Members of the Westwood Neighborhood Association donned their signature green T-shirts Monday night and turned out in force to express their objections to a rezoning request at 302 S. Walnut St. The property in question lies on the far eastern edge of the Westwood Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District that was created in 2011 in response to long-term resident concerns about blocked streets, cars parked on lawns, houses packed full of collegiate renters and party houses.
Since its adoption, the neighborhood association has watched properties in the district closely and ensured standards regarding parking and the number of unrelated people living in one house are enforced by the City of Stillwater.
They are protective of the neighborhood they call home and proud of the new elementary school that serves as its heart.
Bob Graalman said his family has lived in the Westwood area for 40 years and property use in the neighborhood has been a concern for them for a while.
He and his wife were involved about 20 years ago with a citywide initiative to limit the number of renters who could live in a property and to ban parking on lawns. Voters didn’t approve the measure but about 10 years later, the Westwood neighbors organized again when they began to feel the situation in their neighborhood had gotten out of control.
“We all agree the situation has stabilized after years of uncertainty,” Graalman said. “But we’re subjected to routine probing by developers working around the edges.”
Now an attempt to rezone a property for office development so Gamma Phi Beta sorority can remove the existing house and build a 13-space parking lot on it has raised an alarm.
Shelly Pulliam from the Gamma Phi Beta house corporation said the sorority wants to build the lot to satisfy City of Stillwater requirements that it provide one parking space for each bed in its expanded house.
“We’re trying to do our due diligence, to do what the city requires and be respectful to our neighbors,” Pulliam said.
Parking space could be leased on the Oklahoma State University campus, but the distance from the house creates a concern about safety when the women who have to walk home late at night. The proposed lot would be across from their house.
More than one person pointed to parking problems as an ongoing problem in the area around the university, especially around the Greek houses. Constant growth only makes it worse year over year.
Westwood resident Johnathan Rogers said he feels bad for the Gamma Phis, but doesn’t believe that building this parking lot is the answer.
“I would argue it’s a temporary fix to a long-term problem,” he said.
Rogers said he believes the community and OSU need to get together to really fix the problem.
Mayor Will Joyce pointed out that if the land were rezoned, the development wouldn’t be legally limited to a parking lot. No matter what the sorority intends, an office or a daycare center or any of a list of possible commercial uses could be built in the middle of a residential block and no one would be able to stop it. That’s why the City Council has to look at zoning without considering the specific use the developer is proposing. Because plans change, people can change their minds and property changes hands.
Vice-mayor Pat Darlington was surprised to hear the neighbors and representatives from the sorority house had not met to try to work out a solution.
The City Council ultimately accepted a recommendation from the Stillwater Planning Commission to deny the rezone.
“Both of you have very important and serious problems … everybody has a compelling argument,” she said.
Darlington urged them to work together to solve those problems in a mutually beneficial way.
Joyce said he would like to see the City actually look at some of the data produced during a 2013 parking study that included the Greek area near OSU. He would like to put together a task force to begin developing a better solution for the parking problems sorority and fraternity houses and the surrounding neighborhoods are dealing with.
“It’s a mess,” he said.