Questions remain about Tulsa’s proposed zoning code

Last week was the beginning of what will be a series of articles regarding Tulsa’s new proposed zoning code.

I attended a meeting held by Kirk Bishop of Duncan Associates, the consultant who has written the new code, and who has been holding public forum meetings to present it.

The meeting I attended was hosted by Mill Creek Lumber & Supply and the Home Builders Association of Greater Tulsa.  Mr. Bishop’s presentation was understandably focused on the concerns of homebuilders, so it was not a comprehensive or broad presentation of the entire proposed code.

The presentation, according to Mr. Bishop, was the thirtieth one that he had conducted.  I was only aware of two of those, the one I attended and one that had been done for the local chapter of the AIA (American Institute of Architects).  I received an invitation to that presentation, as all of our members did, but I was not able to attend because I was out of town on that date.  I would hope that the city would make a better effort to publicize these events because of the importance of what is actually being done.

There were perhaps about 25 people at the meeting I attended, and I presume most were homebuilders.  Of those, only about a half dozen had questions about the new code, and most were directed at more specific topics rather than the overall context of the code.

One concern in particular was in regard to PUD’s (Planned Unit Development).  Bishop explained that while existing PUDs would remain, the new code was eliminating them in favor of Master Planned Developments.

After the others had exhausted their questions, I expressed my concern about the statements made on the PlaniTulsa website regarding the code’s focus on developing density, and whether or not an Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) was going to be a part of the code.

I stated within my question to Mr. Bishop that density really could not be achieved without a UGB, and that a UGB could be a line on a map, a policy or even an attitude within governing bodies.  He assured me that the code draft did not contain a UGB and he knew of no efforts being made to create one.

I had at the time of my question already done word searches of the code and a cursory page-by-page review of the code, and was already aware that the phrase Urban Growth Boundary did not appear in the code draft.  I believe that he was sincere in his answer, and one other person (who I knew and trusted) that attended the meeting who had also participated on the advisory committee for the code assured me that there was no intent to ever establish such a policy.

I also expressed my concern  that property rights were essentially not addressed in the code draft, and he said that there had been great effort made by the committee and the consultant to respect property rights.

In addition, I expressed some concern that the zoning map was not a part of the new code draft, but Mr. Bishop said that because the existing zones were not being revised as a part of the proposed code, there was no need.

At the meeting, I urged everyone to read and study this entire code draft, so that they understood the impact that it could have on them.

Mr. Bishop stated in his presentation that there weren’t a lot of changes to our old code, but that the changes that were being made would create more options for development.

Since then, I have begun doing a detailed study of the new code draft.  It is true that there is a great deal of similarity to our old code, but perhaps the most significant change is the elimination of PUD’s in favor of Master Planned Developments, the introduction of Mixed Use Districts and Overlay Districts, which I will discuss in future articles.

As I stated to Mr. Bishop in the meeting, I do not see the new code draft as a Form-Based Code (FBC), but there are parts of the code that contain rules similar to FBC’s.  This is in particular to the Mixed Use Districts.  While mixed-use districts can be a positive thing, I would prefer to see more options, such as Mixed Use Districts that don’t employ FBC rules.

These are the kinds of things I will be looking for in the coming weeks as I study the new code.  And while I feel confident that it will not be a pure FBC and could evolve into a reasonably good code, it deserves the time it takes to scrutinize all of the code and to draw attention to those parts that could over time morph the code into something that compromises our property rights.