There’s a difference between the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Regulations. The two are sometimes confused in online discussions and those conversations aren’t going anywhere without an understanding of the basic vocabulary.
A comprehensive plan is an idea and policy document that sets goals. A zoning code is a law that helps make it possible to realize the goals of the Comprehensive Plan.
The Zoning Code is the City ordinance that regulates land use and bulk and area requirements like setbacks, lot size, building height, etc. It is law. There are many ways to set up regulations of that sort and the zoning code we currently have is similar to many codes across the country. However, it was last overhauled in 1970 and is not equipped to be the tool needed to implement the new Comprehensive Plan policies.
There is a consultant working on a complete new zoning code now. We can expect to see first drafts late this year, followed by public comment, revisions, debate, more drafts, more debate and more revisions until it’s as close to right as we can make it.
PLANiTULSA is our new Comprehensive Plan. It’s not a law, it’s a policy document. It was adopted in 2010 after 2-3 years of hard work by a highly regarded expert consultant, with direction by a large citizens committee, expert city planning staff, and input from literally thousands of Tulsans in an unprecedented number of open, well publicized community meetings. It represents the best democratic effort we’ve ever seen to write an updated policy document that will provide guidance for growth of the city over time.
It would be impossible to write a policy document that nails down every last detail of current and future growth. It would also be inappropriate to develop those details without input from the people directly affected by the policy — those who live in the neighborhood. So PLANiTULSA provided for a system by which areas of town could be studied more closely in a Small Area Plan. The Small Area Plan process is deliberate, thoughtful and takes a lot of time and talent. As they are made, it will be common to bring in outside consultants who have specific expertise dealing with the unique challenges in each area of town.
This post really came about from an exchange I had on Facebook and the conversation ranged beyond just the differences between the two documents. Sometimes I let myself get drawn in when I know there are better things to do.
The other commenter implied there was something wrong with having outside consultants provide their expertise in our planning activities. He cited a presentation made at a small area planning workshop and named two consultants from Atlanta who were invited to present ideas on transportation planning. The Commenter said, “Hmmm, I guess being 1,000 miles away is close enough to know what Tulsa’s problems are.” He went on to ‘strengthen’ his argument against them by trying to denigrate their LEED credentials, saying, “If you go to the U.S. Green Building Council’s website who issue the LEED certification, becoming AP and Associate certified takes 4 hour and 2 hour (respectively) online tests. Wow! Who’d have thought it would be such a rigorous course! A few hundred dollars and an afternoon of studying and I can be LEED certified too!”
Classic small world view: Nobody is as good as the home team, all others must be shunned. Let’s trivialize what we don’t understand so maybe we’ll look smarter than we obviously are.
So, still on my high horse, I told him: “The presentation you referred to was part of a presentation at a visioning workshop in September 2012 for the Utica Corridor. The two people making that presentation were from a large consulting firm with expertise in transportation planning. I don’t know who invited them to provide the document but it’s a good one.” “Tulsa is fortunate to have many talented people with expertise and creative ideas. Many times those people will be part of the planning process. Many times also, outside firms will be invited to help us get a broader perspective. Ultimately the decisions are ours as to what solutions to adopt.”
His followup comment to mine started running further out in the weeds so, realizing the forum we were in was too small to spend any more time trying to further the conversation, I bid him goodbye and came here to write this… and this.