Steve Lackmeyer: Protests against Oklahoma City hotel, office projects suggest design matters

Two Oklahoma City projects raise questions about downtown design standards.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: June 21, 2013
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A similar diversion took place with attorney John Hunsucker, who is hoping to build a two-story law office at 600 W Sheridan Ave. The hand-drawn designs by suburban homebuilder Scott Coleman were quickly rejected by the design committee, noting even if the dimensions met the technical requirements of the ordinance, they did not meet the spirit of the law.

Unlike Patel, Hunsucker did reach out to neighbors and concerned parties after seeing criticism online. He removed a garage that was to face Sheridan Avenue and replaced it with a retail space. He also removed a suburban style pitched roof.

But the designs — which were not representative of what is typically presented to the committee — remained a concern. The committee members argued they cannot risk a homestyle office building like those being built throughout the suburbs.

Hunsucker also was encouraged to hire an architect with experience in urban design.

All this still leaves the question of why planning staff recommended designs that stood no chance of approval.

Some blame can be placed on the diminished numbers of assistant planners at City Hall.

Both numbers and experience are down considerably this past year. With one seasoned planner on vacation, Hunsucker did not get the sort of guidance he might have enjoyed from the department just a year ago.

But one can also look at the statutes, which outline only minimum design standards — standards that, if one were to look at wording alone, were met by both projects. But the design committees are given discretion as to where to set the real standards. The question out of this meeting might just start with the ordinance minimums set at a time when downtown was desperate for the sort of development that is now occurring nonstop.

by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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