A group of Heritage Hills residents is challenging plans for a MidTown housing project, arguing the $34 million mixed-use development will hurt their neighborhood.
A string of emails circulating this week, one from Alicia and Scott Champion, another from Darci Shafer, claim developer Gary Brooks never consulted with the historic downtown neighborhood on plans for The Edge apartments, which will be built south of NW 13 between Walker and Dewey avenues.
Shafer, who owns a home on NW 14, said she only became aware of the development during a recent chat with a neighbor. In an email to dozens of neighbors, Shafer urged them to organize a protest at a meeting of the Downtown Design Review Committee on Thursday, where an application on the project's final designs is set to be considered for approval.
“We had no way of knowing this was about happen,” Shafer told The Oklahoman. “No one told any of us on NW 14 this was coming.”
Shafter said she is worried the project will cause problems with the area's power grid, water pressure and traffic. She also alleged the project was kept a secret from the neighborhood.
The Champions, meanwhile, warned fellow residents their neighborhood will be subject to rolling brownouts if the project is built, and said they would prefer to see the site built as for-sale condominiums up to three stories tall.
Development of the site has been in the works since the late 1990s after the city cleared the blighted former home of Mercy Hospital, which stood boarded-up and vandalized for a quarter century. Developer Nicholas Preftakes was originally OK'd by the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority to replace the six-story hospital with new apartments. The deal fell through when Preftakes insisted he needed more property to the south.
A second deal approved in 2006 with developer Chuck Wiggin to build upscale for-sale condominiums in a series of towers ranging from four- to eight-stories high also fell through following the collapse of economic conditions in 2008.
The Urban Renewal Authority signed a development contract with Brooks after a public competition reported on extensively by The Oklahoman. Brooks was one of four finalists competing for the Urban Renewal project, and was the only developer who was not a resident of Heritage Hills.
As residents began to voice concerns in late
“Once you've worked through almost the entire process, and now we're focused on questions of design from an exterior standpoint, it's difficult to go back to the very first part of the process when you're literally so many months into the whole process and approvals you have to conform with,”
The prior reviews included an evaluation of each proposed development's density and design compiled by a review committee convened by Urban Renewal. The committee included Steve Jacobi, president of Historic Preservation Inc., the Heritage Hills neighborhood association.
Shafer questioned whether Jacobi took any action to keep residents informed about the development.
At a meeting of upset Heritage Hills residents Thursday night, Jacobi
“People say they're surprised to have four-story buildings on that site,” Jacobi said. “I have no idea why. … I was fairly surprised that people were surprised.”
During the meeting Thursday, residents were unconvinced as they were told that their neighborhood is on a separate power grid from the apartment site and that the neighborhood does not have any water pressure problems.
Some, including Champion in her email, argued that nearby MidTown would not be attractive to developers if not for the efforts of Historic Preservation Inc.'s founders, including Charles Coley, to create stringent preservation requirements for the neighborhood.
“Downtown is where it is because of who we are,” said Carolyn Hubbard, Coley's daughter. “They want to leach off of us.”
Other residents attending Thursday's meeting argued they do not want to see their area school, Wilson Elementary, and their neighborhood park overwhelmed with residents from the apartment complex. The group of about two dozen people also complained they believe the apartments, which will rent for $1,000 a month and up, will bring down property values.
A.J. Winters, a resident of Harvey Lofts in MidTown, about a block east of the project, dismissed the concerns of the Heritage Hills residents. Winters said he bought a condominium at the Harvey Lofts because of the area's emerging urban mix of housing, restaurants and retail. He also noted his property values have gone up even though apartments are located next to the lofts.
“It's not like this project is a low-income housing development,” Winters said. “These are young professionals, the type who eat out four days a week, go out, and want to be part of a vibrant community. … They'll all be buying homes in these surrounding neighborhoods 20 to 30 years from now.”
“More is better in an urban district,” he said. “It is in an urban area. It is part of a restaurant row, where there are units going up down the street, and potentially a hotel.”
Also ... Oklahoma City police records show no violent crime incidents responded to in 2011 at the five-year-old, 303-unit Legacy at Arts at NW 5 and Walker. No traffic backups were observed outside the complex during morning and evening rush hours on Thursday.