NORMAN — City council members say they are not ready to approve a Kansas developer's plans to build a high-rise, student-oriented apartment building near Campus Corner.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday to reject a request from Chris Elsey, of Elsey Partners of Manhattan, Kan., to create a special planning district for a block of land between Boyd and McCullough streets from Monnett Avenue to the Boyd Street railroad tracks.
Elsey said the location is ideal for a high-density housing project that would promote “walkability” to the Campus Corner retail district and the University of Oklahoma campus.
He wants to construct a six-story, 75-foot building with 250 two-bedroom apartments on five levels, with an interior parking garage on the ground level. Conceivably, the building could house more than 500 people.
Norman's zoning ordinances do not allow for such a development, limiting housing density to 26 dwelling units per acre, Planning Director Susan Connors said. Elsey's project calls for upward of 100 dwelling units per acre.
City planners are working on setting policies for that type of project, because developers increasingly are bringing such proposals to them, Connors said.
But the policies are not ready yet, said Councilman Greg Jungman, “and we've committed to our residents that we would develop guidelines. We owe it to them to complete that commitment before approving any request for high-density developments.”
Creating a special planning district would be the only way under current zoning ordinances to accommodate what Elsey wants to do, Connors said.
To approve Elsey's request would be “putting the horse before the cart,” Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said. “We've got a land-use change suggested with no zoning request accompanying it so we can see what we would be getting. It's like being asked to write a blank check.”
Resident Cheryl Clayton said the mass and size of the building being proposed is out of proportion to its Campus Corner surroundings and would have an adverse effect on traffic, as well as aesthetics.
Elsey said he has built similar high-rise apartment buildings near Kansas State University in Manhattan and Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, and such projects are in demand because of growing student populations.
Rosenthal said Elsey's pictures “don't resemble anything like we talked about” in a series of public meetings held in June on high-density developments. At those meetings, residents looked at designs that incorporated unusual architectural elements and often featured high-rise apartments combined with retail establishments.
Councilman Jim Griffith said he was “excited” about the possibilities of mixed-use, high-density developments but couldn't support giving Elsey's project the go-ahead until guidelines for such projects are in place. He said Elsey could resubmit his project for approval later.