By Andy Rieger
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Norman City Council members late Tuesday approved a plan to use a former dairy and residence at 1515 W. Main St. as a private elementary school.
Just before midnight Tuesday, the council voted 8 to 1 to rezone the property for a private “mixed elementary” school. The meeting was long, and the debate was tense at times.
Voting yes were Mayor Cindy Rosenthal and council members Greg Heiple, Lynne Miller, Tom Kovach, Greg Jungman, James Griffith, Stephen Holman and Robert Castleberry. The lone opponent was Chad Williams.
Rose Rock School plans to use the property for up to 59 elementary school students. Neighbors had fought the school’s plan for nearly two years. Their concerns were mostly about added Main Street traffic in front of the former dairy that has been a single-family residence for many years.
The school has been turned down before but revised its numbers and made other concessions to neighbors. The planning commission first heard and recommended denial of the PUD request on May 10, 2012, according to city staff reports. At the applicant’s request, the city council postponed the zoning change on first reading on March 12 this year and again on March 26 and April 9. On April 23, the applicant withdrew the preliminary plat.
The PUD, zoning and land change request came back before the planning commission on Sept. 12. At that time, city staff and the planning commission recommended approval, but the request was postponed again at the Oct. 12 council meeting, at the applicant’s request.
On Tuesday night, debate lasted nearly three hours. Fifty-one percent of the neighbors protested the application.
“The problem before you is the applicant made a real estate mistake,” said Sean Rieger, an attorney representing some neighbors opposed to the project.
He said the applicant paid $820,000 for the property, with the intent of making it a school without obtaining proper zoning. Rieger said his clients who oppose the proposal had met with the school’s backers in hopes of making some concessions on traffic, fencing and other issues.
Attorney Blaine Nice, representing the school, said he didn’t think anyone saw the thunderstorm that came from the school’s plans.
“Is it perfect? No,” Nice said, “but it’s a great use of this historic property.”
Dee Fink, a neighbor of the school’s proposed site, said he was first opposed to the project but he now supported it after they reduced the number of students allowed.
“I would rather have Rose Rock than the unknown,” he said.
Kovach said voting on this application was difficult.
He said the traffic and stormwater impact was negligible, but the zoning issue troubled him.
“These people have demonstrated they want to work with their neighbors,” Kovach said, noting that he changed his vote four times Tuesday night.
Council member Miller, a longtime Norman educator, said she didn’t have traffic concerns. She said traffic at other schools was more of an issue.
“This one doesn’t hold a candle to the others,” she said. “I don’t see how traffic is an impact here.”
Miller said schools belonged in neighborhoods and this was a unique site.
Williams said he also had changed his vote several times during Tuesday night’s debate. He said it was a hard choice after listening to two passionate sides make their points.
Castleberry said the Rose Rock School was a great project, but he had concerns about amending the council’s 2025 plan.
Heiple said he supported the project and thought it was a good exercise in democracy.
Senior reporter Joy Hampton contributed to this story.
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