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Site Plan for development at 71st Street and Riverside Drive

Yes, this again.

Yes, another seemingly promising development project has drawn the ire of some Tulsans.

First, it was Simon Property Group’s proposal to build an outlet mall at 61st Street and Highway 75.

That project died in the din of outrage it elicited from Turkey Mountain enthusiasts who believed it would ruin their beloved wilderness area.

Now comes opposition to a proposed development along Riverside Drive at 71st Street.

Maybe you’ve heard of it.

The project would occupy 12.3 acres of what was once part of Helmerich Park. The anchor tenant is expected to be REI, the outdoor and sporting goods giant. The Tulsa Public Facilities Authority is expected to approve the deal within the next two weeks.

It’s that close to happening.

However, Bill Leighty, Ann Patton and other concerned residents have taken to Facebook and other social media outlets hoping to stop the project.

Leighty, founder and president of Smart Growth Tulsa, sent an email to Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commissioner Michael Covey on Monday asking that the commission remove the item from Wednesday’s consent agenda and allow the public to comment on it.

He’s made the same plea on Smart Growth Tulsa’s Facebook page.

The Planning Commission is to consider the project’s detailed site plan but has no authority to deny it unless it fails to comply with the property’s minimum development standards. Planning Commission staff said Monday that the plan is compliant.

“Our objection is based upon the belief that the public has only recently become aware of this proposed project and needs more time to study it and determine if it is indeed in the public’s best interest,” Leighty wrote. “We suggest that the TMAPC continue this item for a minimum of 60 days to allow interested parties time to review the relevant facts of the application and respond accordingly. …

“We also humbly suggest that the site plan submitted represents nothing more than a big-box store surrounded by acres of impervious paved surfaces that can be found anywhere in suburban America, not a creative and enduring use of precious community owned green space.”

Leighty’s assertion that the public has only recently become aware of the project may well be true, but the city’s plans to develop the land were made public at least two years ago.

The Public Facilities Authority approved the release of the request for proposals on July 25, 2013. The agenda item that day references seeking “proposals to obtain detailed proposals for developing the site at 71st Street and Riverside Drive with emphasis on retail/recreational venues.”

The potential development of the property has been on the authority’s agenda — and covered in the media — off and on every since.

Thus Clay Bird’s frustration. Bird, director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, has been negotiating the deal with Texas-based developer UCR Development of Dallas. The city began looking for development options after no viable RFPs were submitted.

“I think it is a great development,” Bird said. “I don’t know why people would be opposed to it. It is not like we are taking away the trails or River Parks.”
Patton, for her part, is afraid there is a new city policy to use green space for commercial purposes.

“If so, it is a very short-sighted policy that will short-change our community, now and for our children and grandchildren,” Patton said. “In the case of lands along the river, such a policy would be even worse because of the inherent risk on those lands. The river and River Parks and other public parks are priceless assets in this community that need to be protected for the public good.”

City officials said Monday that there is no new policy in place. As for the property in question, a development plan for the land was approved in 1987 and allows for slightly more commercial space that is being proposed for development.

Put another way, the land is zoned to house just the type of commercial property that is proposed for it. The Planning Commission’s role was to approve a minor amendment that reallocated where the commercial floor area would be allowed on the property.

The city’s land use plan designated the property as park and open space although the property was zoned to allow commercial development. The City Council has since moved to have the remaining 55 acres of park space rezoned agriculture to ensure councilors will have a say in how that property is developed.

So opponents of the project may be left with only one option: let the mayor and the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority and — as one emailer suggested Monday— REI know loud and clear that they don’t like the development site.
And that, it seems, has already begun to happen.

Which is why you hear weeping and wailing from City Hall. Just tilt your ear that way.