NORMAN — With chair Andy Sherrer excusing himself and at least one other commissioner absent, members of the Norman Planning Commission handed down a 3-3 split decision on a controversial requested zoning change to be presented to the Norman City Council.
The council now will have to make that decision without a recommendation from the planning commission as of Thursday’s meeting.
OSOI Tecumseh Development LLC and NE Development LLC, the applicant for the zoning change, asked for an amendment of the Norman 2025 Land Use and Transportation Plan from commercial designation to medium-density residential designation for the southwest corner of 36th Avenue Northwest and West Tecumseh Road.
According to city staff reports, “This multi-family development buffers the single-family residential area to the west from the commercial area east of 36th Avenue Northwest as well as the commercial corner adjacent to the multi-family proposal. This buffer element makes this an appropriate development for this site.”
Dozens of Ward 8 Norman residents protested the zoning change request, saying the area needs more commercial property. Opponents in the protest area also expressed concerns that three-story tall apartment buildings would create a privacy problem for neighboring single-family homes.
Officially, the amount of protest within the 350-foot area of notification was 40.3 percent — not enough to require a super majority vote for the change.
However, Castlerock HOA President Christie Remualdo said she and the Cascade HOA president estimate the residential protest level at closer to 90 percent of nearby housing additions, which collected more than 800 names on a petition of protest.
She also pointed out that several commercial properties in the notification area tilt the protest percentage downward and 40 percent does not represent the percentage of protesting residents who live in the area.
A screening wall, high-quality building materials, a buffer between apartments and single-family homes and other concessions were made by the developer to make the proposed Planned Unit Development more attractive to residential neighbors.
“I look at the alternative of what it could be,” Commissioner Curtis McCarty said.
McCarty said the C-1 commercial zoning could allow a big box store such as a Walmart to locate on the site. He voted in favor of allowing the change.
“The fact is you all didn’t get to make that choice about the apartments,” said Commissioner Jim Gassaway, who voted against recommending the change.
He said while residents are “rolling the dice” on what commercial establishment could end up there if the zoning isn’t changed, they chose to build homes near commercial, not multi-family zoning.
Attorney Sean Rieger, who represented the applicant, said zoning in the area that would have allowed for an apartment complex had been changed by the hospital to commercial zoning, making this spot a difficult sell for commercial, with three failed attempts since 1983 to market that spot as commercial.
The proposed Santa Rosa Addition would be an upscale, three-story apartment complex. In response to feedback from the pre-development meeting, two acres on the corner will remain commercial, with residents voicing a preference for a filling station and grocery store.