JOE WESTERVELT/DEVELOPER AND FORMER PLANNING COMMISSION MEMBER
Q: Why should people care that the zoning code has changed?
A: For the first time since the 1970s, the city of Tulsa zoning code has been systematically updated. Subject to the adoption by the Tulsa City Council, the new zoning code ordinance will serve to define how property is used, the level of development that can occur, and the appearance of new buildings — all of which are intended to contribute to Tulsa’s growth and to its citizens quality of life.
Q: What do you believe is the most important proposed change made to the zoning code? Explain why the change is significant and its impact on the community.
A: I think the new Mixed-Use Districts are the most significant change to our new zoning code. The consultant created these districts to introduce varying degrees of form-based elements, depending on the types of properties that are surrounding the area being considered for the Mixed-Use District, and to create the type of walkable, pedestrian-friendly environment encouraged by the Tulsa comprehensive plan.
Q: What proposed change was not made to the code that you wish had been made?
A: We worked to address every topic that came up during the Citizen’s Advisory Team tenure. There are no significant changes that I would make to the code. The important concepts were thoroughly discussed and many times were the result of compromise by all parties invested in the process, to produce the final document. As is always the case, I wish the document was shorter and less complex, but that is not the nature of current zoning and regulatory legislation.
Q: Do you believe the code changes have made developing a project in Tulsa easier or harder? Why?
A: I do not think the zoning code is going to make the development process in Tulsa significantly easier. It will make certain types of projects possible that were difficult to permit in the past, and the code does include expanded administrative variances (from insignificant matters that routinely occur during the development process) that should lead to savings of time and money to developers and the community.
The burden of additional regulation on the development and construction industries will continue to grow and become more complex as we rebuild our city. Infill development will always be more complicated than greenfield development.
Making development easier will only occur when the desire to do so is incorporated into the culture of our citizens, elected officials, and city employees. We can see examples of development-friendly cultures in the successes of some of our surrounding communities.
Q: What issue in the proposed zoning code update would you encourage city councilors to examine most closely? Why?
A: I would encourage the city councilors to look at the process that occurred to produce the proposed code that they will receive from the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission. A year-long selection process was undertaken, resulting in the selection of a consultant to guide the development of the new zoning code.
The new code is the outcome of collaboration of consultant Kirk Bishop, a highly skilled code writer of national reputation, a diverse Citizens Advisory Team, a team from the COT legal department, COT planning staff, and INCOG staff, over a two-and-a-half-year process. Public outreach was then untaken to get “citizen feedback” through a process of meetings with citizens, neighborhood leaders, and industry groups.
A series of public hearings was then held by the TMAPC, which resulted in the unanimous resolution of each individual change accepted to the document, by the TMAPC, and a unanimous vote in support of the final comprehensive draft of the new code.
I believe the new zoning code is the most thoroughly vetted planning document that has ever been delivered to a Tulsa City Council. I would urge care in tinkering with individual sections of the new code. In some cases phrases were crafted and single words were carefully chosen to clarify items of the code. The CAT discovered while working with this document over the past several years, that due to the complexity of the document, simple- appearing changes created in many cases loss of clarity and unintended consequences.
I think it is of importance for the councilors to note that the special area overlay has been tailored specifically for use to regulate development along the Arkansas River and still retains the flexibility to be used in other quadrants of our city as needed. The prohibition of the overlay downtown comes as the result of much discussion by the CAT and strong opinions from downtown property owners. Property and buildings are so expensive, and buildings are of such size and scale in our Central Business District, that it requires care that we do not over regulate these properties and extinguish the recent successes in our CBD. Any additional regulation in this zoning code that impedes capitalization of our downtown should be avoided.
Q: If you were king or queen for a day and you could change one thing about the new code, what would you change?
A: Many times citizens complaints about deficiencies in our zoning code are actually code enforcement issues. I think that our community would get a comprehensive facelift that would exceed even expectations of your new code with a significant overhaul of our code enforcement processes to ensure that nuisanced codes and zoning compliance regulations are fully and systematically enforced.
Our current complaint-based system is outdated and understaffed.
I would also begin the dialogue necessary to have our overhead power lines systematically placed underground. The absence of overhead power lines would have a more significant visual impact on our community than all the form-based elements and new tools proposed for our zoning code.