Advisory body votes 3-2 to recommend approval of zoning request for controversial Original Mile project
By Jeff Harrison
Several residents were not shy about voicing their opposition to a proposed apartment complex for the Original Mile Tuesday night at the Midwest City Planning Commission meeting.
But the controversial project was slightly more popular with five members of the commission.
The planning commission voted 3-2 to recommend approval of a zoning request that would allow for development of the apartment complex in the 200 blocks of Kittyhawk and Jacobs drives.
The proposed $3.5 million project would include six three-story buildings with ground floor retail on vacant property near an AT&T building and First Baptist Church. Five of the buildings will face Kittyhawk and one will face Jacobs. The project is being developed by Jeff Johnson and J Lou Properties LLC.
The apartment complex will be one- and two-bedroom units. Two of the buildings will have ground floor commercial space. Johnson said the complex will blend in with existing architecture of First Baptist Church and the AT&T building.
Johnson is seeking to rezone the property from single family residential to a simplified planned unit development (SPUD) governed by high density residential district.
The project requested variance to several city building codes including landscaping, parking, building setbacks, height and fire lane.
Changes to the parking requirements created the most concern among staff and residents. Johnson’s plan includes a total of 46 parking spaces with 35 parking spaces within the development and 11 on-street parking spaces. City code requires a total of 57 parking spaces, based on the number of dwelling units, and does not allow off-street parking. City staff has asked Johnson to try adding additional parking on the south side of the property.
Johnson is requesting setbacks of 10 feet along Kittyhawk, 2 1/2 feet along Jacobs and 6 feet on the east side. City code requires 25 feet on Kittyhawk and Jacobs and 7 feet on east and west sides.
Several residents spoke against the proposal, citing concerns about parking, traffic, potential commercial remnants, and additional rental properties in the Original Mile neighborhood.
Molly Morrell said she has lived on Kittyhawk for nearly three decades. She said the proposed apartment would increase traffic and parking issues for the already crowded neighborhood.
“I’m not against homes being built in there. But the problems we have now will not be addressed with a $3.5 million apartment complex. It’s not going to help me at all,” she said.
Kimberly McNew, who lives in the Original Mile, spoke out against the project, specifically for concerns about parking, potential alcohol sales in the retail spaces, as well as increased noise to theneighborhood. She circulated a protest letter that was signed by over 350 residents.
“We don’t want this project in our neighborhood. And if the city passes this project they are not standing behind their residents of the Original Mile nor their own city ordinances,” she said.
Ward 1 Councilwoman Susan Eads, who represents the Original Mile, said she objects to issues of parking, the number of variances and the proposed developments deference to the city’s plans to increase home ownership in the neighborhood. She was also disappointed that the plan was never presented to the Original Mile Reinvestment Committee, which consists of residents in the neighborhood.
“These are people who have acted over the course of the last two years plus to try and address the needs and desire to reinvest in the Original Mile, and they were not afforded the opportunity to review or comment on this before it was presented to you all, other than to come to the community meeting that was held last week,” Eads said.
Ray Opalka, who owns a duplex on Babb Drive, said he likes the development but not in the neighborhood. He said the project would be better suited for an area served by a main thoroughfare.
“I love this establishment. This establishment rocks, but not where you have it planned,” he said.
Following the public discussion, Johnson addressed some of the main issues. He objected to concerns about the density of the project, saying the apartment complex would add only about 10-12 more people than if the property was developed with single-family houses. He said the off-street parking would not impede traffic on the roadway.
“If I didn’t feel it wasn’t adequate then I wouldn’t do it because I want the project to be successful,” he said.
After about an hour long public discussion, the commission spoke about the issue. Commissioner Dean Hinton and Jess Huskey said they liked the urban designed project, but believed it was not a good fit for the residential neighborhood.
“I think it’s a great, great plan and I’d love for someone to come to my neighborhood and invest $3.5 million but the neighbors don’t want it,” Huskey said.
Jay Dee Collins said the city made a wise decision years ago to redevelop the shopping center on SE 29th Street which included a portion of the Original Mile. He believed this development follows along that same vain.
“Change is not always bad and I think we need to have an open mind,” he said.
A motion by commission member Dean Hinton to recommend denial of the request failed 3-2. Collins later made a motion to approve that was passed 3-2.
The planning commission is an advisory board and does not have authority to approve the zoning request. The city council will consider the request at their Aug. 27 meeting.
Planning Commission members Stan Greil and Jim Campbell were not present.