
Brookside plan participants put in a great deal of time and effort. To set the product of that effort aside will chill enthusiasm for participating in future planning efforts. If all that negotiation and compromise comes to nothing, if the developer is always going to get his way, why bother?
I was happy to speak publicly in support Jim Glass's townhouse development on 35th Place, despite the objections of nearby homeowners. That development was within the north Brookside business area and clearly in accord with the relevant design guidelines. But in this case, the homeowners' protests are correct.
Good land use planning doesn't grant an automatic win for developers or homeowners. It requires rules that are consistently and fairly applied, regardless of the wealth or influence of the applicant.
The council will hear from applicants and from INCOG staffers that the Bomasada development is consistent with the Brookside plan. The councilors should examine the matter for themselves and come to their own conclusions. If they do, I feel confident that they'll vote down this proposal.
The ripples from their decision will extend far beyond Brookside. The new comprehensive planning effort, PLANiTULSA, will have its first public workshops in September.
If the council shows respect for the Brookside planning process by voting down the Bomasada development, it will signal to the public that they can have a positive and long-lasting impact by participating in PLANiTULSA.
If they set the Brookside plan aside for the developers, it will feed public cynicism about public land use planning and discourage participation from the very activists who have the most insight to contribute to the new plan.
Choose wisely, Councilors.
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