POSTED ON MARCH 13, 2013:
Pearl District code returns to drawing board
Generally, things don't work out as they have in Tulsa, said Carol Wyant, executive director of the Form-Based Codes Institute.
To be sure, in most cities, there's usually give and take when coming up with regulations like a form-based code to guide property development in a neighborhood, Wyant said.
Those give-and-take public discussions "should be happening during the charrette process, the visioning and planning process that precedes the code actually being written," said Wyant. "Then the code is written to implement the agreed-upon compromises that people finally agreed they want."
In Tulsa, however, the process has proven to be far from smooth.
Planning commissioners voted March 6 to essentially detour back to that "visioning" process as the next step in what's been a highly contentious, 15-month-and-counting effort to expand regulations adopted in 2011 to a larger area in the Pearl District neighborhood east of downtown.
For now, geographic expansion of the form-based code is on hold until government planning staff meet privately with the upstart Pearl District Business Association and others to possibly rewrite at least portions of the code.
From afar, what's noticeably different in Tulsa compared to other cities which have a form-based code is "that huge gap of time" between code adoption and expansion efforts.
"I don't know of a place where it was like this, where the vision was done for a larger area but the code only adopted for part of it," said Wyant, who heads the Chicago-based, not-for-profit institute but lived in Tulsa for almost 20 years before moving away in the 1980s.
Wyant said she's also surprised to see the association advocate for a "Chicago-style code," as several association members did at the March 6 meeting of the Tulsa Metro Area Planning Commission.
"The idea is to create the place you want. And Tulsa isn't Chicago, and it shouldn't be," Wyant said.
Implementing the form-based code would not force changes to existing structures -- the regulations kick in with new construction and extensive renovations -- but the Pearl District Business Association has cited concerns about parking limitations and building height requirements.
"The form-based code as presented is far too restrictive and the Chicago code is very simple," said Lou Reynolds, a lawyer for the association.
Chicago does not have a true form-based code, which dictates building form as regulations spell out the way a building should look from the street and where parking spaces should be places.
Chicago has more traditional use-based zoning throughout the city, but includes "pedestrian street" overlays for some areas. These overlays have elements of a form-based code, said Chicago attorney Joseph Gattuso, who works frequently with developers.
Jamie Jamieson, a developer of townhomes in the Pearl District who also lives in the neighborhood, criticized the sudden reference to Chicago's code.
"It's a tactic, nothing else. ... I think they're real goal is to completely destroy the form-based code," Jamieson said. "I have not the slightest doubt that despite their protestations to the contrary, I'm of the opinion that the 'pop-up' business association would like to see the form-based code go away altogether."
The business association formed in July, and now includes a diverse group of over 30 members, including heavyweights like Hillcrest Health Care and QuikTrip but also some much smaller businesses such as Sherrell Paint and Body.
It's not the only neighborhood group, however. Jamieson helped found the Pearl District Association, which has roots going back more than a decade. The group was established in its current form in 2006.
Asked if the group will meet with government planners on possible code compromises, Jamieson didn't hesitate.
"We most certainly will," he said.
He drew a sharp distinction between his organization and the Pearl District Business Association.
"This new 'pop up' business association tends to represent a much older stable of property owners, whereas the Pearl District Association is characterized by much younger, progressive business people who tend to be in more creative market sectors," Jamieson said, noting that his group makes a point to include Pearl District residents as well as businesses.
"They have no vision of the future, whereas we, the PDA, among its many strengths, it has a very clear vision of the kind of neighborhood we're trying to create," Jamieson said.
City Councilor Blake Ewing represents the Pearl District and also owns a business, The Phoenix Café, within the neighborhood. He's been an advocate for expanding the form-based code. Should the planning commission vote on an expansion plan, their recommendation would require a council vote for approval.
"The current zoning in that neighborhood is restrictive, antiquated, use-based zoning, which proves to be an awkward fit for an older urban neighborhood like The Pearl. ... I'm hopeful that we can overcome the current obstacles and adopt a plan, and I'm confident that once the positive results of this plan begin to reveal themselves, we'll have other neighborhoods asking for the same zoning," Ewing wrote in an email.
Wyant said she recommended a series of "three or four" meetings "where everyone could participate and people would see the tradeoffs."
She cited a December article in Better! Cities & Towns written by Rick Bernhardt, executive director of the Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County Planning Department, which stated that property values in Nashville have risen more in neighborhoods with a form-based code than in other comparable areas.
"I just wish that everyone would look at the good of the whole rather than their individual preferences," Wyant said. "If they would look at what's good for the whole, I think it would be easier, be more likely for people to come to an agreement."
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