There has been a lot of action on the plan to build an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain, with representatives of the Simon Group meeting with members of the community and city officials as the approval process grinds on.
Simon reps has been putting on a charm offensive just before going over their plans with the Tulsa Area Planning Commission, and they even met with members of the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition to discuss that group’s concerns about the mall proposal a few days before the Planning Commission meeting took place last week.
I got a summary of how that meeting with coalition members went, and I attended the Planning Commission meeting on Thursday. Here’s a breakdown of what we’ve learned from last week’s meetings:
Simon claims to have plans for a five- to six- lane bridge and that the state Department of Transportation will allow them to replace the 61st Street bridge at their own expense. Simon intends to get a tax increment finance district designation from the city to reimburse them for this expense, which is essentially a tax break on things like property taxes to be repaid over time if/when property values rise and other revenues from the project come in (not a sure bet). That still does not address the traffic impact on the Interstate 44/U.S. 75 interchange. Coalition members showed them the problematic access issues with the dysfunctional service roads on both sides of I-44 as well as the short merge areas on U.S. 75 over I- 44.
Simon offered no answer for the public safety issue of the Elwood Avenue and 61st Street corridor to the east of the property entrance for their strip mall. John Dionis, with Simon, blames park users for making the road dangerous by parking on the sides of the road. It was pointed out that is the pent-up demand for recreation and green space.
Simon has no plan in place to deal with trash blowing from their property onto adjacent properties. This is something the actual permanent site management will apparently address once it is hired and placed on site. Adjacent properties include the Westside YMCA (which hosts summer camps for kids, among other programs) and wild land used by hikers, cyclists, equestrians and other people seeing time outdoors.
Simon appears reluctant to share any of its 2,000 parking spaces with trail users. Instead, the company plans to go to the George Kaiser Family Foundation (one of the property owners adjacent to the proposed mall site) and see if the foundation would mind tearing up its property to put an additional 50 or so parking spaces and trailhead access. It’s been communicated to Simon that trail users do not want to sacrifice even more wild land for parking.
Simon claims its retaining walls will be constructed of wood. At some point, the fill area to be contained by these retaining walls will be 70 feet high. Though terraced in 10- to 15-foot sections, this bears more scrutiny.
Simon is projecting 750 cars per hour transiting the mall site at peak times. A traffic study was mentioned at last week’s Planning Commission meeting, but it was not presented at that time. There is no way right now to examine how Simon got to that number. Regardless, this is pretty heavy traffic for a single entry-exit plan on a road that will taper to two lanes just east of the proposed mall site’s access point.
Coalition members explained they are concerned about contaminants in the stormwater runoff. Simon claims it has ways to address this, but other than describing use of a greenbelt and different kinds of plants and soils to absorb such runoff, those plans are still a little vague. During last week’s Planning Commission meeting, a Simon official basically said they’ve done scores of similar projects before and to just “trust us.” I hope that condescending brush-off did not go unnoticed by the Planning Commission. It certainly did not escape me.
Coalition members pointed out the sightline issue from the ridge to the east and how this ruins the experience for trail users. Simon claims it will have its architect meet with coalition members, walk the valley and western leg of Snake Trail and devise a way to make the view more palatable. This shows they likely have never walked this area, just the property they intend to develop. One might describe that as a case of disconnect.
Simon said there was no possibility of developing on another site or partnering with one of the other developments. A site between 61st & 71st, Union and U.S. 75 apparently had bigger site challenges than this site.
Simon fully believes it can have a widened bridge over U.S. 75 done, site work complete, and open for business in fall 2016. More than a few people find this hard to believe.
A CHILLY RECEPTION
The Planning Commission meeting went as you’d expect, but with a few interesting twists. After trying to butter up the locals with how much they enjoyed Tulsa barbecue, Simon reps presented their plans, answered questions, and then declined to talk to local media covering the meeting.
What was interesting to me was how many questions Planning Commission members asked, and how they specifically mirrored the concerns that me and many others have been driving home over the past few months. What that tells me is that they have been hearing the message from people in the community.
They’re not alone. Apparently, so have many Tulsa City Council members. In a story in Sunday’s Tulsa World, a good number of city councilors voiced displeasure at the proposed mall plan. One councilor, Jeanie Cue (whose district is includes Turkey Mountain and the proposed mall site) is going to hold a public forum to discuss it. At this point, only Mayor Dewey Bartlett and his staff seem to be for it. The rest of the council – which has final say in whether or not this happens – seems far less enthusiastic.
That tells me the message is getting through. As the public educates itself on the problems of the site, and what’s at stake, more and more people are souring on Simon’s plan. It’s not that people don’t want an outlet mall, they just don’t want one that eats into the city’s best urban green space – an asset prized and promoted by the city – and they don’t want one that looms over a great facility like the Westside Y.
It also tells me that councilors are hearing from voters, and they’re listening. Letters and emails keep coming. The online petition keeps growing.
I have no problem with Simon or anyone opening an outlet mall in Tulsa, just not there. More and more of you seem to agree.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
Clearly, this is not a done deal for Simon. Anything but. But stopping it from happening is also not a done deal. So here are some suggestions:
If you haven’t written city council members and the mayor, do it. Encourage dialogue. Write respectful, concise and well thought-out letters and emails, but plainly state your case. And don’t just write your councilor. Write all of them. Get their contact information here, and contact the mayor here.
If you live in District 2, go to the public meeting Councilor Cue is hosting. Be there, bring your neighbors, and let your voice be heard. Turkey Mountain is important to all Tulsans and beyond, but it specifically affects her and her constituents. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. March 17 at the Marriott Tulsa Southern Hills, 1902 E. 71st Street.
If you can, be at the next Planning Commission meeting. Public input will be allowed at this meeting, and the commission needs to hear your concerns. And you can bet that those accountable to voters – the mayor and the council – will be paying attention to what happens there. The meeting is at 1:30 p.m. March 18 at 175 East 2nd Street, 2nd Level, One Technology Center, in the Tulsa City Council Chambers.
If you haven’t signed the online petition, do so. It’s well over 7,300 signatures now. Numbers matter. Be part of that growing list. Go to the petition here.
Volunteer to be a part of the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition. Turkey Mountain and other vital outdoor green spaces in the area are the things this group is trying to protect and promote, and the group does good work. More great things are in the future, including continued advocacy for the greater Turkey Mountain area. Learn more about TUWC and how to join here.