POSTED ON AUGUST 28, 2013:
The City's News
More Pearl dramatics.
For those accustomed to dramatics when planning talk turns to the Pearl district, the bluster and confusion of an Aug. 21 work session did not disappoint.
The Tulsa Metro Area Planning Commission's meeting ultimately signaled a revival of potentially major changes to an original guiding document for the neighborhood, the 6th Street Infill Plan -- including the prospect of amending it to designate major stretches as auto-centric.
If the amendment passes, it would be a severe blow to visions of pedestrian-friendly zoning advocated for by some in the neighborhood just east of downtown, including Thom Crowe, president of the Pearl District Association.
"This whole thing is a joke. We don't stand a chance," Crowe, muttered during one particularly contentious stretch of the meeting. Crowe's group has been longtime advocates for what's known as a form-based code, a type of zoning that would encourage pedestrian-friendly construction designs and mixed-use buildings.
However, a diverse group of businesses and property owners loudly voiced opposition to expansion of the form-based zoning code during a series of meetings in 2012 and earlier this year, mainly citing concerns about how zoning changes might affect future plans for their property. This group recently formed their own organization, the Pearl District Business and Property Owners Association.
Crowe reacted to a move by some planning commissioners to view a video produced by this property owners group, despite the video not having been screened by planning staff or placed on the group's agenda.
Commissioners Dwain Midget, and John Dix both stated they would like to see the video anyway, while Dawn Warrick, the city's planning and economic development department director, expressed a concern about fairness.
"I don't think any of the other interested parties had an opportunity to prepare anything for this," she said.
Crowe then stood to speak loudly from his seat: "The other interested parties, excuse me for interrupting, were polite enough to understand what our role was here and we came to be heard and listen and see what was going on and not to attempt to interject."
Ultimately, the group's chair, Joshua Walker, did not allow the video to be shown, but it was far from the only flare-up at the meeting, which was supposed to be a follow-up to a confusing March 6 vote by planning commissioners directing staff to further study five proposed amendments put forward by the property owners association.
Midget, however, brought up additional proposed amendments that had seemingly been discarded at the March 6 meeting after planning staffers stated they would require an almost total rewrite of the 6th Street Infill Plan, a document adopted by the city in 2006 and often cited by proponents of the form-based code.
This led to a rebuke by Commissioner Bill Leighty, an outspoken advocate for the form-based code.
"That is changing the rules in the middle of the game ... We voted to address these five issues and that is it," Leighty said.
Midget, however, made it clear he disagreed with planning staff. "It's not the whole doggone plan," Midget said.
As far as the proposed amendments, staff backed amendments clarifying maps and also changing boundaries to the center of the street, noting that the other street sides are being addressed by separate small-area plans under development.
They rejected a proposed amendment to expand areas designated as industrial, noting in written comments that "this is clearly an area of transition, with no specific development pattern emerging at this time." Planners also set aside the issue of street closures as more relevant to potential changes to the form-based code, which will be reviewed by a Chicago-based consultant.
The meeting took an odd turn when the property owners group, after being recognized to speak, pointed to a formal request they said was mailed to the city in July to reconsider the dropped amendments.
But planning staff stated they had never seen the request. Overall, the at times intemperate discussion led Commissioner Gene Edwards to exhort colleagues
"This work session was a farce," Edwards told the group, explaining his concerns that the group was "bickering" and being "petty" towards each other and staff. But Commissioner Bill Leighty interrupted Edwards, leading Edwards to loudly criticize Leighty as "one of the main reasons these arguments go on, because you do not listen." Leighty later apologized to the group and said he did not mean to be disrespectful.
Regardless, it now appears that all eight of the proposed amendments will be placed on a future planning commission agenda.
If the November ballot is confusing, it won't be because of competing county and city sales tax proposals.
The Tulsa City Council and Mayor Dewey Bartlett agreed to shed a sliver of revenue so that Tulsa County can pursue a ballot proposal next year to fund jail expansion and construction of a juvenile justice center.
"We lowered our rates at the city in order to preserve county options and better serve the taxpayers," Bartlett said in a statement after the council on Aug. 22 voted unanimously to seek a 1.1 percent sales tax proposal.
The city originally had targeted a 1.167 percent proposal, but some county official -- notably absent was County Commissioner John Smaligo -- stated publicly they were pursuing a petition to ask county voters to approve a 0.167 tax proposal for this November's ballot.
This compromise was praised by Commissioner Karen Keith, who has spoken out about the needs to replace an aging juvenile facility for youthful offenders.
"I want to thank Mayor Bartlett for his leadership and commitment to a strong city/county relationship. He, Councilor G.T. Bynum and several members of the city council were diligent in working toward a resolution of this issue. This is a positive step forward in addressing the capital needs of both the city and Tulsa County," Commissioner Karen Keith said in a statement.
For Tulsans, the tax package was originally designed as a way to extend current sales tax rates. Now, even if voters approve the city package, the amount of sales tax paid in the city would decrease by 0.067 cents for every dollar spent, at least pending the outcome of any furture county proposal.
While the rate has changed, the city is not reducing the size of its infrastructure improvements package, which totals nearly $920 million including a bond proposal that will be listed separately from the sales tax proposal on the ballot.
Instead of reducing the funding, city leaders plan to extend the amount of time the tax is collected until it reaches the nearly $920 million total, though there is expected to be a "safety valve" limiting the maximum number of years the tax revenue could be collected if revenue falls way short of projections.
State health officials have hailed new survey data showing that fewer than one in four Oklahomans now smoke.
"This is another great milestone in our efforts to reduce the negative health effects of tobacco in our state," State Health Commissioner Dr. Terry Cline said in an Aug. 23 statement. "While it is fantastic to see Oklahoma our of the bottom ten states for smoking rates, we still have work to do to reduce the devastating health effects of smoking and secondhand smoke."
Oklahoma now ranks 39th among states in terms of lowest smoking rates, with 23.3 percent of adults now lighting up according to a 2012 survey. That number is still far above the nationwide adult smoking rate of 19.6 percent.
In 2011, Oklahoma ranked 47th with 26.1 percent of adults identifying themselves as smokers.
The data is compiled by the Centers for Disease Control. A spokesman reported to Urban Tulsa Weekly that survey questions did not specifically ask about e-cigarette use, instead simply asking if people identified as smokers.
While the dip in the smoking rate still seems to be an indicator of improving health statewide, Oklahoma fared worse in another rating released earlier in August.
The state did not receive a single passing grade out of 10 measures identified by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which put together benchmarks related to public policy.
The study reviewed the following areas: funding for the early detection of breast and cervical cancer; tanning bed restrictions for minors; time requirements for physical education; smoke-free laws; funding for tobacco prevention programs; tobacco taxes; improved access to Medicaid; pain treatment and prevention policies and access to palliative care.
Oklahoma received all "red" and "yellow" marks from the group, with "red" signifying state shortcomings and "yellow" meaning that there is moderate movement toward the benchmark.
Two tobacco-related measures, on tax increase rates and prevention funding, earned "yellow" marks from the group, as did policies relating to pain policies and funding for breast and cervical cancer prevention.
Most states also fared poorly in the group's ratings, with 38 states reaching benchmarks in three or fewer of the legislative priority area -- certainly something the advocacy group hopes will spur policy changes.
BBQ contest withdrawn.
A non-sanctioned barbeque contest on Oct. 12 will replace a planned Kansas City Barbecue Society competition that had been scheduled for this month.
The Blue Ox Dining Group and the Arts & Humanities Council of Tulsa, event organizers, announced on Aug. 20 the cancellation of the planned Art of BBQ event, citing a larger event sanctioned by the barbecue society taking place elsewhere on the September date planned for the Tulsa event.
The Oct. 12 event coincides with the annual rivalry football game between the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas, with a large television screen planned to show the game as street-party festivities are scheduled, along with a "people's choice" cook-off.
Teams who entered the competition may receive a total refund. The Oct. 12 event will be a fundraiser for the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa.
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