Tulsa city councilors on Thursday will consider whether to place a moratorium on development along the Arkansas River until development guidelines for the corridor can be established.
The guidelines would be incorporated into the zoning code through a new zoning tool called a Neighborhood Character Overlay District.
The Arkansas River Design Overlay District would be the first Neighborhood Character Overlay District incorporated into the updated zoning code once it is completed late this year or early next year.
The Frontier asked Susan Miller with the Indian Nations Council of Governments to explain how the overlay districts work and to provide specifics on the Arkansas River Design Overlay District.
Q. What are overlay districts intended to accomplish?
A. Zoning overlay districts are intended to supplement existing zoning regulations to implement city plans and initiatives. Typically these are applied in places that the city values – either with a unique existing sense of place or an area that the city wants to ensure will develop with a sense of place.
Q. Who requested the creation of the design guidelines – or overlay district -for the Arkansas River corridor?
A. The mayor and council held a joint retreat in February and identified a shared goal of “drafting regulatory tools to guide river development” and “adopting river corridor design guidelines.”
Q. What specifically will they address? For example, would some types of construction be allowed on some property along the river and not allowed in other parts?
A. The overlay will address uses, building placement, design and site features, parking, landscaping and screening, lighting, signage and circulation and access. More intensive heavy commercial and industrial uses are not favorable for riverfront development; rather, the uses and types of development envisioned along the river are those that encourage people to be active, such as retail, restaurants, recreational venues, etc. Design must focus on river orientation and pedestrian connections to the river trail system and to other parts of the river corridor. The intent is that people can park once and spend a day walking or biking to various destinations along the corridor to shop, dine and recreate.
Q. Will the guidelines also address the height, orientation and other development specifics?
A. Height has not specifically been discussed, but orientation to both the river and the roadway will be important so that that development does not turn its back on either side.
Q. Who approves overlay districts like the Arkansas River Design Overlay District?
A. Overlays receive a recommendation from Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and are approved by City Council.
Q. Do property owners within a proposed overlay district have the opportunity to express their views on the district and its proposed requirements?
A. Yes, once a draft has been completed by the River Design Steering Committee, we will hold public meetings, asking for both property owner and citizen input.
Q. How do neighborhoods initiate the creation of an overlay district?
A. Neighborhoods can apply for an overlay district, much like they apply for a rezoning. Also, Planning Commission or City Council can initiate an overlay. As stated in the draft zoning code update, the process must include a public involvement process that includes opportunities for property owner input and citizen participation.
Q. Is there anything else you think the public should know about the proposed Arkansas River Design Overlay District or overlay districts in general?
A. I hope that the public sees the value of ensuring that future riverfront development should be of a quality that our city deserves. As development occurs along the river, we want to ensure that it will continue to grow as a destination for more residents and visitors. Development standards that do not respect the river environment as a special place will create a place that looks exactly like development anywhere else in Tulsa, or even Broken Arrow and Owasso. The existing and potential public and private investment in the river corridor is enormous, and this is the next step to enhance and protect this investment and unique treasure in our city.
As far as overlay districts in general, property owners and citizens should embrace the opportunity that these provide – such as coordinating and ensuring quality development. We can look no further than Oklahoma City to see what their design districts have done for their river, downtown and older commercial areas, such as the Plaza District, Paseo and the Asian District.