It’s not every day when one can predict with certainty what a government body will do.
But going into Thursday’s Board of Adjustment meeting, everyone knew Iron Gate’s application to build a new soup kitchen and grocery pantry downtown was doomed.
Weeks ago, three of the board’s five members recused themselves. That left only two members, David White and Austin Bond, available to vote on the issue. And so they did, each voting against a motion to approve the special exception to the zoning code.
Since three affirmative votes were needed to approve the motion, the motion failed.
It was the second time in two years that the BOA has halted Iron Gate’s efforts to move out of its existing facility at Trinity Episcopal Church, 501 S. Cincinnati Ave., to a new, larger facility.
Last year the organization wanted to build in the heart of the Pearl District, at 302 S. Peoria Ave. Thursday, it pitched another proposed site between Seventh and Eighth streets and south Elgin and Kenosha avenues.
So, now what?
Iron Gate’s attorney, Lou Reynolds, said he expects the nonprofit’s board to make a decision by Friday on whether to appeal the case to Tulsa County District Court. Iron Gate needs to act soon — the appeal must be filed within 10 days of the BOA’s vote.
Should the case end up in court, it becomes a whole new ballgame.
“Our ordinance says that if someone appeals to the district court, our record is sent over to the district court, and it becomes the case file,” said Senior Assistant City Attorney Mark Swiney. “But our ordinance also says that the district court case is what they call ‘de novo’; it means, they are starting fresh.
“In other words, Lou and his client have to go in and show the court why this is a good thing and why he needs the special exception, just as he did before the Board of Adjustment.”
What does that mean for the impassioned remarks made Thursday for and against the soup kitchen relocation?
Attorney Pat Boulden, who had Swiney’s job for years and represented the BOA in more than 20 appeals to district court, said Thursday that some of the public’s remarks may make it into the minutes of the meeting.
“But they are not evidence the court can consider,” he said. “The court will make its decision on the evidence presented to it at a non-jury trial.”
The city’s interest is to ensure that its ordinances are properly applied to the evidence presented and not necessarily to take one side or the other, Boulden said.
“The applicant before the Board of Adjustment should present its case, i.e., application, to the court first. The city and interested parties may then cross examine the applicant’s witnesses and evidence and later present evidence on their own.”
Interested parties, then, could end up playing a role in the court proceedings. But to do so, they would have to file with the court as an interpleader, which would make them a party to the case and give them the right to legal representation and to call witnesses.
The simplest way to think of the appeals process, Swiney said, is to remember that the court stands in the shoes of the the Board of Adjustment.
“It’s a glorified BOA,” he said. “It has the same powers as the Board of Adjustment.”
Iron Gate soup kitchen was established in 1978 by parishioners of Trinity Episcopal Church, who stepped out of a Bible study to made a sandwich for someone, according to its website.
It has since become a separate entity from the church and serves more than 200,000 meals a year and tens of thousands of bags of groceries to the poor and homeless.