The proposed form based code for the Pearl District is several years in the making. Last year, the Tulsa Metro Area Planning Commission rejected enacting a version of it.
The code, which focuses on the design, or form, of buildings rather than their use, was back under the microscope during three recent workshops for area residents and business owners.
Prospects for New Business
Julian Morgan and Josh Ritchey are looking to join the growing number of new business owners in the Pearl District.
Their plan seems like it would fit right in with the other businesses in the 6th and Peoria area.
“It’s going to be called bark,” Morgan says. “It’s an off-leash dog park.”
“It’s a bar for humans and a park for dogs,” Ritchey adds.
They’re attending a series of workshops about zoning codes to find out whether their plans for the building’s design would be in line with the proposed form based code.
You might say they’re fortunate, in that they’re not so concerned about parking. But for a number of the business owners here, parking is a top concern.
In the workshops, a team of City and INCOG employees and other experts answered questions about the code, which, unlike current city-wide zoning regulations, doesn’t require businesses to provide customers with parking.
Vic Sherrel owns a body shop, and, like a lot of the owners who’ve been in the Pearl District for many years, parking is a primary issue for him.
“We’re not a pedestrian business,” Sherrel says. “Our people drive to us or they’re towed to us. In no way would this form based code work for us.”
Sherrel says, he sees the good that the newer businesses have done for the area. But he says, leave the older establishments like his, alone.
Another guest, at the first of the workshops, is Mike Craddock, a commercial estate broker who works with some of the owners in the Pearl.
“I've been around long enough where I've seen the problems with parking and the redevelopment of both Cherry Street and Brookside,” he said.”
He says the code should be modified to allow and encourage shared parking: if several businesses wanted to clear space to provide a shared lot, they should be allowed to do so, though clearing space solely for parking isn't allowed under the current wording of the form based code.
“This code right now is ignoring parking at the expense of existing people who have to have parking,” Craddock says.
But for some owners in the district, like Rachel Navarro, the reverse is true.
“My buildings are existing buildings,” Navarro says, “they're built to the lot line on all sides; there's no opportunity for me to purchase additional land for parking.”
Since current city code requires businesses to provide parking, she can't develop her properties without requesting a variance. That outcome, she says, is uncertain.
“It's really hard to plan when your future is in somebody else's hands,” she said.
The Future of the Code
INCOG and the City of Tulsa will submit all the data they've collected about people’s concerns at these meetings to the Tulsa Metro Area Planning Commission, which will then have to decide whether to further modify the code.
One of the Commissioners, Brandon Perkins, says he would like to see even more of this kind of meeting. He does expect the code to undergo some changes.
“I know it's pretty neat to walk down other cities where all the buildings look very similar,” he said, “but I think Tulsa has kind of grown on having diversity in types and heights and scales that we might want to take a look at.
For owners Morgan and Ritchey, at least, the walkability the form based code is designed to promote is ideal, both for their business, and for their quality of life.
“We’re looking for more of a walk, jog, active, friendly crowd— carpooling, taking cabs, riding the bus, that sort of thing,” Ritchey said. “So we’re just not stressed out about parking.”
“The neighborhood in Tulsa where I want to work, live, shop, eat, it doesn’t exist yet. So I think we’ve got a really cool thing going here, and we’re trying to build the neighborhood that me and all my friends want to live in, work in, shop in,” he added. “We want to just be there, and never leave.”