The Norman Transcript

April 23, 2013

High-density ordinance reconfigured

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — High-density discussions took a turn for the different Monday night as members of Norman City Council dumped the proposed draft ordinance prepared by city staff and shifted to three density zoning levels.

Norman’s Ward 4 residents, unhappy with city drafts of the proposed ordnance, had written an ordinance of their own. Neither side was happy, and neither side wanted to budge much — based on early council discussion Monday evening — until Mayor Cindy Rosenthal suggested that a compromise could serve everyone’s interests.

Gone are ideas of specific high-density districts assigned by area. Instead, the city council can approve levels of density based on the project proposed. Each proposal would be considered on its own merit.

All projects still will require a traffic impact study, with the goal to maintain the current service level.

“There will have to be recommendations on what types of improvements are needed,” City Attorney Jeff Bryant said.

The levels would be High Density 1, 2 or 3, with the following guidelines for each:

· HD1 would have a height restriction of 37 feet or whatever will allow three stories (staff will clarify on the exact feet for the ordinance draft) and 40 units per acre density. There would be no retail at this level.

While some argued this is already available in RM-6 zoning, HD 1 would be a more urban setting without the setback requirements of RM-6. On-site parking would be required but could be a surface lot. Structural parking would not be required, and no parking impact fee would be required.

· HD 2 would have a height restriction of 48 or 52 feet, with 75 units per acre density. While structured parking would not be required, an impact fee that would provide a tradeoff for a parking structure would be required. Those fees will go to a dedicated fund for a parking structure that would serve the area.

Rosenthal said the impact fee provides an incentive for developers to go with the lower density. Retail would be optional for HD 2.

· HD3 would have a height restriction of 75 feet and unlimited density per acre. A parking structure that also could be under the building would be required. Retail inclusion would be required.

The new proposal also will include the architectural review requirements.

Prior to Rosenthal’s proposal for the density levels, debate had gotten heated.

“I think we’ve gotten a long way from the high-density talks this summer,” Rosenthal said. “We have tried to draft a policy of ‘one size fits all,’ which it doesn’t.”

Council members Greg Jungman and Roger Gallagher were driving the more conservative view toward high density, and Council members Robert Castleberry and Chad Williams were driving the more permissive view toward high-density zoning in the early discussions Monday night.

“I think the game is out if you think high density is going to bring more people to town. Jobs bring people to town,” Gallagher said.

Jungman said high density only leads to walkability and fewer cars on the road when there is public transit available.

Jungman has strongly supported height restrictions in the Campus Corner area, but Castleberry said the commercially zoned area has no height restrictions now.

“Theoretically I could build a Devon Tower on Campus Corner,” Castleberry said.

He said there’s nothing in the city code to keep those already commercially zoned areas from having tall buildings.

Williams said all zoning changes would have to come before the city council for approval, so height restrictions weren’t needed.

“To say that 75 feet is allowed everywhere — that still has to go through a zoning change,” Williams said.

Williams said everything wouldn’t be 75 feet, and he didn’t know why that is in people’s minds.

“I think the reason it’s in people’s minds is because we have a project sitting out there,” Rosenthal said. “It’s the tail wagging the dog.”

The mayor’s compromise of density levels brought the group back to the table from their varying points of dissension. The council still has many details to hammer out, and city staff will rewrite the draft ordinance with the new guidelines.

The next Transportation Committee meeting covering high density has been set for May 13.

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