By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — In an economy where multi-family residential is a highly desirable investment, Norman is a strong market for developers.
On Tuesday, this point was driven home as the Norman City Council approved two zoning changes to permit multi-family use.
Council members were split on the projects, and both passed by narrow margins with 5 to 4 votes.
The first project on the city’s agenda Tuesday was for a small apartment/townhouse-style development in downtown Norman not far from the historic Silk Stocking district at 213 E. Tonhawa Road. Infill projects, apartments and mixed use are in strong demand downtown, where Council member Stephen Tyler Holman said all apartments are rented.
“The applicant is proposing a three-story townhouse with three dwelling units for the site,” according to city staff notes.
The requested zoning change was from low-density residential to medium-density residential.
“The site is currently vacant, and the lot size is more than adequate to support this type of development,” according to staff notes.
City staff recommended approval, but the planning commission recommended denial of the zoning change.
The applicant is proposing four-bedroom units with a target audience of families or families with college students. The apartments would be high-end with rent of $2,000 monthly.
While the applicant is proposing a high-quality structure,few amenities are offered — no health club, weight room, swimming pool or clubhouse.
A high number of parking spaces also led city council members to question whether renters would violate the city’s ordinance prohibiting three unrelated persons in medium- and low-density zoning.
Additionally, the council has looked at clarifying some elements of the R-3, or medium-density, zoning.
Staff recommended approval because there is a demand for residential dwelling in the downtown area where infill commercial, retail and office are becoming more common. The downtown area is becoming more walkable and Legacy Trail is nearby.
Voting against the zoning were Council members Holman, Greg Jungman, Lynne Miller and Mayor Cindy Rosenthal.
“My vote calls attention to the obvious and egregious violation of our 2025 plan, which asks the council to keep this parcel low-density residential,” Jungman said. “This now opens a door that our 2025 plan said should remain shut.”
The second project on the city’s agenda for Tuesday was also infill but in a student market near the University of Oklahoma, in close proximity to the law school.
Engineer Tom McCaleb described the proposed project to be located at Imhoff Road and Chautauqua Avenue behind a 7-Eleven and a Sonic Drive-In. The site houses a defunct car wash that has not been operational for several years. It is already surrounded by apartments.
City staff recommended approval of the zoning change.
“This is an appropriate infill project for this area due to the following factors: close proximity to the University of Oklahoma, the ease of access to State Highway 9; the areas to the north, south and west are designated for higher-density developments; there is commercial to the east and the applicant has taken into consideration the adjacent properties to minimize any impacts,” according to staff notes.
The planning commission also recommended approval.
Some city council members questioned whether more student apartments should be approved with so many already coming online in the near future. A concern was also expressed that commercial might be desirable for that spot.
The project will have covered parking available and will be four stories high and include an elevator. Some apartments will be ADA accessible, and all of the apartments will be built to a standard that will allow them to be adapted to be fully accessible.
Additionally, the building will have sprinklers for fire safety. The original driveways will be used, so there will be no additional curb cuts.
“A more commercial intense development here would only create more traffic in the area,” Council member Jim Griffith said. “This is very attractive to me. I can see this leasing very quickly.”
Griffith said the area is very walkable and close to campus for biking. There is also a CART stop.
“This is extremely creative,” Griffith said. “A lot of thought was put into this.”
“This does fit,” Rosenthal said. “This is where you want student housing.”
Voting against the zoning were Jungman, Holman, Greg Heiple and Tom Kovach.
In other city business, the council approved the mayor’s appointments to the following committees:
· Bicycle Advisory Committee — Gary Miller, John Wickham and Lee Krumholz
· Board of Appeals — J.W. Dansby, Gene McKown, Hank Strategier and Julian Horner
· Greenbelt Commission — George Dotson
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