Editor’s note: The Tulsa City Council met Tuesday to listen to Mayor G.T. Bynum’s proposed changes to a development planned for the southwest corner of 71st Street and Riverside Drive. During the meeting, which lasted more than five hours, councilors also heard from about 50 people who presented their views on the project.
After returning from executive session, councilors voted to continue the meeting until 5 p.m. March 1. Interested partiers who did not speak Tuesday will be allowed to give their input then. This article was post as the meeting began Tuesday.
Click here to read a full transcript of the mayor’s presentation to city councilors.
The city’s latest proposal for an 8.8-acre commercial development at Helmerich Park is not only in keeping with decades-old plans for the site, but also ensures that the remaining 60 acres of the property will be put to optimum use, Mayor G.T. Bynun said Monday.
The mayor, who has spent the last several months gathering input on the controversial project, began presenting the proposal to the City Council at 10 a.m. today — the first step in a process he hopes will bring an end to a year and a half of legal wrangling over the development.
“I think it is important that Tulsans understand that we are trying to do this through a public process,” Bynum said. “You don’t become a super legislator just because you sue a city authority.
“The citizens ought to have a say in what happens on this.”
The Tulsa Public Facilities Authority voted Aug. 11, 2015, to sell the land on the southwest corner of 71st Street and Riverside Drive to a Dallas developer with a stipulation that the project would include a retailer specializing in “the sale of high-end sporting goods and outdoor merchandise.” That retailer turned out to be REI.
But the project has gone nowhere since, stopped in its tracks by a lawsuit filed by five Tulsans who claim TPFA had no right to sell the property and did not follow proper procedures to do so.
A primary claim in the lawsuit is that the city, through the City Council, never declared the 8.8 acres no longer needed for park purposes.
Bynum’s proposed changes to the development, detailed in a resolution the council will be asked to approve Tuesday, would address that and other claims and “resolve any doubt that TPFA can legally enter into and close on the proposed” project, according to the resolution.
“One of the key reasons we are asking for the park purpose to be vacated is to cover all of our (legal) bases,” Bynum said. “I think it does improve the odds of success from a legal standpoint.
“That’s also not to say that it wouldn’t be successful anyway, and if it is successful anyway, then the original proposal the developers had would go through and the citizens would have really no say.”
Under his proposal, Bynum said, Tulsans will not only have a say in how the remaining park property is developed, but major design elements would be added or changed to address concerns about the look of the development and whether it would fit along the Arkansas River trail system.
The development Bynum is proposing would be at least 90 percent in compliance with River Design Overlay regulations — rules the developer, UCR Development of Dallas — is not legally required to meet. In addition, any changes in use or improvements to the plan would have to be in compliance with RDO standards.
The new development plan exceeds RDO requirements for landscaping and creates additional pathways for improved walkability as well as better access to the trail system, city officials say.
The REI building has been redesigned to provide the structure with more transparency to enable passers-by along Riverside Drive and the Arkansas River trails system to see inside the store as opposed to looking at opaque walls. Similar ground-floor transparency standards will apply to other structures on the property, unless the facades face service areas, truck courts and drive-through aisles.
Bynum is also proposing key changes to TPFA’s contract with UCR Development:
- All $1.456 million in proceeds from the sale would go back into improving the rest of the park
- The city would hold public meetings to receive input regarding how those funds should be spent
- The city would build new volleyball courts at Helmerich Park, as opposed to building them on another city property, as had previously been discussed.
Former Mayor Terry Young, one of five plaintiffs in the lawsuit, has said he has no objections to bringing an REI and a destination restaurant to the park, but only if they are built in the general areas designated for such businesses in the 2005 Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan.
But Nick Doctor, the city’s chief of community development and policy, noted Monday that Bynum’s proposal calls for fewer parking spaces, a smaller building footprint and better landscaping than what is envisioned in the Corridor Master Plan.
“It is an improvement over what they are asking for,” Doctor said. “They just don’t like the (building) locations.”
Councilors will also be asked to consider a second resolution that would allocate $570,000 from the city’s Economic Development Public Infrastructure Fund to pay for sanitary and water line extensions, storm sewer relocation and other infrastructure improvements.
Young has said previously that the City Council’s vacating the park property would not resolve all of the legal issuing surround the development and that the plaintiffs will pursue the lawsuit regardless of what councilors decide.
Kathy Taylor, the city’s chief of economic development, said that should that happen the city’s legal team “feels very strongly about the city’s position” on the plaintiffs’ other complaints.
Bynum said he believes his proposal provides the best option for a solution. If the case is resolved in court and the developer wins, he could move ahead with his original development proposal with no public input. Should the plaintiffs win, the land is still available for sale with zoning to allow development, the mayor said.
“I felt this was an opportunity for us to avoid that circumstance,” the mayor said. “That seems like a lose-lose. Whoever wins in court, the citizens lose out on the deal, in my opinion. Whereas this is an opportunity for a win-win.”
Should the City Council approve the resolutions Tuesday, the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority would vote on an amended agreement with URC Development on Thursday.