The Norman Transcript

Opinion

February 24, 2013

High density dialogue: an update

NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:

Last summer Norman started a community dialogue about High Density (HD) development. In the fall, however, the City seemed ready to moot that discussion when it considered the Risser/B3 project, a six-story HD apartment building proposed for Campus Corner. (The structure would mostly contain HD housing and parking, but also include a leasing office and the NEDC.) Risser/B3 sought approval to proceed under C-3 (intensive commercial) zoning, with a special use for a mixed building.

HD housing is inappropriate in a C-3 district - it only ‘works’ if the City allows the special-use ‘tail’ to wag the commercial ‘dog’. The real problem with Risser/B3 rezoning, however, is precedent. If the Risser/B3 project qualifies for C-3 zoning then any apartment building could also qualify (e.g., by including an office). This would repudiate the HD process: a C-3-based ‘back door’ would not only ignore previous input from staff and citizens; it would preclude future input since C-3 zoning requirements are negligible.

Fortunately, wisdom prevailed in the fall. City staff recommended postponing the Risser/B3 rezoning request until HD deliberations were completed. Both Risser/B3 and the City Council agreed to put off project decisions until citizen views about HD were codified. Given this civic-minded decision, the C-3 zoning proposal is dead. I cannot fathom that Risser/B3 would dare ask the City to ignore the results of HD discussions. If they were to do so then surely the City Council would turn them down unanimously.

Since the fall, a consensus has emerged that HD has some advantages (e.g., minimizing sprawl) but that current assets must be protected (e.g., neighborhood compatibility). This progress results from common sense and good will on all sides. Sensible completion of the HD process requires continuing on this path. A critical step is recognizing that HD discussion is really an exercise in values clarification for our community. This fact has been obscured, unfortunately, because we are distracted by what developers want. If my spouse and I are discussing a car purchase, we don’t invite a salesperson to join us; we determine our car needs first. Right now, Norman is should not think of itself as negotiating with the development community – we are trying to figure out what we want.

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