Oh my, oh my. I would not have wanted to be John Yoeckel today.
For those of you who don’t know John, he’s a well respected civic leader and a member of the city’s Board of Adjustment.
It’s his job to make someone very, very happy or very, very unhappy. Sometimes his vote, along with three other board members, can end up with both results.
Today was one of those days. And oh, how difficult it was to face disappointing either side.
On both sides you had top notch attorneys and well-known architects and urban pioneers.
Both sides represent residents of a MidTown neighborhood who clearly love their community, are doing everything to bring it back to life, and yet can’t even agree what to call it or what it should be.
Yeah, this was a fun case – and the stakes were nothing less than the redefinition of a neighborhood.
The neighborhood in question is defined as follows by the MidTown Association:
Located in the west central portion of MidTown, the Cottage District is characterized by older single family cottages and bungalows. This area contains Red Andrews Park and Municipal Gym, Emerson
School, and considerable amounts of vacant land.
So, let’s meet the two sides:
SoSA (South of Saint Anthony) Neighborhood: Architect Dennis Wells coined the proposed renaming of “the Cottage District,” noting its eclectic mix does not match its name. And indeed, long before this battle began I wrote a story noting the diversity of this neighborhood. Wells allies include architect Bryan Fitzsimmons, who like Wells has recently built a modern home in area that certainly isn’t your standard Dallas style suburban home in Deer Creek.
Cottage District: Randy Floyd and Michael Smith were pioneers in this neighborhood long before Wells and Fitzsimmons. They took a chance on a row of territorial era homes, and their renovations showed that the neighborhood once overrun with drug dealers and prostitutes was ready for a revival. And now for some history:If you go to Bricktown, there is enough urban fabric (brick warehouses) that one can say “this is the area’s character, here’s how it should guide designs for new construction and renovations.” Same can be said for Automobile Alley and the Asian District. But how does one judge the Cottage District/SoSA?Do we judge the area and set design guidelines based on the neighborhood’s original housing stock? That’s a problem for some because so many of the homes were torn down and left as either empty lots, or rebuilt as …
Modern Design Homes.
Yep, the neighborhood has plenty of it. The Classen Glen condominiums set the tone a quarter century ago and Fitzsimmons put an exclamation point on it with his own new home a few years back.
Then came Wells, and now comes yet another proposed modern home.The home, designed for Bill Lovallo by Fitzsimmons, is a two-story, 1,730-square-foot house that would sit atop a sloped lot at 825 NW 7. And while the home lines up with others on the street, a second level fronted with glass panels would face out closer to the street than most of the other homes.
Smith and Floyd argued at a November meeting of the Urban Design Commission that the project violated the neighborhood’s setback requirements. But Lovallo and Fitzsimmons responded that it was in line with at least one other home at NW 7 and Shartel.
That home, an older structure that went through a renovation deemed substandard by many in the neighborhood, was promptly declared an anomaly by Smith and Floyd as they sought to overturn the design committee’s ruling to the Board of Adjustment on Thursday.Smith and Floyd were represented by attorney Leslie Batchelor, who is also a well known innercity advocate and civic leader.
Lovallo and Fitzsimmons, meanwhile, were represented by high-powered and respected attorney Michael Laird, who is also no stranger to urban issues.
Watching the proceedings, I knew that John Yoeckel would end up being the first guy to show his hand. He spoke of his admiration for both sides, and then he announced his vote – he would uphold Randy Floyd’s challenge. He cited the city’s original zoning intent and setbacks as being more important than the anomaly at 829 NW 7.
Next up, board member Stephen Dobbs, who noted there is no allowance for exclusions of “anomalies.”The vote is 1-1. And the deciding vote is left up to Rod Baker, who was absent, and David Wanzer, who had to recuse himself due to ties to Fitzsimmons.
And so we wait for yet another day on this matter to be decided. And one can only imagine the fun John will have at the next downtown social.