The Norman Transcript

May 12, 2014

Collaboration to create vision for city

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Norman’s Center City Vision Charrette kicks off tonight with an interactive public meeting at the Loveworks Building, 127 W. Main St. The charrette is part of the visioning process for a corridor through core Norman that includes Campus Corner and the downtown business district.

A charrette or “design charrette” is a collaborative process used for land use and urban planning. Multi-day meetings bring stakeholders, city officials, developers and other interested parties to the table to allow everyone to participate in the planning process. 

The charrette starts tonight with a public interactive meeting from 6-9 p.m. Three public meetings will gather public input on the work in progress by the design team.

An open studio will allow the public to as see the work in progress by the design team between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. An Open House will be from 5-7 p.m on Wednesday and the final presentation will be from 6:30 to 9 p.m Friday. The city and OU are jointly funding the project.

The point of the charrette is to allow all stakeholders whether they are residents or landlords, developers or business owners to have joint ownership in the solutions. By creating a dialogue that allows multiple voices to be heard, cities like Norman use charrettes to transform the planning process from confrontational to co-operational.

Norman leaders say the purpose of the Center City Vision is to develop a plan and accompanying regulations — the vision — that will guide decision making for future development and redevelopment of the outlined area.

The defined corridor under study is bounded by Gray Street on the north, Flood Avenue on the west, Boyd Street on the south and the BNSF Railroad on the east.

The project area includes Downtown’s West Main Street and Campus Corner as well as residential neighborhoods in between, many of which are experiencing development pressure, according to city leadership.

Recently, the city council discussed implementing a six-month administrative delay on building permits within the area, with the exception of remodeling and storm shelters to allow the visioning process to move forward.

The visioning project was conceived in response to redevelopment pressure, with the city trying to respond fairly and within sometimes outdated zoning applications to proposals coming in for rezoning or special permits.

While city leadership is maintaining that the charrette is not about high density, the breakdown of density talks last year propelled the University of Oklahoma to offer a partnership for a broader perspective in planning for this central area of Norman.

“It’s extremely important to bring the people of core Norman to come together to create a vision and to connect downtown and Campus Corner in multi-modal fashion,” Mayor Pro-Tem Jim Griffith said. “There are a lot of people that want the area to be more walkable.”

Griffith said to be able to reach core services without having to drive a car is key to a healthy future for Norman.

“I would like there to be a consensus about high density development,” Griffith said. “There are some high density possibilities, but they have to be congruent with the existing neighborhoods.”

He said it’s important to protect and preserve historic homes and neighborhoods while allowing for redevelopment.

A mutually agreeable future could enhance the livability of the area under consideration, he said.

“I really want to see some high density come to Norman,” Griffith said. “There are some young professionals that don’t want to have the responsibility of a yard, and they want to be able to walk to services. I want to see a paradigm shift in embracing high-density in Norman.”

That paradigm shift is needed to keep many emerging professionals in the area, Griffith said.

“Career people who are nearing retirement and want to downsize may also enjoy living near campus,” he said. “They want to simplify their lives and they want easy access to vibrant areas like downtown and Campus Corner through biking and walking.”

Whether the finished project will allow for high-density projects within that core area of Norman remains to be seen, but if the visioning process is successful, it will have been built on the ruins of last year’s failed density talks.

Two years ago, new residential development applications in Norman requesting high density above 100 dwelling units per acre — a 285 percent increase over Norman’s current high density at 26 dwelling units per acre, brought city planners to the Norman City Council with a request to address the issue.

Planning and Community Development Director Susan Connors told members of the Norman City Council on May 1, 2012 that high-density requests had into the city and more were expected.

Connors said there is no guidance in the NORMAN 2025 Plan for this level of high density and there is no “specific density limitation in the zoning code except in the Mixed Use Development District, which has a density cap of 30 dwelling units per acre.”

“The Planned Unit Development can’t handle this,” Connors said at that time.

With help from the Xenia Institute the city conducted a series of planning dialogues to get input. But input from some residents was that they did not want high density at all.  

Others favored high-density projects with quality architectural standards in place and cited it as a means to create a walkable community.

Building height and the number of parking spaces were points of contention. After the series of meetings that included public input and dialogue concluded, members of the city council hashed out an ordinance with key factors that sometimes changed weekly.  As the time to adopt or reject the proposed ordinance neared, there was still strong disagreement on the city council with one exception — almost all of the council members vowed to vote against it.

After OU offered to collaborate on a visioning process, the proposed high-density regulations were abandoned. On Jan. 21, the Norman City Council approved a Memorandum of Understanding between the City of Norman and the University of Oklahoma. The MOU also establishes that a Center City Vision Project Steering Committee.

Last year’s failure may have been necessary to move forward to find a vision the community at large can support. The Center City Visioning Committee will look at the possibility of using an overlay district in the study area that would apply form based code rather than the city’s current regulation-driven land use zoning.

Form-based code allows cities to look at planning in a more holistic fashion rather than simply dividing and separating land use based on function. Accompanying transportation planning is often about moving more vehicles along more quickly rather than considering quality of life issues associated with transportation.

Separating residential and retail space, for example, means people must always drive to buy groceries, eat out, or take advantage of other goods and services business offers. By recognizing that there can be some compatibility between different uses in the same urban areas, sprawl is eliminated and walkability can be created, according to the Form-Based Codes Institute.

Joy Hampton

366-3544

jhampton@normantranscript.com

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