POSTED ON JULY 28, 2010:
City Council gives thumbs up to PLANiTULSA, but now the tough part begins
From Plan to Demand. Under the small area plan for the Brady Arts District, as a part of PLANiTULSA, ground has been broken for a satellite location of the Philbrook Museum of Art at the east end of the Mathews Warehouse, while ground will be broken in October or November for new facilities for the Tulsa Arts and Humanities Council at the west end of the warehouse.
FILE PHOTO/JEREMY CHARLES
The City Council's approval of the PLANiTULSA document last week might have ended a two-year effort to update the city's comprehensive plan, but in many ways, the work is only beginning. Martha Schultz, a Tulsa city planner who has worked on PLANiTULSA since its inception, pointed out the planning for the update process actually began a year before the city contracted with Fregonese Associates -- a Portland, Ore.-based consulting firm -- to initiate a series of forums designed to gather public input. In that respect, she said, the council's action last week was the final step in a three-year journey for her. But there are multiple phases to PLANiTULSA, not just one, Schultz noted. "The key to it is implementation," she said. "You have to have a vision to know what you're going to implement." One of the first steps the Planning Department personnel will take regards new zoning proposals. Schultz said she would be working with members of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission to make sure they are evaluating proposals with the new plan as opposed to the old one. Another element that might be acted on quickly is a series of priority strategies that the plan recommends the mayor and City Council initiate within one to three years. That list consists of revising the city's zoning and subdivision codes, conducting neighborhood and small area planning in targeted areas, creating a viable redevelopment strategy, initiating and completing several PLANiTULSA prototype buildings as demonstration projects, developing a new transportation strategy, and organizing planning and development functions for implementation. Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. was very pleased at the plan's passage, though he noted that revamping the city's outdated zoning code would be a big challenge. "Without that happening, PLANiTULSA will never reach its full sphere of influence," he said, adding that process is likely to be costly. Another item on that list -- small area planning -- already is seeing action. Small area plans are described in the PLANiTULSA document as plans that address the issues of a portion of the city, covering as little as 10 acres or as much as thousands of acres. Schultz said the SAPs coming up for consideration were not spawned by PLANiTULSA, since they were already in the works before the comprehensive plan update was adopted, but they have embraced it. The first SAP likely to be considered will be the downtown master plan created by Jack Crowley, a University of Georgia faculty member who served as a special adviser on urban planning under Mayor Kathy Taylor. Crowley finished the plan late last year, but its consideration was held off until the PLANiTULSA plan was adopted. Crowley recently returned to Tulsa to reintroduce the document through a series of public forums. Senior planner Stephen Carr, the city's project coordinator, said a Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission work session on the document was held on July 22, and the plan likely will go before the TMAPC for a public hearing in September. If it is approved, he hopes to have it before the City Council for consideration by October. "Fun times," Carr said. "This is where the fun begins." The next SAP in line for consideration will be the plan for the Brady Arts District, which was unveiled in February. Carr described that plan as basically an update to the 2002 Brady Infill Plan; although the new document focuses on specific projects. He estimated it would go before the Planning Commission in October. That would come as good news to Greg Gray, president of the Brady Business Association, who was deeply involved in the drafting of the Brady SAP. Gray said many of the elements in his district's new plan already are taking shape, including demolition work on the former home of Central Freight Lines Inc., which is being converted into the Brady Town Square, an $8 million project occupying an entire city block between Brady St., Boston Ave., Cameron St. and Cincinnati Ave. "We're not waiting," he said. "We've already started tearing down the metal building and part of the (loading) dock; although we'll keep most of it for a stage." Gray said the Tribune II Lofts project will break ground next month, and he welcomed last week's announcement that a mixed-use development highlighted by a 108-room Fairfield Inn & Suites hotel would be built on Main St. between Archer and Brady in the heart of the district. He also pointed out that ground has been broken for a satellite location of the Philbrook Museum of Art at the east end of the Mathews Warehouse, while ground will be broken in October or November for new facilities for the Tulsa Arts and Humanities Council at the west end of the warehouse. An update to the Tulsa Parks master plan is also due for consideration by the Planning Commission this fall, as is another SAP for southwest Tulsa, perhaps as soon as November, Carr said. After that, city officials will begin to look for other areas of the city where an SAP would be considered beneficial. "We'll be developing criteria for areas that should have an SAP because it's been requested, or it comes out of the PLANiTULSA (public forum) process or in areas that are underperforming or targeted for development," he said. Carr acknowledged all that activity is likely to tax the resources of the city's Planning Department. "The big pressure, of course, is the resources we have available," he said. "We may have to retask some of our own staff." Even so, Carr said he believed the approval of the various SAPs would proceed smoothly. "I think the timing's really good," he said. "The staff is working well. There could be a logjam if you weren't careful, and that's what could have happened with the downtown plan if we had tried to adopt it simultaneously (with PLANiTULSA). That's why we delayed it." Gray said he wasn't worried about his district's plan facing any kind of lengthy delay in the adoption process. "The holdup at the Planning Commission comes when you don't have a detailed plan, when you just walk in and say, 'We want to do this and this and that,'" he said. "We're not doing that. We're walking in with a detailed plan ... and it's funded." Gray said only a few fine details remain to be worked out in the Brady SAP. "(The Planning Commission will) probably come back with a few minor changes," he said. "We would expect that and even hope for that, if it helps us tie in with other areas like the Blue Dome." Carr said the implementation of the PLANiTULSA provisions and the new plans inspired by the document should have a noticeable impact on the city. "It is really exciting," he said. "Tulsa's doing quite well. We've been behind Oklahoma City for a while, but I think we're making a real strong surge to compete with everybody." Schultz said the three-year PLANiTULSA process was driven by the citizens who participated at every level and continued to say what was on their mind when it came to planning the future of their city. She acknowledged that there likely will still be critics who maintain the plan is not representative of what Tulsa's population really wants, but she believes every effort was made to take all opinions into account. "The difference here is that it's always been open and transparent, and nobody's been excluded," she said, adding that city officials attempted to reach Tulsans in every way they could -- through the PLANiTULSA website (planitulsa.org), courtesy of the media, fliers posted in public libraries and e-mail blasts, as well as outreach efforts that targeted specific areas of town and members of the minority community. "The opportunity (to contribute) was there, and we feel good about that," she said. "A lot of people just don't engage in civic life. We feel like the best you can do is give everybody the opportunity. We tried to do that from the beginning."
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