A planned detention pond in the Pearl District has some neighborhood residents asking questions and city officials promising to answer them.
The city is acquiring 45 properties near VFW Post 577 and the Indian Health Care Center Resource Center on Sixth Street in preparation for construction of the Elm Creek West Pond. The project will cost $25 million to $30 million, with construction not expected until at least 2021.
City Councilor Kara Joy McKee said during a council committee meeting Wednesday that she would like to have a meeting with affected property owners to explain why the detention facility is being built and the city’s process for obtaining homes.
“Because it’s been ongoing for a while, I think probably some people were probably at meetings and have since forgotten, and some people maybe missed those meetings,” McKee said. “But I’m glad we can come back around” and revisit the issue.
No meetings have been scheduled yet.
The city has acquired 13 of the 45 properties it needs; five sales are pending, including three that are in the eminent domain process.
City Engineer Paul Zachary said Friday that the city uses eminent domain only if it cannot agree on a sale price with the property owner or if the property doesn’t have a clean title. The process, he stressed, is not intended to be adversarial.
“We need the property for a project, but we can’t agree with the current property owner on the value,” Zachary said.
The city’s process for acquiring homes goes like this: The property is appraised, and the city’s offer is presented to the property owner. If the property is worth more than $100,000, two appraisals are done, and the city submits the higher appraisal. Then, negotiations ensue.
If the city and the property owner cannot agree on a price, the city can begin the eminent domain process, which includes a resolution from the City Council stating the public need for the property.
Zachary said Tulsa County District Court judges then appoint three people, known as commissioners, with knowledge of the real estate business to do an appraisal of the property in question.
“They can be land appraisers, they can be attorneys,” Zachary said of the commissioners.
The city can offer only the fair market value for a property, meaning what the property would be worth on the market in an arms-length transaction.
Commissioners appointed by a judge have more leeway.
“They can assess value; they can also assess damages for things we can’t do,” Zachary said. “In some cases, somebody says this is the house I was born and raised in or this has a special attachment (to the property owner).
“Really, what they are trying to do is to determine, what is the gap in between fair market value and what these people believe is their value? And if there is justifiable, tangible — and/or intangible — reasons that they can close that gap, they will do so.
The Denver Grill is a classic example of the history and significance of a property helping boost its sale value. It was one of the structures torn down to make room for the BOK Center downtown.
“Those people had 50 years, they had two generations that had run it before,” he said. “... So there was a whole lot of heritage with it, and they did very, very well.”
After the 1984 floods, city officials created more than 30 master drainage plans to reduce the likelihood of flooding — and reduce the size of the floodplain — along streams throughout the city. The Elm Creek Master Plan initially envisioned one large detention pond at Centennial Park on Sixth Street, but the plan was scrapped in favor of three smaller ones.
The plans were created after extensive public engagement, Zachary said.
The city completed construction of the Centennial Park detention pond years ago. In addition to the Elm Creek West Pond, the city has plans to construct Elm Creek East Pond between Seventh and Eighth streets from Quincy to Troost avenues.
The detention ponds, once completed, will reduce the flood plain area from 21st Street and Boulder Avenue all the way up to Centennial Park, and then east along Sixth Street to the 800 block of Rockford Avenue.