POSTED ON MARCH 14, 2012:
Neighborhood Davids vs. Goliath Corporation
A new project may bulldoze over a neighborhoodís small area plans
This case is much more than just a normal, boring PUD amendment. It's a test of this city's commitment to the future and its own plan," Jamie Jamieson wrote in a March 2 letter addressed to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission. "It's a clash between a large, individual entity acting entirely out of self-interest on one hand and transparent, collaborative, city-sponsored, TMAPC-adopted, council-approved, small-area planning on the other."
Jamieson, a Pearl District developer, advocate and denizen, wrote the March 2 letter in response to QuikTrip Corp.'s plans for a bigger, revamped station on the corner of 11th St. and Utica Ave.
The planning commission discussed QuikTrip's PUD amendment 588-A (an alteration to an already existing "planned unit development," which is a small-scale plan to redevelop a specific area) last week, and will now move on to City Council for approval.
If adopted, the not-so-boring amendment would allow the popular corporation to buy more land, pour more concrete and permanently close off part of nearby 10th St.
But is a sprawling high-octane gas station a perfect fit for the Pearl District's pedestrian-friendly, sustainable and walkable ideals?
A New Kind of Energy
Maybe not. But Jamieson said he and the Pearl District Association were willing to make concessions on their detailed 6th St. Infill Plan to better suit the corporation's needs and interests. But the company did not alter its plan, he said.
Jamieson attended the TMAPC's meeting last week, armed with his thorough and detailed 10-page letter outlining the reasons he thinks PUD 588-A (an amendment to QT's original PUD) departs from the Pearl District's urban vision. He said he was rushed through a quick reading of the letter, and the TMAPC approved the PUD 6-3.
"Everybody that collaborated in the events that led to the TMAPC's approval of that PUD is totally ignoring the plans for the neighborhood," Jamieson said. "They are studiously ignoring them."
He described the situation in harsh terms. He said the TMAPC and INCOG "need to get with the program or get out of the way. And I am drawing the conclusion that they need to get out of the way."
And as for INCOG specifically, "INCOG have been guilty of a dereliction of duty at a fundamental level. They are there to administer the city's plan," Jamieson said. "And they are there to guide the TMAPC as it too implements and oversees the Comprehensive Plan. And they all ignored the 6th St. Infill Plan."
The developer said he decided to jump into the fray on this issue because "Tulsa is at a turning point. And we're beginning to slip down a slope... We've just undertaken three new plans, and to what purpose? Are we going to ignore those as well?"
The Pearl is one of the city's first suburbs and in the past decade, has been the focus of careful and thoughtful rehabilitation and planning for the future. Over the past few years, the city has adopted four plans designed to create and encourage positive, healthy, walkable and sustainable infill development. Between the July 2010 Comprehensive Plan, the 6th St. Infill Plan, Oklahoma's first form-based code, INCOG's new Regional Transit System Plan and a February 2012 Complete Streets policy, this important piece of midtown is getting a dramatic facelift.
Hillcrest Hospital, a neighbor to the 11th and Utica QuikTrip, and nearby St. John Medical Center are both working with planning firms to develop their own PUDs.
A Pivotal Point
Gas stations, by their nature, serve cars. They serve that good old-fashioned American dependence on oil. On every street corner, they represent the city's largely convivial and successful former "Oil Capital of the World" relationship to fossil fuels. Complicated, necessary energy is Tulsa's former glory, its current obsession and future quandary.
And now, Tulsa stands in a gap between 20th century oil glories and 21st century innovations, between embracing the past and accepting our future. Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr., for example, is a 30-year veteran of the oil and gas business, but he also put solar panels on the roof of his office. There are ways to bridge the gap. As our city's slogan goes, the Tulsa of our highest ideals embraces "a new kind of energy."
So what kind of energy do we expect from one of Tulsa's oldest neighborhoods? Do we want to embrace urban renewal, or do we want the city's planning commission to continue rubber-stamping the same old thing?
Last spring, former District 4 City Councilor Maria Barnes struggled with the TMAPC too. In April and May 2011, Barnes pushed a zoning code change that would have nixed PUDs altogether in historic preservation areas like the Pearl District. While PUDs traditionally create an open-ended conversation between the city and developers, these small area plans also create a loophole. With an approved PUD, land use and historic preservation regulations can be flipped around or disregarded completely.
In this current instance, a large corporation can (at least try to) use a PUD amendment to have its way in a historic neighborhood regardless of predetermined preservation plans and goals. Most historic neighborhoods in midtown Tulsa have their own small area plans to maintain property values and the integrity of their unique history. Besides the Pearl District, the North Star, Swan Lake, Forest Orchard, Owen Park, Crosby Heights, and St. John/Yorktown neighborhoods also have unique small area plans.
Managing Our Destiny
But the Pearl District's current issue with the new PUD amendment "rather raises the question," Jamieson asked, "What's going to happen to their small area plans? Will they be driven by heavy-duty, major institutions or companies?"
Will the city allow the "big guys to call the shots" while ignoring "collaborative neighborhoods representing a diversity of interests who work in good faith for many years?" Jamieson asked.
He attacked the recent PUD amendment as "a hurried and pre-emptive strike against the expansion of the form-based code, which the Pearl has worked on for years with the city of Tulsa and even with INCOG."
But speaking of INCOG, Jamieson said he thought its land use department "seemed to be out of control, and doing the city of Tulsa a gross disservice. And I would say, I think the question of whether INCOG should continue to administer Tulsa's land use policies is more than open to question.
"There is no doubt in my mind," he continued, the city "should be firing INCOG. The city should be ma