Iron Gate View Down South Peoria Avenue Revised

Iron Gate provides daily hot meals for many of Tulsa’s homeless population and a grocery pantry serving the working poor and others in need. It has outgrown its current facility at Trinity Episcopal Church downtown and needs to relocate.  After many months of discussions with the Downtown Coordinating Council and an exhaustive site selection process that considered over 20 properties, a decision was reached to build a new facility at the southwest corner of 3rd & Peoria.

In order to implement its plan as designed, Iron Gate has applied to the Tulsa Board of Adjustment for use and set-back variances to the zoning code and a special exception for the parking lot.  Applications to the BOA require newspaper advertising and public notice to property owners within 300 feet of the site. These requirements, not easy to find, are outlined on page 10 of this PDF document: Guide to Planning found by following a rather obscure link on the BOA’s web site.

Board of adjustment agenda item are not easily understood by the casual observer and you’d need to know what you were looking for, and actively check the site every week to find an agenda item related to your neighborhood.

So when many of the residents and businesses in the Pearl District were blind-sided by news of the proposed facility–an hour before a public meeting was to begin, and 5 days before a hearing before the BOA–it should have come as no surprise to anyone that the response was reactionary and filled with resentment.

It appears Iron Gate representatives have fairly limited understanding of both the Comprehensive Plan, the 6th Street Infill Plan and the neighborhood’s role in it. According to Dave Strader, longtime Pearl District Association member “we asked them if they knew what a Small Area Plan was and if they knew that the Pearl District had an adopted Small Area Plan. Their answer was no. They had no idea what a Small Area Plan was.”

I assume Iron Gate supporters and staff would like Pearl District residents and business owners to keep an open mind and have compassion for the people they serve. If the organization is truly interested in fitting seamlessly into the neighborhood, it would do well to do some research. If they do, they will discover that there is a well-planned vision for the area’s future. By reaching out, Iron Gate can demonstrate the same kind of compassion for their neighbors that they expect from them.

If it were not for the hard work and sacrifices by so many Pearl District businesses and residents it is doubtful Iron Gate would want to locate there. There are many back stories behind those years of sacrifice and dedication to cleaning up and improving the neighborhood. Some might be surprised to learn that some who live and work in the area, are not too far removed from the socioeconomic levels of the clients Iron Gate serves.

The 6th St. Infill Plan isn’t just a dusty binder full of ivory tower urbanism.  It represents many years of blood, sweat, and tears and has set the stage for a long overdue revitalization and growth. The progress has been marked by communication, collaboration and careful planning. It has also come as a result of steady attention to code enforcement. In 2006, the PDA identified an already large impact from the downtown transient population traveling the neighborhood particularly in search of shelter in vacant buildings. Things have improved and progress has been made but the issue is far from resolved.

The neighborhood does not fear the poor or homeless, it fears that the work it has done will be in vain. They want to know what measures the applicant is willing to take to ensure that they remain on the right track.

As Mike Jones of the Tulsa World pointed out in a recent Op/Ed piece, “Being homeless and poor is not a sin. It does not make you a lesser person. It is not against the law. It is a situation. A difficult one. Tulsa has a problem. Let’s find a humane and proper way to solve it.”

Such a solution can only be achieved through careful and deliberate planning, and collaboration with all of the stakeholders.  The comprehensive plan, and the 6th St. Infill Plan, very clearly put the decision-making power of what goes on in the neighborhood, into the hands of the neighborhood itself:

Why a grassroots plan? Quite simply, it would be impossible to implement a plan that involves large amounts of property acquisition in an urbanized area without strong neighborhood support. A plan that is developed by property owners, business owners, and residents of the neighborhood allows people to apply their intimate understanding of the area in an enlightened fashion that supports their own interests as well as the interests of their neighbors.

6th St. Infill Plan, page 36.

In the event that further zoning changes, ordinances, and policy changes are needed to ensure that these recommendations are followed; these guidelines should serve as the principal design resource for their development.

6th St. Infill Plan, page60.

In my view, Iron Gate representatives need to acknowledge the existing plans and conform to them. Granting the variance without doing that would impair the purpose, spirit, and the intent of those plans. While locating the parking next to the railroad track, and reducing the building setback are good things, there are other design issues that need to be addressed such as the lack of a buffer between the sidewalk and Peoria Ave. A more deliberate attempt by the developers to consult with their new neighbors is called for. Failure to do that could result in an adversarial relationship for years to come.

I would be more inclined to support Iron Gate’s plans for relocation to 3rd and Peoria if the BOA delayed a decision on this application for 60 to 90 days. I encourage the board to request that the developers meet with neighborhood representatives and city planning staff in order to integrate their building design into the area’s plans in a collaborative manner.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed on this web site are those of our contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policy of Smart Growth Tulsa, its Trustees, its Advisory Board members or our affiliate member organizations unless specifically stated.

SGT has elected not to take an official stand on this matter, respecting the position of those representing both sides of the issue. Not knowing all of particulars of the site selection process it would not be right to second guess the decision to locate at 3rd and Peoria.

On the surface however, a site along Denver Ave, perhaps near 11th Street, would have been preferred by many to avoid the so-called migration expected through emerging downtown neighborhoods. For whatever reason, that area apparently did not work for Iron Gate.

This morning (August 25, 2015) we received word that the applicant has requested a continuance of the matter until the September 8, 2015 BOA regularly scheduled meeting. This is the reason given by Iron Gate’s attorney requesting the continuance: “We would like the opportunity to meet with anyone who has concerns so that we can hear what they have to say, provide them with additional information they may not be aware of, and work with them.”

We remain hopeful that an expanded dialogue between the parties will lead to an amiable solution.

 

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