In split decision, Iron Gate move is rejected

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To get a sense of just how divided the public is about Iron Gate’s proposal to move its soup kitchen and food pantry to the Pearl District, even the Board of Adjustment couldn’t decide on Tuesday.

After a nearly three-hour public meeting, the board voted 2-2 to reject the move.

Then it voted 2-2 to approve it.

And since this is not baseball, where a tie goes to the runner, the proposal died for a lack of support.

“I just can’t get there to say that it wouldn’t be injurious” to the neighborhood, said board member Stuart Van De Wiele.

Board Chairman Frazier Henke came to the opposite conclusion, noting that the soup kitchen and food pantry would be allowed by right on any of the other corners of Third Street and Peoria Avenue.

The same is true for many other areas of the Pearl District, Henke added.

Iron Gate board member Shane Saunders said after the meeting that the organization will begin looking for a new site Wednesday.

“It’s like looking for a new house; we’ll start again,” he said, adding that Iron Gate’s lease with Trinity Episcopal Church expires in October 2016.

“So we’re going to have to see if we can get into a place by then,” Saunders said.

Iron Gate operates out of the basement of the church at 501 S. Cincinnati Ave. The move to a new 16,000-square-foot facility on Third Street and Peoria Avenue was proposed to accommodate a growing client population.

This rendering showS Iron Gate's proposed soup kitchen and grocery pantry at 302 S. Peoria Ave. Courtesy
This rendering shows Iron Gate’s proposed soup kitchen and grocery pantry at 302 S. Peoria Ave. The Board of Adjustment on Tuesday rejected the organization’s request for zoning approval for the project. Courtesy

Van de Wiele and Henke, however, questioned early in the hearing  whether the building and the location was right.

Van de Wiele said he was concerned that the building was “too much on not enough land.”

He noted that records show that Iron Gate’s architects suggested the new facility have nearly 40,000 square feet of parking, yet only 6,300 square feet of parking was planned for the site.

“The parking is a major problem,” Henke said.

Iron Gate was required to go before the Board of Adjustment because it needed a special exception to the zoning code to allow the soup kitchen to be built on its proposed site. That is because the site is not zoned for that use.

In making their decision, board members had to determine whether the proposed facility would “be in harmony with the spirit and intent of the code” or whether it would “be injurious to the neighborhood or otherwise detrimental to the public welfare,” as required by the zoning code.

And that is where the members deadlocked.

Van de Wiele and David White voted against approving the special exception and for rejecting it.

“I can absolutely wrap my brain around that fact that if I owned a property across from Trinity (Episcopal Church), I would think there is no way in the world I would ever be able to sell it,” Van de Wiele said. “And I don’t think that is a fear, I think that is a reality.”

White said he has seen Pearl District residents pour millions of dollars into revitalizing their neighborhood and that their perceptions of what could happen should the soup kitchen be built there  — whether valid or not — “have to be considered.”

Henke, joined by newly appointed board member Tom Flanagan, voted against denying the special exception and for approving it.

In casting his vote, Henke went back to an undisputed fact regarding the proposal: the same facility would be allowed all over the Pearl District.

“At the end of the day we are all Tulsans. … That’s a real challenge for me to say you can’t have it at this site but you can have it less than 50 feet away,” Henke said.

“That’s hard for me.”

Perhaps the biggest voice not heard in Tuesday’s meeting belonged to board member Tori Snyder. Snyder, a developer, recused herself from the case, without stating her reasons.

That left four board members to decide it, leaving the door open to the unusual 2-2 vote.

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