Suburban sprawl upsets rural residents City plan would limit spread of some services
By Steve Lackmeyer, Jack Money And Meri Mcmanus
Sunday, December 12, 1999
Edition: CITY, Section: NEWS, Page 17-A
Pam Troup would not be disappointed to see Oklahoma City restrict growth in the area where she and her husband, Ed, moved about 10 years ago.
The quiet, rural setting of lush trees, rolling hills, and plots of one or two acres attracted the couple to Apple Valley Road despite the fact that a grocery store is more than 10 minutes away.
“We don’t want any more congestion,” Troup said. “We moved out to the country to be away from the congestion and the city.”
Right now, however, more housing and congestion is possible if developers first agree to hook the area up to a main water line – an option that would be eliminated under a new Comprehensive Plan being drafted for Oklahoma City.
Planners are categorizing the city’s neighborhoods as rural, urban growth (neighborhoods developed after 1970) and traditional neighborhoods (older neighborhoods primarily developed before 1970).
The plan discourages premature urban uses, including “leapfrog” development, or higher-density development that requires urban services like water, sewer, police and fire protection.
It recommends limiting public services in rural areas to a level appropriate for rural living. Police and fire protection would be provided, but with slower response times.
With the exception of regional traffic arteries, the plan’s authors recommend not prematurely widening two-lane roads.
Nick Gales, chairman of the plan update’s steering committee, believes every effort has been taken to avoid repeating past mistakes where planners and developers ended up battling over the city’s future.
“We’ve kept all of the steering committee meetings open to the public. We’ve had public hearings and public work groups. We’ve had the industry people in virtually every element,” he said.
While some cities are still using sticks to fight sprawl, planning director Garner Stoll believes Oklahoma City has no choice but to use a carrot.
Stoll said Oklahoma City can’t really place curbs on fringe neighborhoods as long as residents can move to towns like Edmond, Mustang and Norman.
Incentives include promoting the inner city with street projects that include vintage lighting and extensive landscaping, business assistance programs, and Main Street programs that promote historic commercial corridors.
Stoll knows such efforts work. The city has witnessed a string of recent successes.
Dick Lee, director of the Capitol Hill Main Street program south of downtown, thinks his neighborhood has already rebounded from its darkest days when major retailers fled to Crossroads Mall.
Lee estimates public investment in Capitol Hill has resulted in more than $2 million in private investment the past two years. A bigger boost is expected to follow city-funded renovations of two old department stores that will become the new home for more than 100 employees of the Community Action Agency.
“In 26 months, we have had 16 new businesses open that have created about 60 new jobs. They are all relatively small businesses, but when Community Action comes… that should spark some more restaurants and more retail,” Lee said.
Adding incentives to zoning ordinances also is being considered.
“We need to look at set-back and parking requirements. For example, eliminating parking requirements in Paseo, Bricktown and Stockyards brought immediate development,” Stoll said.
An expansion of city services the past decade also allows planners to consider ways to steer development into areas that already have full city services. Stoll estimates the city’s supply of land serviced by water, sewer, police and fire can accommodate centuries of future housing growth.
With that in mind, the plan encourages developers to expand into serviced areas of town by allowing denser developments than is now allowed.
Stoll admits the plan is ambitious – but he also believes it is one that can lead the city into the next century. “We are trying to redefine our assets and make them positives instead of negatives,” Stoll said.