It just wasn’t Braum’s day in the Oklahoma City Planning Commission Thursday.
Braum’s wants to buy and demolish the Classen Grill building and the Donnay building that holds the popular Drunken Fry and Hi-Lo Club. They have contingency contracts to buy both.
But they won’t unless they get some small empty lots rezoned from their current Residential – 1 classification.
That will take their plan being heard by the Planning Commission and then passed on to the City Council for final action.
They couldn’t get past the Planning Commission, though.
And when the chair of the Commission asked the crowd how many were there against the Braum’s plan, a majority raised their hands.
Braum’s representatives sat motionless.
The measure needed 5 votes in favor, but got a 3-4 vote against it.
Initially, it appeared that Commissioner Mary Coffey voted yes, then abstained without comment, which would have produced a tie vote as we first reported. But video of the vote board at the proceedings shows that she slowly changed her vote to no.*
Then commissioners voted on a motion to just forward it on to City Council without a recommendation.
Even that vote didn’t get the five needed to send it to City Council. It was 4-3 in favor.
The proposal is automatically continued unless Braum’s decides to withdraw or change it.
David Box, attorney for Braum’s, told Free Press the measure could be back onto the commission’s agenda for the Oct. 12 meeting but he would have to confer with his clients about strategy.
One of the protest leaders since August, Mark Faulk, told Free Press after the meeting that it was a win for them in that the plan has not advanced.
“I’m going to consider this a qualified win,” Faulk said.
Braum’s officials and Box had presented their plan in a community meeting Sept. 18 with little resolved.
Most of those present in the crowd Thursday raised their hand when Chair Janis Powers asked “how many here are against Braum’s developing this site?”
The triangle of land bordered by Classen Circle, N. Military Avenue and NW 50th Street is where they want to put a new Braum’s store with parking. But Braum’s needs the whole thing to make the plan work.
They already have a block of residential lots in one corner of the triangle.
Those lots need to be rezoned from their current residential zoning to a modified C-3 zoning to allow that to happen.
The rest of the triangle is zoned C-4, which allows just about any kind of commercial activity. C-4 is so intensive the city doesn’t even allow that level of zoning any more.
A representative of the owner of the rest of the triangle that is zoned C-4 said that if the Braum’s deal doesn’t go through the owner plans to tear down the Donnay and Classen Grill buildings anyway to pursue another use for his roughly three-quarters of property.
He said the owner would redevelop fully using the C-4 zoning.
Box then used those statements later as leverage in his argument for Braum’s planned use.
“Would you rather have a Braum’s or a C-4 development?” Box asked the commissioners.
Most of the objections voiced to the commission by neighbors and fans of the three businesses focused on traffic problems they thought were sure to happen with the added drive-thru and frequent in-and-out business of a Braum’s store.
Faulk and Lynn Rostochil, another protest leader, emphasized the heavier traffic load on the area and the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods.
“This area will not stand that amount of traffic,” Faulk said about the impact of the planned Braum’s store.
Rostochil pushed for a traffic study ahead of a vote also arguing the impact of expected traffic increase for a Braum’s.
She also warned about the impact on the surrounding neighborhoods to the east and south.
“This is an encroachment on the neighborhood,” she said.
Tanya Felter worked up her own traffic study and handed out copies of a map she made of current traffic patterns around the triangle.
Vicki Broaddrick was concerned that traffic would begin to devalue the surrounding neighborhoods which would cause further business development to replace housing.
“That is just chipping away at our residential area,” Broaddrick said.
“If this plan goes through, it’s going to cause flooding, lawsuits and wrecks,” said Mary Larsen Keso.
“This plan would only exacerbate an already complex and confusing situation,” Alex Pedraza argued before the commission.
He said if passed, the plan would create a “precedent” that would be “dangerous.”
“This would change the fundamental character of the neighborhood,” Pedraza said.
Catherine Johnson, Robyn Arn and Jane Alsup all came to the podium to give variations of the argument that the traffic would cause dangerous problems to the area.
No big plan
But the biggest problem for Braum’s Thursday was that some of the commissioners also had big questions about how the plan would impact the larger traffic patterns that are already some of the most complex in the city.
Originally, the three way intersection of Northwest Expressway, Classen Boulevard, and what was then Route 66 intersected in a wide traffic circle which was eliminated in later years.
After the circle was taken out, traffic was routed through a wide, signaled intersection.
Traffic around the triangle nearby has limited interface with the Northwest Expressway on the way to blending into I-44 eastbound.
The most persistent objection to Braum’s plan was from Janis Powers, Ward 2 commissioner and chair of the commission.
“This is the worst possible place where you are hoping to attract a lot of traffic,” said Powers to Box about Braum’s plan.
And she seemed to be encouraging a larger discussion that the proposal did not allow.
“If we are going to redevelop that site, let’s redevelop that whole side,” Powers said.
Scott Cravens, Ward 8 commissioner, argued for the plan seeming to accept Box’s earlier argument.
“It is significantly more threatening if this is developed as C-4,” Cravens said.
By the end of the business day, most were speculating that Braum’s would make another try at getting a plan past the Planning Commission at their next meeting Oct. 12.
But there is was no certainty about when Braum’s would be back and whether the proposal would be in the same form when or if it does.
UPDATE: 9/29/17 1126 hrs – The original version of this story showed a tie vote 3-3 with Commissioner Coffey abstaining. The city provided video of the proceedings Friday morning showing that Coffey slowly changed her vote to a no. Also, we have added that the proposal was automatically continued since it didn’t get either 5 votes for or against on either vote.