Readers Forum: Pearl District planners need realistic zoning rules
BY JOHN OWEN
Friday, August 03, 2012
8/03/12 at 3:53 AM
I would like to applaud city councilors for an excellent decision on the QuikTrip zoning request. I believe that the form-based zoning adopted for the Pearl District is a combination of wishful thinking and unrealistic expectations lacking the considerations of economic sustainability.
As I understand it, the new requirements are for two-story buildings built on the property line with no parking except behind the buildings, accessible only from the alley. What business would want to work with those restrictions?
By comparison, Cherry Street is sprouting many new businesses in new or remodeled buildings. While most are built on the property line, most are one-story and have off-street parking accessible from the street. Cherry Street, unlike the Pearl District, is also nestled into a charming older neighborhood filled with affluent people who can well afford to help support the new businesses.
The Pearl District is thinly populated; large areas of it are filled with warehouses and industrial operations, there are many vacant lots where dilapidated houses have been torn down, and many of the remaining houses are in disrepair, some with boarded-up windows. There simply are not enough people with enough income to walk to, and support, new businesses.
The Pearl District's plan to "discourage automobile use" lacks economic viability and risks hurting the district by keeping out businesses whose customers will need to park their cars, which is almost all businesses.
In a recent drive through the Pearl District, I saw many older brick buildings that are built on the property line with little or no parking. The planners are obviously trying to keep the historic flavor of the neighborhood, and that's good. A few buildings are even two stories.
But the one thing they have in common is that many if not most of them are vacant and appear to have been so for a long time. This is an obvious testament to their lack of commercial viability.
Like the planners, I love dense, walker-friendly neighborhoods. Recently in Andersonville, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, we found downtown sidewalks vibrant with activity, jammed with pedestrians on Friday and Saturday nights. It reminded me of downtown Tulsa in the 1950s before shopping centers were invented.
Similarly, I love small European cities where everyone walks two or three blocks to the town marketplace for their daily shopping.
But it takes more than a "plan" to achieve these results. Everything from architecture to public transportation to cultural changes, investment and much more are needed to blend over many years to arrive at such a result.
I suspect that the new dental office at Sixth Street and Utica Avenue and the planned QuikTrip are the best things that have happened to the Pearl District in years.
If the planners really want to rejuvenate the Pearl District, they need to devise a means of encouraging development and accommodating the automobile traffic necessary for the new businesses to succeed. Unrealistic form-based zoning rules are not the answer.
Original Print Headline: The Pearl District plan may be wrong
John Owen is a longtime Tulsa resident.