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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — In a sometimes tense four and a half hours, the City Council of Oklahoma City met on Tuesday to conduct the City’s business. 

Amid a steady increase in COVID cases in the state, the Council heard a presentation from the Oklahoma City-County Health Department on current numbers. COVID discussions came up in various other items on the Council’s agenda, but the body did not take any action whatsoever regarding mitigating the spread of the deadly disease.

The Council heard significant proposals for millions of dollars in Tax Increment Finance (TIF) money and other incentives offered to some corporations to build or relocate in Oklahoma City. 

This led to discussions of equity in housing in Oklahoma City.

Also, regarding housing in Oklahoma City, the Council voted in favor of contracting with Mental Health Association Oklahoma to administer a new program aimed at easing homelessness and poverty in Oklahoma City.

Finally, a zoning dispute focused the Council’s attention on one neighborhood’s desire to keep a developer from bringing affordable housing to their area because they do not desire the class of tenant they expect from such projects.

Marty Peercy reports Local government

COVID questions

Blaine Bolding, Chief of Public Health Protection at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, gave a presentation to the Council explaining the vaccine reception in central Oklahoma over the past seven months. 

He pointed out that the sharpest surges in cases and hospitalizations are among those who are not fully vaccinated.

Bolding would not go so far as to encourage a mask mandate, choosing to focus on vaccines. He said that while they still recommend all of the mitigating behaviors–masking, social distancing, hand washing, and limiting exposure to large groups of people, he reiterated that vaccines are where the focus should be.

“This vaccine is what ends the pandemic,” Bolding said.

Ward 1 Councilman Bradley Carter questioned Bolding about the science of vaccination at some length. He included questions about why somebody who already had COVID would want to get a vaccine. Bolding answered Carter’s questions, as well as other questions from the horseshoe.

Following that discussion, the Council went on to approve revocable permits for events that will be attended by thousands of people in our community.

A Better Way program

The Council voted unanimously to contract with Mental Health Association Oklahoma (MHAOK) to administer a new program for Oklahoma City designed to alleviate homelessness and poverty in our community.

A Better Way is a program that was devised in Albuquerque, NM several years ago. Through the program, participants are picked up and taken to do litter removal and beautification work in various places in the community. Participants are given lunch, and are paid for the day’s work. At the end of the day, participants are connected with services to help navigate housing and job placement.

MHAOK has been administering the A Better Way program in Tulsa for the last several years to much public celebration. The program will launch soon in Oklahoma City.

Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell asked MHAOK CEO Terri White if they would be able to supply a monthly report of deliverables. White explained what kind of data collection and reporting were required in the language of the contract.

In subsequent agenda discussion, Greenwell did not ask for monthly reports on deliverables from the two corporations asking for tax money for their businesses.

Boulevard Place proposal

A resolution was brought for introduction by the Oklahoma City Economic Development Trust to allocate over $7 million from two TIF districts to a new housing complex being built downtown. 

$1,500,000 is to come from Tax Increment District 2, and used to mitigate the pollution of the soil and groundwater at the site. $5,743,571 is to come from District 13 for other construction.

Boulevard Place Apartments is a project that was first approved in 2018. Since that time, plans and circumstances have changed in ways that the Trust believes should be mitigated by public money.

The developers bragged in their proposal about voluntarily creating an “affordable housing” program. While they are not being funded with General Obligation Limited Tax (GOLT) bond money, they are choosing to offer some units at prices below the market rate. In their program a 450 square foot studio would be offered “affordably” at $1,050 per month, utilities included.

It was pointed out that a minimum wage laborer could not be remotely able to afford that rent.

Ward 6 Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon (wife of this reporter) and Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper each pointed out that, in fact, they would be unable to afford that rent.

Hamon asked if only studios were available in their program. There are two two-bedroom units included in the program, though rent was not detailed.

MAPS 4 Package
Ward 6 Council member JoBeth Hamon poses questions about the values shown in parts of the MAPS 4 package Aug. 27, 2019. (file) (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

The presentation and following questions spurred a fairly robust discussion on housing affordability and equity in Oklahoma City. 

Ward 7 Councilwoman Nikki Nice again pointed out that these resources are being made available to areas that already have resources while other parts of the City are ignored. Cooper spoke out about his deep disappointment in the rise in projected rent prices for this project.

The developers explained that the costs of construction have risen dramatically during the pandemic. 

Ward 4 Councilman Todd Stone explained that a lot of builders are trying to start projects without knowing how much those projects will end up costing.

Hamon took that opportunity to point out that these issues under discussion are not unconnected. The pandemic’s disruption of the supply chain affected local jobs beyond construction. Affordable housing is in more demand now than ever.

Hamon asked what sort of return on investment the investors in this project expected to receive. 

While the developers said it could vary, they pointed out that 8% was the standard. Hamon then said, “If we give you this money, isn’t that what we–the public–become? Concerned investors?”

The resolution was introduced for final hearing, which will be held at the Council’s August 17 meeting.

Griffin Communications

As Free Press reported, Griffin Communications, parent company for Channel 9 and several other television stations and radio stations across the state, is preparing to purchase and renovate the Century Center in downtown Oklahoma City.

To learn more: TV News 9 parent company to purchase home of The Oklahoman

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the Economic Development Trust and David Griffin, CEO of Griffin Communications, asked the Council to consider a resolution asking for $2,700,000.

Griffin plans to make the downtown location the Oklahoma company’s corporate headquarters. The company plans to host a non-profit media center at the location.

Griffin Communications
As seen from the Colcord Hotel side, the Century Center building will be heavily renovated to accommodate Griffin Communications headquarters and News 9 studios. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

The building will continue to be the home of The Oklahoman newspaper, which will become the tenant in a smaller suite of offices at the location.

The Council voted to introduce the resolution. It will be up for the final hearing on August 17.

Manufactured Homes

One zoning item heard at Tuesday’s meeting was deferred from two weeks earlier.

The case, PUD-1820, is an application to change the land-use zoning from moderate industrial to a “planned unit development district.”

The applicant wishes to build a community of manufactured homes. These homes are built in a factory and placed on site for buyers. The applicant holds the land at 10801 Old 4 Highway in Ward 1.

According to the applicant’s attorney, David Box, there was a community meeting with the developer and the neighborhood on Monday evening. During that meeting, some neighbors said denigrating things about the type of people who would move into a community of manufactured homes.

Box explained to the Council that denying land use based on speculation about a “type” of person has no legal grounds.

Councilman Bradley Carter pushed back on Box saying that property values, school overcrowding, and flooding were at the center of the concerns of the neighbors.

Two neighbors signed up to speak in protest. One, in addition to describing the undesirability of current traffic congestion, also claimed that he had driven through another neighborhood the developer created and that he wouldn’t go there after dark, even if armed.

Discussion of the issue led to Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher to ask if the item could be deferred and discussed in Executive Session at a future meeting.

Carter moved to defer and the Council voted unanimously in favor.

The Council meets again on August 17 at 8:30 a.m.

Last Updated August 10, 2021, 2:26 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor