POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 4, 2013:
Notices going out about surface lot ordinance
It's a bit of an odd moment in time for downtown parking watchers.
A moratorium on new surface parking lots expired Sept. 1, with a Sept. 18 public hearing scheduled in front of planning commissioners for a new proposed city ordinance addressing the regulation of any new surface lots.
In recent years, those seeking to revitalize downtown have harped on the dissonance crated by such "parking craters." Despite these calls of concern, some older buildings downtown were still being demolished in favor of surface lots.
Spurred by the stinging cries of preservationists, the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture and other downtown renewal enthusiasts, the city enacted a moratorium in June of last year -- since extended twice -- as it continues to study other issues related to parking, including supply and demand as well as how to manage meter rates.
The proposed new ordinance would require approval from the Board of Adjustment for those seeking to tear down a structure and devote a lot solely to parking.
"The desire ... is structures without a lot of gaps and open spaces that break up the pedestrian environment of a downtown, so we want to encourage that, but still give property owners the avenues to pursue other types of development," Dawn Warrick, the city's director of planning and economic development, told commissioners at an Aug. 21 work session.
She said the city simply didn't have the manpower to put together the lengthy ordinance proposal more quickly. Bill Leighty, a planning commissioner, expressed concern that developers might try to take advantage of the moratorium's expiration, as the group agreed to act quickly on the issue.
"We're at risk of additional damage being done by having more surface parking and the loss of more structures until this gets in place," Leighty told commissioners. Following a recommendation by the commission, it would be up to the city council to approve a new ordinance.
Part of the initial public hearing will involve a notification to downtown property owners, an action pushed for by Dwain Midget, Mayor Dewey Bartlett's designee on the Tulsa Metro Area Planning Commission.
Midget said it is important to "make sure the property owners are part of that discussion." In an email, Warrick confirmed that approximately 700 notices have been sent out in advance of the scheduled public hearing.
The earlier moratoriums drew limited opposition, though property owner Kent Morlan -- a critic of city policies regarding downtown assessments -- noted that many older building depreciate greatly in value, with that and other costs leading to them being turned into parking lots.
The proposed ordinance provides different guidelines for developers seeking a demolition permit. If they have a redevelopment plan involving a new structure for a business, for example, they would not have to go before the Board of Adjustment, so long as they receive the required approvals for their new project.
But the proposed ordinance also allows for deteriorating buildings to be torn down without the scrutiny of the Board of Adjustment if a city building official "has determined the building proposed for demolition poses an imminent threat to public health or safety," according a document presented to planning commissioners at the meeting.
Planning Commissioner Brandon Perkins expressed concern that this might be viewed as a sort of loophole by some property owners.
"If they wanted surface parking and got denied, then they sit around and let their building go to pot," Perkins said, describing a scenario he found worrisome.
Not mentioned at the meeting was a push by the Downtown Coordinating Council for city funding to help construct surface parking garages.
The group, which includes government and business representatives, requested $26 million for such garages be included in the infrastructure sales tax package being put before Tulsa voters in November.
Ultimately, however, funding wasn't included in the approximately $919 million package.
"I'm hoping there will be other funding mechanisms in the future," said Tulsa Community College President Tom McKeon, a downtown council member who spoke publicly in favor of the garages being funded. "I think most of the city council understands that the garages are good for downtown development."
The college's downtown campus currently relies on large surface parking lots used by students and faculty.
"We park about 1,200 cars a day downtown, so to free up three square blocks of land, we would need a parking garage," McKeon said, noting that garages are capable of generating revenue.
For the college, McKeon said the vision is to someday redevelop existing surface parking lots into four-story mixed-use developments, with shops on the ground floor and housing above.
"We do have a lot of surface parking downtown, but to unlock that, we need some strategically located garages," McKeon said.
He noted that City Councilor Blake Ewing, who represents downtown, is "a real proponent" of garages.
"It's unfortunate that it wasn't included on the ballot. I'm hopeful it will be looked at again in the near future," McKeon said.
Most immediate, however, on the downtown parking front seems to be the new surface lot regulations. Amid such a large group -- and with lingering uncertainty about new meter regulations that have been shelved for months -- will there be much of a reaction to the proposed ordinance?
Tulsa planners have sought input online through the city website FeedbackTulsa.org. So far, at least one building owner seems outspoken in her support for the ordinance.
"As an owner of a small building (three stories) with no on-site parking, I think it is imperative that we encourage reuse of buildings, instead of rewarding people for tearing down our historically significant structures," wrote Kristen Bergman. "Downtown Tulsa is a hub for entrepreneurs and small businesses that want quirky spaces and unique buildings."
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A63605