POSTED ON FEBRUARY 6, 2013:
Polishing the Pearl Plan
New dialogue for development regulations
Who wants to live above a body shop?
The rhetorical question cut to the concerns of some property owners gathered at a Jan. 29 evening meeting to discuss plans for new zoning regulations in the Pearl District.
Once again, the topic involved implementing what's known as a form-based code, which would then guide future development in the neighborhood just east of downtown.
"It's a trade-off," city planner Theron Warlick said after explaining that the code, if implemented, would generally not allow a newly-cleared lot to be used solely for parking unless a structure was also placed on the lot.
"And I don't know if that works for you or not," Warlick added, speaking to Vic Sherrell, owner of a longtime business in the neighborhood, Sherrell Paint and Body.
It didn't for Sherrell.
"I may not ever do that, but I want to have the choice to do that," Sherrell said.
But Warlick and others leading the meeting eschewed a heavy-handed approach, instead soliciting suggestions on how attendees they would like to adjust the regulations.
Feedback was plentiful.
Regulating Temperatures. The proposed Pearl District plan remains controversial.
One person at the meeting, Mike Craddock, a commercial real estate broker, suggested that regulations should be eased if two business owners purchase a lot for shared parking purposes.
Other suggestions involved tweaking requirements for some areas designated as "Urban General" or "Urban General Storefront" within the Pearl District form-based code plan. South Peoria Avenue and East 6th Street within the Pearl District have this designation.
As part of the code, such new development is expected to be "multi-story," but some property owners expressed support for a relaxed standard that might allow atriums or even very tall one-story buildings to satisfy the requirements. It was in this context that someone raised the question about living above a body shop.
Relaxing the multi-story requirements would likely mean opening the possibility of a less population-dense area, however, seemingly detracting from the code's stated purpose of "promotion of compact, mixed-use development at an urban density."
The workshop format mostly did the trick in lowering the volume of the plan's harshest critics. Property owners directly affected by the plan, along with a few other interested parties, gathered around one of three large conference tables in a meeting room at the South Peoria Avenue offices of Family and Children's Services.
Roughly 65 people attended the evening meeting, one of three scheduled by planning officials to again seek out public input in how to best implement the form-based code.
The Jan. 29 meeting began with a presentation by Carolyn Back, a senior planner with the Indian Nations Council of Governments. Rather than focus her talk on how the code is designed to promote pedestrian-friendly designs and mixed-use development, Back spoke mostly about the nuts and bolts of the code.
Planners have emphasized that existing structures don't need to change anything if the code is approved, but Back gave specific percentages about when remodeling projects would become extensive enough that the work would have to meet form-based code requirements.
If a remodeling project affects 26 to 50 percent of a building's footprint, then that addition must comply with the form-based code; more than 50 percent, and the entire property must be in compliance.
The very idea of applying the code has already been chopped to pieces, at least as it related to the Pearl District.
An already-scaled back version of the plan failed in a Sept. 5 vote by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, despite a 2011 vote by the Tulsa City Council establishing the form-based code as official city ordinance -- one that applied only to a very small portion of the Pearl District, however.
Efforts at expanding the area regulated by the form-based code began in late 2011, with community meetings organized by planning officials. However, a diverse group of business and property owners opposed the plan, originally envisioned as being implemented throughout the roughly 70 blocks included in the Pearl District.
The neighborhood is bounded to the north by I-244, to the south by East 11th Street and to the east by South Utica Avenue. Its western edge consists of U.S. Highway 75.
Planning commissioners took up the concept again in October and eventually agreed to consider applying the code to a much smaller area of the Pearl District, roughly 20 blocks.
Talking plans. Theron Warlick, a city planner, at the Jan. 29 meeting.
"This is not for every neighborhood," Warlick told the 20 or so people gathered at one table at the Jan. 29 meeting.
Perhaps the most ardent of critics, former planning commissioner and developer Joe Westervelt, hurled a rhetorical question at Warlick during the workshop session.
"Theron, are you still selling this code?" Westervelt asked.
One man criticized the plan as having a negative impact on Indian Health Care's main clinic, but a woman responded that perhaps new businesses that might welcome the form-based code would also benefit the neighborhood.
Tulsa City Councilor Blake Ewing, who recently opened The Phoenix café at East 6th Street and South Peoria Avenue and has spoken publicly in favor of the code, attended the meeting, as did at least three planning commissioners.
After the meeting, Craddock said he has been "fairly not a big fan of the form-based code." But he said he's "come around a little bit."
In the Pearl, Craddock said he sees potential for neighborhood revitalization.
"I think it's a great area for redevelopment," he said.
But under what rules? The planning commission will likely take up the issue again soon after the Feb. 11 meeting. Their recommendation will go to the Tulsa City Council, which would vote on whether or not to implement the new zoning.
Public workshops on Pearl District zoning will be held Feb. 6 and Feb. 11 at 650 S. Peoria Ave. in the conference room of the Family and Children's Services building. The meetings start at 6pm and are scheduled to last 90 minutes.
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