The latest news on what’s happening with the outlet mall on Turkey Mountain is twofold: it’s not unexpected, but it’s also very revealing.
The Simon Group recently submitted more detailed plans for its proposed Premium Outlets project that it wants to build on the west side of Turkey Mountain. The site is on a privately held parcel next to the Westside YMCA and undeveloped wild land that is part of the greater Turkey Mountain area.
Simon is promising jobs and shopping. What it wants is permission to build right on top of one of the last urban green spaces left in the city, and they’ll be asking for help from the city in the form of a tax increment finance district designation, which is basically a temporary subsidy funded by you and me so they can make the needed infrastructure improvements.
If you’ve read past posts on this topic before, you know I’m not in favor of building an outlet mall there. To recap my reasoning:
The site is a bad place for a mall. The roads leading to the site are just two lanes wide, they’re very hilly, and feature a couple of sharp turns as 61st Street turns into Elwood. Traffic in that area is already bad and will grow worse by several magnitudes if a shopping center goes up there. Widening those roads will be a nightmare to people already living nearby, and it will only get worse if and when that mall opens.
A multi-billion dollar company like Simon shouldn’t be asking for taxpayer money to build an outlet mall on such a bad site. TIF districts can be good, particularly if they end up paying off in the long run. But given how bad this site is, and how much money Simon has, approving this plan AND handing over taxpayer money is just wrong.
No matter how it’s built, an outlet mall cannot be a good neighbor. Representatives from the Westside YMCA have already gone on record with KJRH-TV that they have concerns about what a mall right on top of them would mean in terms of YMCA camper experience and erosion (I’ll get into that point in a minute). And I’ve already mentioned what’s in store for the residents living nearby if Simon moves in.
A collection of 80 stores, lots of cars and a huge parking lot presents serious drainage and pollution concerns. The proposed mall site is on a flat space with a steep dropoff into a ravine that drains into Mooser Creek, a diverse and fragile ecosystem of which all of Turkey Mountain is connected. The mall site would present rainwater runoff concerns in the form of erosion and upstream pollution from all those cars and trash dumpsters. And given how much trash already blows around, the outlet mall would only add to that problem. Simon contends it can angle parking lot lighting away from the rest of Turkey Mountain, but no matter what they do, light pollution will be present.
Wild land and a commercial shopping development are not compatible. It’s already been established that the River Parks Authority and the Kaiser Family Foundation – the two main stakeholders on Turkey Mountain – have no plans to do anything but keep the urban wilderness area wild. Wildlife in the area already deal with a fairly compressed environment, and taking a big chunk of that away would only stress those populations more.
The outlet mall at Turkey Mountain would degrade quality of life for Tulsa. Notice I didn’t say an outlet mall on its own is a bad thing. But rather an outlet mall in that location would degrade a real asset for the city, an area with more than 40 miles of wooded trails for hikers, cyclists, runners, geocachers and equestrians. Individuals and families go there to experience nature on its terms without having to drive out of the city. As it exists, the greater Turkey Mountain area is a prime site for people to get outside, exercise and get in tune with nature like no other place in the city. Plopping a mall on a chunk of that land would degrade the experience.
ON TO THE NEWS…
Simon’s more detailed proposal as submitted to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission reveals a few interesting notes. For starters, it still includes just one entry and exit, a problem given the amount of traffic one might expect at a large retail center, and magnified when you’re talking about a two-lane road feeding it.
The edge of the development will butt right up against a steep dropoff into a drainage area to the east, so those erosion and drainage issues are very real. I’d hoped that they’d at least put some distance between the mall and the ravine, but their drawings show that is not the case.
Simon suggested that they might be willing to include some sort of trail, if feasible, into their plans. So they’re throwing us a bone. Sort of.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
If this mall proposal bothers you, there are some things you can do. So here are my suggestions:
Email the mayor’s office and each of the members of the Tulsa City Council. Respectfully and concisely let them know how you feel, and why you don’t want an outlet mall at that location. You might be reminded that it’s private property, but you still have a say in how and if projects like this are approved or denied. Contact the mayor here, and find contacts for the city council here.
If you haven’t already done so, sign the electronic petition. There are more than 6,900 signatures on it now. Add to that number here.
Attend future meetings of the Planning Commission and, if it gets that far, the Tulsa City Council, when this development is being discussed. The more faces these people see and voices they hear, the more city officials will listen. On Thursday, Feb. 19, the Planning Review Committee, immediately following the 1:30 p.m. TAC meeting, will meet at 2 West 2nd Street, 8th Floor, in the Large Conference Room of the Williams Tower II Building in downtown Tulsa. No comment is taken at this meeting, but a large, silent crowd will make an impression. And then during a follow-up meeting, zoning changes and corridor plans will be reviewed March 18 at 1:30 p.m., 175 East 2nd Street, 2nd Level, One Technology Center, in the Tulsa City Council Chambers. They will take public comment at that meeting. Be at those meetings if you can.
Find ways to volunteer. There are periodic cleanup and trail maintenance days out at Turkey Mountain, so be looking for opportunities to join such efforts. Also, consider joining the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition, which is actively advocating for preserving and promoting Turkey Mountain as well as organizing activities like those cleanup days, among other things.
Keep using the trails, and spread the word to people you know how great it is. Many people still don’t know much about Turkey Mountain, and they won’t care about a place they don’t know or ever see. This tide is swinging the other way now, and for the better. But the more people who care about Turkey Mountain, the more city leaders will take their points of view into consideration.
Stay tuned, get active, and I’ll see you out on the trails.