By Chris Day
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Stillwater city councilors listened to residents again at Monday’s meeting, delaying a rezoning vote on 5.1 acres at 1000 E. Virginia Ave. until the May 20 meeting.
Neighborhood residents asked councilors for the delay while landowner J. Walker Housing Concepts, Inc., and an attorney hired by the residents completed a deed covenant that establishes age 62 as the minimum age for people living in the duplexes and requires a return to single-family home zoning if the project falls through, said Kelly Harris of Keystone Engineering, who represents the developer.
J. Walker Housing Concepts, Inc., wants to build senior housing on the property, and is seeking a federal grant to fund some of the project.
The zoning issue originally arose in February and March. In February, the Planning Commission voted 3-2 against rezoning to allow duplexes and apartments on the property.
On March 4, Harris, representing the developer, asked city councilors to change the zoning to allow duplexes only. Several residents spoke against that change because it didn’t guarantee the duplexes would be used for senior housing.
Planning Commission member Becky Teague implored councilors to ask city planners to develop a senior housing overlay district for the city. Stillwater needs a mechanism that encourages senior housing development but causes property zoning to revert to single-family if the project fails, Teague said in March.
Teague and other neighborhood residents returned to the Municipal Building Monday night. The residents said they supported the senior housing development in their neighborhood, but wanted to know what happened to the overlay district.
“My heart is personally broken,” Teague said. “I think it would have been good for Stillwater. I’ve had no answers back and I’m personally frustrated. I would not like to drop the ball tonight on a senior (housing) overlay district even though it’s not a possibility or a vehicle tonight for this.”
Neighborhood residents and Harris developed an alternative to a senior housing overlay district because they couldn’t get updates from city staff on its progress.
The deed restrictions were the alternative, Teague said.
The residents were disappointed when those restrictions were not filed in Payne County before Monday’s meeting.
“Why isn’t the document here?” she said.
The goal, Harris said, was to have the deed restrictions filed at the Payne County Courthouse by Monday, but it didn’t happen. She indicated the developer would be able to file the deed covenant by the May 20 meeting and the delay would not harm his grant application.
“The neighbors are upset with me for not getting that done by today (Monday), and I do apologize,” she said.
City Attorney John Dorman told councilors deed covenants had no bearing on the zoning request. They are a private issue between the neighborhood residents and the developer.
Dorman and Department of Development Services Director Paula Dennison told councilors an ad-hoc land-development committee that included two city councilors met numerous times about a senior housing overlay district.
A senior housing overlay district must be designed to encourage development of senior housing opportunities — not restrict who has the right to live in those developments, Dennison said.
The federal Fair Housing Act allows exclusionary zoning like an overlay district, but a municipally zoned area must encourage development of a specific-type of community or facility. In this case, senior housing, Dorman said.
“You are trying to encourage this development. You can’t use it a shield to protect neighboring neighborhoods or residents or things like that. ... If you want to consider an overlay, you have to look at it in a very large scope — an inclusionary-type scope,” Dorman said.