Center city code evolving 

Katie Standlee / The Transcript

Community Planning and Development Director Jane Hudson, who also serves as an attorney for the City of Norman, presented an update during a study session Tuesday for where the Ad Hoc Committee is on the center city form based code.

The city's administrative freeze on demolition and new construction in the center city area is nearly up.

Mayor Lynne Miller said the six-month delay allowed the city to “hit the reset button” on the code. Its overarching goal is still the same — to encourage mixed-use, high density development in the center city area. But since the administrative freeze was enacted in January, the code has been retooled.

On Tuesday, city development director Jane Hudson presented some of the challenges being addressed through committee: parking impacts, functioning street space entry, proposed special use requirements, on-street parking, alley improvements, ground floor residential consideration and TIF incentive evaluation.

Hudson said the original vision for the form based code was to get block development, cutback parking, pedestrian lighting adjacent to the sidewalk, and, later, alley improvements.

“It’s bringing the buildings to the street as opposed to having the 25-foot setbacks that we have seen historically in the core area,” Hudson said.

Hudson said the stormwater issues are a new section and the proposal calls for coverage limits for lots within the area.

Due to a lack of architectural guidance and a disconnect of function and form, the committee and city staff struggled with the complete and discrete policy discussion.

So, the ad hoc committee and city staff worked with design professionals implementing the “complete and discrete”, which involved what buildings should look like when they are brought up to the street.

“Another one that we struggled with within the document, specifically said, ‘While there are no side yard setbacks we were typically seeing a 5 foot setback on the majority of the residential development that was coming in,’” Hudson said.

The RBL requirement of 100 percent for the Townhouse Small Apartment will be for the first 12 feet, but the committee also expressed concerns about all buildings going up to the property line.

Hudson said there is concern when a property owner takes a building up to the property line it might go over to the adjacent property to add exterior materials.

The evaluation of Center City TIF incentives continues.

To resolve parking impacts, the committee proposed that if a property owner has over three bedrooms than they provide one parking space per bedroom on-site. Another proposal is requiring a special use permit for units that have more than three bedrooms. Hudson that said would give the council opportunities to closely monitor the density and impacts within core development areas.

Hudson said the committee was getting a lot of community comment about whether residential on the ground floor would be allowed in urban general. The committee discussed allowing residential on the ground floor if the three foot elevation requirement was removed for it.

“But then they also wanted to construct the ground floor unit under the commercial code,” Hudson said. “What they are looking at down the line when a new property owner, or same property owner, decides that they want to convert that ground floor unit to commercial, it’s already built to code, so really it’s a benefit for the developer and the property owner, that way the commercial building code is already in place on the ground floor.”

For the Town House Small Apartment Frontage the committee proposed to establish a minimum of three units.

“Historically within the [Town House Small Apartment] we have been getting duplexes and so we thought if we could get a minimum of three units in there they could be stacked and possibly get three bedroom units there,” Hudson said. “Then that way they would get units that could be utilized for smaller families and young professionals.”

Hudson reminded the council that the center city form based code remains a living document that needs continued evaluation as conditions and community priorities change.

“We need to keep looking at this document and making sure that it is actually meeting the needs of the community and the direction that we want this area to go,” Hudson said.

Council member Stephen Tyler Holman, who also served on the ad hoc committee, said he’s excited about these changes.

“From my perspective it’s not entirely perfect, but I think it’s going to fix the problems we are having and I think it’s setting us on a good path to see something really special in this area,” Holman said.

Mayor Lynne Miller said it is important to remember the history of the project, the time and effort and the fact they put a TIF in place to help pay for infrastructure.

“That’s public money and the public had a vision for the way we wanted this to develop,” Miller said. “I think it’s only responsible for the council and the citizens they’re serving on that committee to come back and revisit that vision of what was expected, and see if we can’t get it a little bit back on track and I think that we can do that.”

The committee will continue discussion and the second reading and vote is slated for July 23.

• Roll call: Ward 2 council member Joe Carter and Ward 4 council member Bill Hickman were absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

Upcoming center city formed based code review meetings:

• City Council Study Session - June 18

• Pre-Development Meeting - June 27

• Special Planning Commission Meeting - July 8

• City Council Meeting (first reading) - July 9

• City Council Meeting (second reading and vote) - July 23