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Council Committed to Finding Solution for Core Zoning Issues - March 19, 2017

The house was packed at City Hall earlier this month for Councilman Bill Hickman’s Ward 4 public meeting concerning the proposed Center City Formed Based Code zoning changes. The council members had just heard a presentation of the visioning process and development of the Form Based Code by the chairs of the citizen’s committee: former Mayor Cindy Rosenthal, Dean Daniel Pullin from OU, and Richard McKown, a local developer. These great contributors spent over two years working with the committee to make a recommendation to Council. This followed numerous meetings with residents.

A recent Transcript Op Ed described Center City as the area from Campus Corner to the downtown area, bordered by Gray to the north, the railroad tracks to the east, Boyd to the south and Park/Flood to the west. It is a vision and plan to encourage planned redevelopment in that area to create more walkability through increased density, a mix of uses, and zoning focused on the look, or form, of each block. Form Based Code is being used in many other cities, including college towns like Norman.

The public meeting was organized by Councilman Hickman because the Center City area is in Ward 4. The City Council has recently focused a great deal of time on zoning issues in Ward 4. It surrounds the university on three sides, and as such, is most directly impacted by thousands of students and many athletic, artistic and academic events that create traffic, parking and other issues. There is always pressure for student housing to expand further into neighborhoods. There have always been students in surrounding neighborhoods, and that alone is not a problem. The university is our largest employer and it key in making Norman a desirable place to live. However, as the university continues to grow the City has a responsibility to the community as a whole to explore ways that student housing needs and the needs of other residents are balanced. The Center City Form Based Zoning Code is a way to guide redevelopment in a more cohesive, systematic way. A short moratorium was put in place to give us time to act on the Center City proposal.

One of Council’s primary responsibilities is to make decisions about land use and zoning. These decisions are often difficult because what benefits one party may not benefit another. This conflict is what we heard at the public meeting. After the presentation, Councilman Hickman and members of the citizens’ committee answered questions. We heard from neighbors who wanted control over what they consider to be large, oversized student dormitories that do not fit into the present neighborhood. There is a legitimate concern that this is single purpose housing. Builders, who by our present zoning codes are lawfully building student housing, do not want those rights to change. Other property owners in the area stated the desire to have more options for their property in the future. Can we find a middle ground and make Center City something very special for our whole City in the future? I hope so.

The Council Members have been very positive about the Center City plan and very committed to keep the moratorium short. The Council is clear on the need for incentives to make necessary infrastructure improvements in the area. There will be considerably more public discussion before a final decision is made. The next meeting is March 23 at 6 p.m. at City Hall. Stay tuned, and if you would like more information, the proposal, meeting agendas, minutes and future meeting notices are available on the City’s website.

Contact Mayor Lynne Miller at 366-5402 or by email.