NORMAN — Discussions to finalize a city ordinance to allow high density residential or mixed used multi-family dwellings in Norman is going nowhere fast. Members of the Norman City Council sitting on the Community Planning and Transportation Committee agreed to disagree on height limitations and said they will revisit the matter in January.
While some small amount of progress was made in the discussion of how to measure density restrictions, developers told council members that the height restriction proposed by some for the Campus Corner area is not economically viable.
Council member Greg Jungman was adamant that a three-story or equivalent height limit should apply to the Campus Corner area but that up to five stories could be allowed in Downtown Norman. Council member Robert Castleberry disagreed, preferring to leave the ordinance more open to allow the council to look at the overall quality and compatibility of proposed projects.
“I think compatibility is the factor,” Jungman said, but he argued that on Campus Corner compatibility means staying at three-stories high or less. The height of the Sarkey’s Energy Tower and other sizable buildings across the street on the University of Oklahoma campus were not relevant because “Campus Corner has a totally different sense of place.”
Developers urged a height measured in feet not stories saying that 75 feet is consistent with recommendations in the International Building Code.
“I think you need to put an actual height limitation,” Chris Elsey, a developer who wants to build in the Campus Corner area.
Attorney Sean Rieger who represents many development interests talked about marketability.
“Story height can be anything,” he said. “We would urge you to look at 75 feet.”
Rieger also weighed in on density measurement.
“We would prefer you look at floor area ratio,” he said.
Floor area ratio — FAR— is a more holistic way of looking at a density that dwelling units per acre, he said.
Planning Commission member Dave Boeck said it’s important not to overshadow important landmarks in the Campus Corner area.
“I think scale is important,” Boeck said. “McFarlin and Whitehand Hall are landmarks.”
Boeck also said alumni and professors would want to live near Campus Corner more than students might. He said students will drive everywhere anyway and that the city council should consider the circulation of traffic in determining the amount of density to allow in any area of town.
John High urged city council members to ad ADA compliance to the ordinance, pointing out that it is federal law.
Committee chair, Council member Jim Griffith said it is clear further discussion on the appropriate cap on height in various areas warrants further discussion, but that there appeared to be a consensus on FAR.
Some of the proposed ordinance, such as architectural guidelines did draw a consensus of approval.
The high density ordinance has been under discussion at two previous meetings in October and November. The first draft outline of the ordinance was based on input gathered at a series of six high density community discussions.
City staff were asked to develop an ordinance that would allow construction of higher density dwellings than is currently allowable in Norman under the plat system or the Mixed Use District. The new ordinance would also allow for mixed commercial, office and residential use to “broaden the range of housing options available to current and future residents,” according to city staff reports.
The new development would be required to be compatible with existing neighborhoods.
A growing demand for urban housing within a walkable distance to the university and/or shops and businesses is driving the high density movement in Norman and follows a national trend of urban renewal. But residents, especially those in Norman’s historic districts near where much of the high density construction requests are focused, are concerned about increased traffic, parking problems, and the potential for damaging the charm and character of existing single family neighborhoods.
After the November meeting, the Community Planning and Transportation Committee asked city staff to “create a single zoning district that would regulate high density residential land uses in a variety of settings throughout Norman,” according to city staff reports.
City staff took guidance from author Norman Wright, AICP, who recommend an approach that focuses on “the physical characteristics which makes each environment unique,” according to staff reports.