In another nearly eight-hour meeting of the City Council, Oklahoma City’s mask mandate was renewed for another eight weeks. Meanwhile, the Council failed again to make a decision about appealing the decision to overturn their much-maligned panhandling ordinance.
Council also took two complicated zoning cases into consideration and allocated CARES money to assist minority-owned businesses.
The attention grabbing news of the day in council came from a briefing by the Oklahoma City-County Health Department. During that presentation, which was offered to shed light on the relative success of mask mandates, the Council was informed that there are no ICU beds available in Oklahoma City.
Dr. Heather Yazdanipour, Regional Medical Response System Director at EMSA, explained that that lack of open Intensive Care beds was about staffing, rather than physical beds. She stated that Oklahoma City is experiencing a nursing and physician shortage. Some patients, for example those transferred from the Department of Corrections, require 24-hour observation. “It takes more hands,” Yazdanipour said.
The Council voted 6-2 on the renewal of the mask ordinance. Larry McAtee of Ward 3 voted against. He said in the meeting that he believes the mask ordinance works better if requested instead of being required.
He was joined in voting no by Ward 4 Councilman Todd Stone who today drew a challenger for his seat in the person of Sam Wargin Grimaldo.
In the following vote to declare the item an “emergency,” meaning that it would go into effect immediately, McAtee alone voted no.
The mandate will expire again on December 7. Judging from the information provided by the Health Department, this pandemic is bad enough that the Council will have to hear this issue again before that time.
Helm Farm zoning
A zoning case deferred from Council’s last meeting returned for final hearing. A Special Project Use Development (SPUD) application for three parcels in the City’s Helm Farm neighborhood has been protested by neighbors. The neighborhood is between N. Classen and Western around 43rd and 42nd.
Concerns include the potential size of new homes being built and affordability of those homes. Members of the neighborhood pointed out that the neighborhood includes many renters who may be displaced by the rise in value of lots if developers start buying other properties in the neighborhood.
In the hour-long discussion of the potential development – slated to take up three different parcels near 4320 N. Military — the Council heard from the developer’s legal counsel, David Box, and several members of the neighborhood association.
Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper said he could only support moving forward with the SPUD if it was limited to one of the three parcels for now. Cooper moved to deny the application. That motion failed 3-6, with Hamon and Nice joining Cooper. Ward 1 Councilman James Greiner then moved to approve the application, which passed with the same vote.
Reached by direct message, Cassidy Smith, Helm Park Neighborhood Association President, said, “Helm Farm is disheartened by today’s decision after several months of trying to come to the table with the developer and find some common ground–including a simple request to complete this project in phases…”
“The request did not seem unreasonable as even the Planning Commission noted that this project should have been split into two proposals,” wrote Smith.
“Unfortunately, we feel this will become more common in communities like ours who are not protected through Historic Preservation. I understand the need for a mixture of housing stock in the urban core, but putting profits over the needs of an attainable living area has begun to make us feel as if we have a large target on our backs.”
Another, more hotly contested, zoning issue then came before the Council. At NW 37th and Classen, an applicant wishes to open a retail medical cannabis dispensary in a building that is currently zoned for office use. The applicant has made many efforts to appease some members of the Putnam Heights neighborhood.
David Box, attorney representing the applicant, said, “Historic Preservation Districts always think that the sky is falling.”
Suzanne Broadbent and Eric Groves lead a contingent of neighbors surrounding the proposed retail location who made up an 85% protest to the rezoning. The protestors made various slippery slope arguments about allowing retail onto the block along Classen Boulevard’s six lanes. Groves stated that the area provides a “vista of office buildings.”
Online, members of the neighborhood association told me that this was classic “NIMBYism.” NIMBY– meaning “Not in my backyard,”– is a commonly used phrase to describe neighborhood members who don’t want some types of people, businesses, or homes near their own homes.
Whether or not this was “NIMBYism” is for somebody else to decide. As for the decision of the council, Cooper chose to move for denial stating that “it will be voted down anyway.”
The application was denied by vote of the Council.
The Council approved an amendment for reallocation of $2 million of the City’s CARES Act funds from City costs to the Small Business Continuity Program. The money will go to grants and loans and other services to lift up minority-owned businesses in Oklahoma City.
Minority-owned businesses have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. The amendment to the CARES spending will enable the Alliance for Economic Development to assist with grants of $25,000 to businesses with fewer than 25 employees, as well as technical assistance and resiliency planning help.
A proposed resolution to proclaim October 26 as Intersex Awareness Day was brought up by Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper and Ward 6 Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon. The proclamation aimed to declare the day a day of awareness of a segment of our community who people know little about.
Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher explained that he was against unfair and inhumane treatment of all sorts, then went on to explain that he couldn’t support the resolution.
The resolution passed 4-3. Ward 1’s James Greiner and Ward 5’s David Greenwell were not present for that portion of the meeting.
Finally, in the Executive Session, the Council took up the subject of whether or not to appeal the panhandling ordinance recently ruled unconstitutional by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Before moving the item to private discussion, the Council heard from three callers.
First was Ranya Forgotson who explained that in addition to the ordinance being onerous, it has been ineffective. Panhandling is not down across the city. Furthermore, Forgotson said that if somebody is desperate enough to ask for money on a median, a ticket can only expand their desperation.
After the Executive Session, the Council returned and voted to defer the item another two weeks.
After a considerable amount of time has been spent on this important issue, and $234,000 in city legal fees incurred so far, the body found themselves still unable to make a decision.
The City Council meets again on October 27.
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