The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:
Is it appropriate for the Norman Economic Development Coalition (NEDC) to encourage City Council Members to create a loophole that would undermine the high density zoning ordinance even before it is created?
The creation of Norman's high density ordinance has been a painstaking process for all concerned. City Council went to great lengths to solicit input from community stakeholders by conducting a series of summer dialogues last summer and by hiring a consulting firm to project profit margins of various types of projects. The Community Planning and Transportation Committee has been diligently hashing out the details of the ordinance at several meetings, many of which were well attended by community members. The City Planning Staff had planned to present the newest high density ordinance draft for citizen input last Thursday, May 30, but the meeting was rescheduled to Monday, June 3.
Once the ordinance is finalized, it will go the the Planning Commission and then to City Council for approval.
In the meantime, there was an application by Risser/B3 for a mixed-use high density project to be built between Asp and Buchanan Ave on Campus Corner. Risser/B3 requested re-zoning to intensive commercial (C-3) with special use for the mixed use building that would be dominated by high density apartments. It would replace existing apartments, a few rental houses, and the building owned by NEDC with a modern U-shaped six-story complex that includes 7,000 square feet of commercial space, a 250-spot parking structure, and 200 residential apartments.
The actions of City Council and Risser/B3 agents have been commendable. Although the application has been on City council agendas since November, the item has been postponed five times out of respect for the emerging high-density ordinance. The situation changed, however, with the transfer of the Risser/B3 application to N.E. Development. The new applicant has made changes: the Coltrane Property on Asp has been added, the building configuration has been modified and funding will be sought from HUD. A more fundamental change, however, is that N.E. Development is acting as an agent for NEDC, which owns part of the property involved.
The N.E. project is unlikely to meet the (not-yet-finalized) high density zoning requirements. Even if it did, however, approving a high density building under C-3 zoning with special use will create a loop hole for circumventing the high density zoning altogether. A developer, for instance, might choose to put a commercial leasing office and a gym on the ground floor of a high rise, high density apartment so that it can apply for C-3 with special use, citing the N.E. Project as a precedent.
Given that NEDC is largely funded by public funds, this seems to be a case of regulatory capture. Advocating for approval of special use zoning for a high density project disrespects community input into the planning process and tempts the city council to ignore its obligation to uphold the spirit of the high density zoning process, if not the letter of the law.