Sarah Kobos:Concerned Citizen mug2015-10-19 at 10.49.01 AM

Sarah Kobos


Q: Why should people care that the zoning code has changed?

A: The zoning code shapes the city. It’s the set of rules that designates where and how private development occurs. In the past, our zoning code has prioritized auto-travel. So it required enormous parking lots with buildings pushed back from the street. It also required commercial uses to be separated from residential ones. As a result, you now need a car just to function in your daily life. If we want an economically viable city where people can walk, bike and use transit, then we need to change the rules so developers can build places for people, not just car storage.

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: The new mixed-use zoning type is important because it allows us to rebuild traditional neighborhoods. Back before “modern” zoning required the separation of commercial and residential uses, people often lived above shops and retail spaces. We had these great places where you could live, work and shop without leaving your neighborhood. There’s a huge, pent-up demand for places like this because, for decades, our outdated zoning code has made it illegal to mix uses and build these old-fashioned neighborhoods.

Q: What proposed change was not made to the code that you wish had been made?

A: Our landscaping requirements are woefully inadequate. When I travel to other cities, I’m always amazed at how beautiful they are thanks to better landscaping requirements. Even industrial areas can be attractive if you require good landscaping. The other thing that’s critical to beautification is related to signage. Moving forward, we should prohibit any new pole signs or billboards. Other sign regulations could be put in place to eliminate sign clutter and make Tulsa more beautiful. Other cities do it. Why can’t we?

Q: Do you believe the code changes have made developing a project in Tulsa easier or harder? Why?

A: In general, it’s easier. However, one thing that adds confusion is the disappearance of the Form Based Code from the draft zoning ordinance. The FBC is a zoning tool that’s ideally suited to creating the kinds of traditional, walkable places that people love.

Hundreds of Tulsans worked for over a decade to implement the FBC in the Pearl District. It was just adopted into the zoning ordinance in 2011 by the unanimous vote of the TMAPC and the City Council. But now, four years later, it’s mysteriously absent from the draft. As a property owner, I should be able to read the zoning code and understand what options are available to me. In the current draft, it’s impossible to read the zoning code and understand that the Form Based Code is a valid zoning option that I could utilize.

Q: What issue in the proposed zoning code update would you encourage city councilors to examine most closely? Why?

A: The City Council should understand the economic impact of excessive parking and low-density development. When we require too much parking, it increases the price of goods and services because the cost of land is passed on to consumers. It also increases the cost of public infrastructure.

When every development is a one-story building spread apart by oversized parking lots, we taxpayers have to support all that wasted space. We end up paying for more water lines, sewer lines, storm water drainage, roads, police, fire, etc. All for a bunch of asphalt that nobody uses. Parking also decreases the amount of tax revenue we can generate because parking lots are basically taxed like unimproved land. I’m amazed that the County Commission hasn’t taken a stand on this because property taxes fund our schools, libraries, health department, and county government.

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: If I were queen, I could get more than one thing done. I would implement all of the above recommendations, eliminate parking minimums, require all parking to be located behind buildings, improve standards for infill development, increase protections for historic neighborhoods, allow overlays to be utilized citywide, improve lighting standards to reduce glare, reduce the brightness of electronic signs, and then break for tea. After that, we’d start working on the subdivision regulations and the zoning map…