POSTED ON APRIL 13, 2011:
City's getting more serious about business, it seems, with new hire
During a series of five business forums his administration presented throughout Tulsa in the spring of 2010, Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. said he kept hearing one thing over and over from many of those who attended those events.
The mayor badly needed to designate someone to serve as a liaison between municipal government and the business community, Bartlett was told -- someone who could provide "one-stop shopping" for a potential business owner trying to navigate the maze of zoning, code and licensing regulations that are part of the city's bureaucracy.
A year later, Bartlett heeded those calls, naming Oklahoma native Crystal Keller to the newly created position of development services coordinator. The mayor believes Keller's impact could be tremendous.
"It's a first-of-a-kind position," Bartlett said. "So she has the ability to solidify the relationship between the city of Tulsa and the business community."
Keller began her duties on Feb. 28 and spent much of her first month on the job simply advertising her existence to the business community.
"My first initiative is to get my name out there and let the development community know I'm here to help," she said. "I want people to know if they call me, the challenges they have will be resolved."
Starting a new business can be a confusing, even intimidating process, Keller acknowledged, especially for someone who has never done it before. She views it as her job to educate potential entrepreneurs about the process so they know what to expect.
"I let them know about the challenges they face and the time frame," she said. "I want to set up a reasonable expectation for them so they know they don't just get a permit in 48 hours and walk out the door."
In February, Crystal Keller was named Tulsa’s new development services coordinator, a post that helps potential business owners with zoning, code and licensing issues.
Even those who aren't quite ready to launch a business can come to Keller for assistance. If an entrepreneur is having trouble finding a suitable site for his or her company, Keller can help identify locations that are properly zoned or where highway access is readily available.
But she won't just be interacting with representatives of the development community. Keller also will serve as the city government's point person for contact with neighborhood associations, many of which have complained in the past that they felt left out of the process when development took place in their vicinity.
Ideally, Keller's presence would help eliminate episodes like the Sonoma Grande controversy in south Tulsa, a luxury apartments complex that was built on 81st Street just west of Mingo Road. The development is located adjacent to a subdivision, and many of those home owners have claimed they were not made adequately aware of the size and proximity of the project until it was too late to voice any concerns. The controversy eventually led to a lawsuit.
Keller, a University of Oklahoma graduate who has spent the past six years working in Arizona, said she already has heard several references to that situation and hopes to avoid any repeat occurrences. She said will strive to educate neighborhood groups about planned developments that might affect them and make them aware of new features to the city's website that allows citizens to type in an address and receive a list of all new development projects that are planned for a five-mile radius.
She hopes to develop a rapport with neighborhood leaders that leads to greater permit and code enforcement, encouraging citizens to contact her about possible violations and essentially making them the eyes and the ears of the city in that regard.
"We want to make sure these projects are handled the way they're supposed to be," she said.
One of the most challenging aspects of Keller's new job is likely to be the city's transition to its new comprehensive plan and the planned adoption of a new zoning code. Bartlett -- who listed the creation of a development services coordinator as one of his top priorities before the Fiscal Year 2011 budget was adopted -- noted Keller is likely to face plenty of questions in that regard.
"PLANiTULSA is, in itself, brand new, and it will be an evolving project," he said. "Of course, the business community was involved in its creation. Her being able to articulate what PLANiTULSA actually says and relay to the public what the problems are will be a big part of her job."
While she acknowledged there is plenty of change on the city's development horizon, Keller said she's prepared for whatever comes her way.
"I definitely think that on a daily basis, my position is evolving even in the first 30 days," she said. "And it will continue to evolve."
For now, Keller said, she's focused on such short-term goals as absorbing as much information as she can. She also has dived head first into the proposed small area plan for the Brady Arts District, which will be going before the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and City Council soon for approval. The district on the north edge of downtown is poised to see a rush of development that includes new museums, residential developments, mixed-use projects and even a park.
But her primary goal, she said, is to improve communication all the way around. She plans to reach out to representatives of the Tulsa Metro Chamber, young entrepreneurs and veteran business owners, getting their perspectives on what the city could be doing to encourage growth.
Keller hopes her presence makes the process of creating new development or doing business in Tulsa a much smoother experience than it has been in the past.
"I think it already has had an impact in the 30 days I've been here, based on the response I've had from the development community," she said.
Keller can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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