In today’s paper we got to see the case presented by some Heritage Hills residents against The Edge, the 252-unit apartment complex about to be built in MidTown. Note, it’s not in Heritage Hills – it’s in MidTown. As with any complicated story, it’s challenging to get every detail into a daily news story. But this story represented my best first shot at delving into this debate.
Let’s start with some basic information first:
- Gary Brooks was selected in what was an open and transparent competition with three other well respected developers. When potential unfairness was noted on this site, including the prospect that some of the developers wouldn’t get to make a presentation to the Urban Renewal board, the board quickly reversed course. I also witnessed first hand a board membership that seemed to sway back and forth between three of the four proposals (for the life of me I can’t figure out why a rather wonderful proposal by Marva Ellard didn’t gain any traction). From information I was gleaning before the final Urban Renewal vote, it appeared possible that Richard Tanenbaum was going to win the contract. Even Brooks himself appeared resigned to losing the vote when I encountered him 30 minutes before while fueling our vehicles at a downtown convenience store. I then witnessed a vote that almost seemed to swing toward Chuck Wiggin before ultimately coming down on the side of Brooks.
- This project was covered extensively in The Oklahoman, on OKC Central, in the Journal Record and in The Oklahoma Gazette. You couldn’t escape it on the popular online community forum OKC Talk.
- As I reported in today’s story, Heritage Hills was represented in a committee review of the development proposals by Steve Jacobi, board president of the neighborhood association Historic Preservation Inc. It was during this process that issues of density and design were delved into and settled (a discussion that took place a year ago).
- This site is zoned for apartments.
- This site falls into an area represented by the Urban Neighbors residents association. I’ve heard from multiple members, including an officer, who are VERY unhappy that the Heritage Hills residents have tried to dictate terms in an area that is not in their neighborhood and did not bother to bring their concerns to Urban Neighbors, which does represent MidTown.
Now, that all said, let’s look at the emails that got people talking:
First up – a January 11 email from Alicia and Scott Champion, who live on NW 14 (there is a half-block buffer zone of office buildings separating The Edge site from Heritage Hills. Midtown is south of NW 13, Heritage Hills begins at NW 14):
Subject: The edge – PLEASE REPLY – AGREE
Heritage Hills residents
Have you been made aware that there is a new 68 ½ foot at the tallest point or 5 story apartment complex in the works to be constructed on the south side of the street at 13th& Walker? This is a 252 unit project that will have 232- 1 bedroom units, 10- 2 bedroom units, and 10-3 bedroom units and the “asking” rent price for a 1 bedroom is $1,000.00 a month. The Edge apartments are supposed to be “high end” and I do not doubt that they won’t be but, the scale of the project is enormous! If you are concerned about what an apartment complex will do for your property value in the next 20 years please read on.
A height of 6 stories (at the tallest point and a common green space area) is a big invasion of privacy for those resident that not only on the “border” the south side of 14th but all of 14th street. If you are walking along the street on 14th you will indeed be able to see the complex cascading over the roof tops and trees. While we earnestly are passionate about development in and around our neighborhood a lot of us are not excited about a complex. Most of the neighbors would envision for housing
· Ownership of condominiums
· No more than 3 stories in height
· Gradual sky line transition along 13th street into downtown
If you think this is a great idea for our neighborhood to have so many transients across the road then please read no further but if you are concerned about
· Increase in classroom size at Wilson School
· Foot traffic and pet traffic along our streets and parks (we pay for the upkeep!)
· Electrical Infrastructure i.e. more rolling brown outs. Especially if you are on Saint Anthony’s grid
· Plumbing Infrastructure
· Litter (Pet litter as well)
· Increase of potential crime
· Balconies without covenants
· Retail on Walker without restrictions
Then please join us and sign this petition. If you are against a complex of this size going into our backyards make your voice heard. We are in need of signatures for the Emergency Historic Preservation Meeting January 12, 2012.
We are not downtown and don’t need density we are midtown and need to protect what we and sustained all of these decades. We need all the support that we can get. HPI was created for this very thing! Our founders Watson, Coley, Nesbit all thought of the importance of our neighborhood and wanted to not only protect the interests and historical value of our homes but our boarders too! The South side of 14th, north side 22nd and all the streets along Broadway and Classen Boulevard are the true boarder s of the neighborhood and we must protect our area. We have collected millions in our endowment fund to help protect ourselves and our investments. Let’s face it, the developers wouldn’t be here if it were not for many of us pouring thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars into persevering our homes. We need to make sure the development will be good for the entire neighborhood and corridor between midtown and downtown.
We want to supply HPI a list of names of neighbors in Heritage Hills who are against the Complex. (Our neighbors in Mesta are joining in our efforts as well).
Alicia and Scott Champion
Now, let’s look at yet another email, this one sent out on January 10 by another resident on NW 14, Darci Schafer:
Subject: Re: “The Edge” Please mark your calendars and plan to attend the Downtown Design Review Committee (DDRC) Thursday, January 19 at 9:30am, OKC Municipal Building, 200 N. Walker, 3rd Floor
All concerned neighbors are encouraged to attend the Downtown Design Review Committee (DDRC) Thursday, January 19th at 9:30am, OKC Municipal Building, 200 N. Walker The Downtown Design Review Committee (Betsy Brunsteter, Gigi Faulkner, Mark Grubb, Charles Ainsworth, Richard Tanenbaum, Stan Carroll and Ike Akinwande) will review the design/overall scale and plans for the proposed 252 unit apartment complex *”The Edge.”
The Edge must be approved by the DDRC to become a reality. The meeting begins at 9:30, but the agenda will be posted online closer to the meeting if you want to check the order of business. Their website is www.okc.gov (Click on DDRC.) Parking is challenging there right now, so be prepared. Attendance is of the utmost importance. It is possibly our only chance to have the plans for “The Edge” apartments denied or at least “continued” (delayed). To date, attendance at this meeting is the most important action for concerned neighbors to take.
Any comments or concerns about the potential impact on surrounding neighborhoods may be e-mailed to staff member Scottye.Montgomery@okc.gov who will forward them to the seven-member DDRC.
You may be interested to know the following meetings are also scheduled:
Wednesday, January 11 Meeting of Mesta Park’s Executive Board
Thursday January 12 Special Meeting of HPI, Heritage Hills’ Board
Most of you are receiving this e-mail because of prior attendance and interest. If you are new on the mailing list, this is regarding the issue of the *Edge Apartments that are planned for the old Mercy site on the entire block between 13th and 12th Street between Walker and Dewey. This apartment complex would be a building four and five stories tall with balconies. There would be a minimal lot line (no external green space), 252 units (200 would be 1-bedroom; 10 two-bedroom and 10 three-bedroom), and at least at least 400 cars could be associated with this property.
Concerns include but are not limited to:
Overall scale of the project/compatibility of the design
Traffic impact (400+ cars)
Utility impact (water and electric power grid) (252 units)
3-4 Levels of balconies (covenants)
Project consultation with neighborhoods to the north/lack thereof
The following is a link provided by one of our neighbors. In 2006 OKC consulted with two firms (of Cambridge MA and St. Louis MO) regarding the City’s plan for NW 10th Street between St. Anthony and OU Medical Center. It spoke specifically about the old Mercy site as a “transition zone” and even recommended density (80-120 units) for a residential project. The Edge doubles (252 units) the recommended amount of units. Pages 20-25 are particularly worth reading as they provide solid recommendations and some helpful visuals.
Please feel free to pass this information along. Thank you all for your interest in this matter.
Now this email brings up a report the neighbors have been citing – but is it truly relevant to the discussion or binding in this matter? Note they’re citing pages 20-25, which does indeed address the old Mercy hospital site that is now in contention. This is a study; it is not a zoning, design guideline or statutory document governing this property. It is, in fact, the reflection of efforts by a private group whose meetings have been closed to the public and with whom I’ve had difficulty in the past getting information in regard to efforts to redevelop land under its control at NW 10 and Hudson. They are not breaking the law with this lack of transparency – they are, indeed, a private group that has every right not to share every bit of their business with a pesky reporter such as myself. But that also would seem to diminish the importance of this document as being anything but a guide – one that is now six years old and pre-dated most of the development we’ve seen to date in MidTown. Popular restaurants such as Stella’s (where several of the Heritage Hills protesters met after their meeting Thursday night) were not yet in existence. That stretch of buildings, now occupied by shops and restaurants, were still a blighted mess.
This study does not, as I read it, suggest LIMITS on development and density, but rather shows potential outcomes. It is also eclipsed by much more recent studies on walkability, authored by Jeff Speck, and a downtown housing study authored last year that promote urban density and housing development, especially apartments, in MidTown. All three documents are studies, not binding requirements and limitations on development.
So at this point, we have a developer chosen through an open competition. We now know that Heritage Hills was invited to review and evaluate the competing proposals, and that its neighborhood leader did participate and according their records, he kept his board updated on the development discussions. We also know that the project does not conflict with any zoning or city regulations, other than a 3-foot variance being sought at Thursday’s meeting of the Downtown Design Review Committee for a decorative crown element at the rooftop that will screen various air conditioners, building systems, etc. We also know the study cited by Shafer is six years old and does not impose any limits on development of the site, other than to recommend how best to proceed with possible housing.
In terms of the development’s quality, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. At least one of those commenting that the design is substandard in comments posted here at OKC Central and at NewsOK, I know, is directly tied into one of the three losing development proposals.
For those who might think I’m in any way beholden to Brooks, hit “downtown housing” under categories on this blog and review the scrutiny I gave during the selection process and to the Brooks proposal.
I pick apart apparent mis-truths. It’s what I do.