By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — The Norman Economic Development Coalition leadership announced it has delayed plans to sell property at 710 Asp Ave. The sale would have allowed for a high-rise, high-density project on the site, pending Norman City Council approval.
The NEDC board voted to delay “until a well-defined vision and comprehensive plan have been developed for the Campus Corner and downtown Norman areas,” according to a position statement issued this week. “We believe that a true vision for the overall development of Norman’s core areas of Campus Corner, downtown Norman and the connecting corridor is necessary before proceeding further.”
The University of Oklahoma will play a key role in creating that shared vision. President David Boren pledged the university’s resources and support through the Institute for Quality Communities.
“I am in strong agreement with the action taken by the NEDC to encourage a more comprehensive approach to the issue of high-density housing by having a study made of the core corridor area from Campus Corner to Main Street,” Boren said. “Acting on single projects in an ad hoc fashion will make it harder to create areas of our city where all elements are considered, from parking to aesthetics to walkability to green space and streetscapes.”
NEDC’s decision comes on the heels of months of controversy surrounding the proposed mixed use, high-density commercial and residential project. Applicant Mark Risser had requested numerous postponements of the zoning change request while the city struggled to create an ordinance to allow the higher density called for in the proposal.
The project ignited a fire of protest at city hall, with opponents voicing concerns about traffic, parking and architectural compatibility.
“I think there’s been way too much focus on the single site our project has been a part of and not enough about the needs of the community,” NCED Executive Director Don Wood said.
He said the visioning process will deal with concerns expressed by Norman residents in creating compatible high-density projects.
Mayor Cindy Rosenthal commended the NCED’s decision and said the city looks forward to a collaboration with the university. OU will bring some powerful resources to the planning and visioning process.
“The university stands ready to work with the city through our newly established Institute for Quality Communities to bring together the best experts nationally and internationally to help Norman become a model community,” Boren said.
Norman has been asked to delay finalizing its high-density ordinance.
“Just as we should not work on individual projects out of context, we also should not rush to pass city ordinances about high density without the benefit of holistic planning,” Boren said. “There are times when it’s better to be thorough than it is to be hasty in making decisions.”
Done correctly, the visioning plan could generate public buy-in for appropriate high density projects in Norman’s future.
“We want to see something created that 20 years from now people look at and say, ‘that’s the core of Norman, I’m really proud of that,’” Wood said. “With the university’s support and President Boren’s support, we’ll be able to get something in place.”
The Norman City Council is fully on board. Monday night, the council’s Community Planning and Transportation Committee postponed further work on the city’s high-density draft ordinance in a consensus decision.
“We’re taking a deep breath, putting that process on hold while we work collaboratively on this larger vision,” Rosenthal said.
The visioning process will start immediately. The city is joining with the Institute for Quality Communities to host two public events this week.
Expert Dan Burden, of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, will lead the workshop events, which will explore street design that enhances quality of life, safety and economic development while also accommodating traffic.
“The areas around the university hold incredible potential,” Burden said. “With a focus on people and place, streets can still accommodate the movement of cars — at safer speeds — while also revving up economic engines that will add great value to adjacent lands and enhance quality of life for all.”
The “Livability” workshop is scheduled from 9 to 10:30 a.m. and a presentation of “Opportunities & Best Practices” will run from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Friday at Legends Times Two, 1313 W. Lindsey St.
Both workshops are free and open to the public. For more information, contact Shane Hampton, Institute for Quality Communities Fellow, a firstname.lastname@example.org.