Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Appeal From SandRidge Decision By Preservation Oklahoma

Originally posted April 20, 2010; updated on April 21 to include profiles of the members of the Board of Adjustment.

The April 8, 2010, decision by the Downtown Design Review Committee to approve SandRidge Energy Corporation's campus plan has been appealed by the venerable organization, Preservation Oklahoma, Inc., it being perhaps the most prominent and prestigious organization in the state of Oklahoma which is committed to historical preservation — and one which does something about it. Among its many other activities, the organization manages the Henry Overholser Mansion, shown at the right, the building itself being owned by the Oklahoma Historical Society.

The letter from Preservation Oklahoma which constitutes the appeal was filed yesterday, April 19, 2010, with the Oklahoma City Board of Adjustment is set out below. This article supplements the earlier Bye Bye Miss American Pie article posted on April 12, and should be read in conjunction with the information contained there.

Letter of Appeal
April 19, 2010
Board of Adjustments
City of Oklahoma City
Municipal Building
200 N. Walker Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK 73102

Dear Members of the Board of Adjustment:

Preservation Oklahoma, Inc. files this appeal of the recent decision of the Downtown Design Review Committee to allow the demolition of a significant number of historic buildings in the core of Oklahoma City by SandRidge Energy Corporation. The immeasurable impacts of this proposal have not been fully and adequately investigated, and the considerable loss of historic building fabric has not been sufficiently recognized.

The charge of the Downtown Design Review Committee is to "promote the development and redevelopment of the downtown area in a manner consistent with the unique and diverse design elements of downtown, ensure that uses are compatible with the commercial, cultural, historic and governmental significance of downtown, promote the downtown as a vital mixed-use area, create a network of pleasant public spaces and pedestrian amenities, enhance existing structures and circulation patterns, and preserve and restore historic features" (Zoning Ordinance Sect. 7200.2A Downtown Business District, Purpose and Intent).

While the recently approved SandRidge proposal admirably includes mixed use areas and ample public space, it does not, in our opinion, sufficiently address issues of consistency with existing design elements, compatibility with and preservation of existing historic features, or enhancement of circulation patterns. The lack of preliminary review by the Committee prior to the presentation of the fully developed project has left no window for mitigation of these issues. Further, we feel that adequate information about the true structural integrity of the historic buildings proposed for demolition has not been presented to the Committee and the public at large.

We welcome and applaud SandRidge's decision to invest in downtown Oklahoma City, and their decision to restore the historic Braniff Building as part of their proposal, but ask for a more thorough consideration of alternatives to such extensive demolition of the other historic buildings on the site. Preservation Oklahoma welcomes the opportunity to participate in a discussion of these alternatives with SandRidge, and all other interested parties as applicable.

Katie McLaughlin Friddle
Executive Director

Enc: Board of Adjustment Appeal Application, Support documentation

Attachment A

Decision, from draft 4/8/2010 minutes, being appealed: "Tanenbaum/Ainsworth to approve items 1-4 [to demolish structures located at 300 N Robinson, 135 Robert S. Kerr, 125/131 Robert S Kerr, 107/111 Robert S Kerr, 120 Robert S Kerr, and portions of 136 Dean A McGee; expand lower levels of tower and remodel exterior; remove and replace existing landscaping and hardscape, construct outdoor canopy, plazas and decks] and approve item 5 [to construct a five story structure at 120 Robert S Kerr and an outdoor seating area] contingent with the applicant returning in 90 days with additional information and more complete plans for the new construction of the proposed structure at 120 Robert S Kerr Avenue.

List of addresses proposed for demolition to which we object:

300 N. Robinson (a.k.a. 135 Robert S. Kerr), designated 2A on project proponents' map SD-103
        -Historically known as the Oklahoma Savings and Loan Building, built 1928.

135 Robert S. Kerr, designated 2B on same map
        -Historically known as the YMCA building, built in 1918.

125 Robert S. Kerr (a.k.a. 131 Robert S. Kerr), designated 2C on same map, with label reading 135 RS Kerr
        -Historically known as the Capital Savings and Loan building, built 1924.

107 Robert S. Kerr (a.k.a. 111 Robert S. Kerr), designated 3 on same map
        -Historically known as India Temple building, built 1902.

120 Robert S. Kerr, not shown on map.
        -Historically known as the Petroleum Club building, built 1957.

*We have no objection to the removal of the "pedestal" around the base and other proposed changes to the Kerr-McGee Tower.
The item is presently on the Oklahoma City Board of Adjustment's May 20, 2010, meeting agenda/docket in the City Council chambers, presumably at its regular 1:30 p.m. meeting time -- see below. If that should not be the case, I will amend this article as needed.

THE SETTING — THE BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT. The city's Board of Adjustment webpage describes the board as follows:
Board of Adjustment


The Board of Adjustment meets on the first and third Thursday of each month at 1:30 pm in the Council Chambers, Third Floor, Municipal Building, 200 North Walker Avenue.

The Board consists of five members, appointed by the Mayor. The Board members serve without compensation for terms of three years. One Board member must also be a member of the City Planning Commission.

Public hearing items

The Oklahoma City Municipal Code charges the Board of Adjustment with the authority to hear several different types of requests which are as follows:

Special Exception: This request permits consideration of specific land uses that generally do not conform with traditional use groupings in specific zoning districts. Consideration is given to setting, physical features, compatibility with surrounding land uses, traffic and aesthetics. The Board can apply conditions on the approval of the request, which may make the use more compatible with existing or planned land uses in the area.

Variance: In any specific case where the literal enforcement of the Zoning Code regulations would cause an unnecessary or unusual hardship, upon application, the Board may vary or modify that regulation.

Oil/Gas Related Cases: Any request devoted to subsurface mining, storage and transmission of oil and gas and the production of such.

Appeals from Other City Commissions: The Board is designated the power to hear and decide an appeal of the decision of the Urban Design Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission.

Appeal from the decision of the Director: The Director, or his/her designee, is responsible for the enforcement of the development regulation of the Zoning Code. Any decision of the Director may be appealed to the Board by persons affected by the decision such as a zoning code interpretation or the issuance of a building permit.

Board Action

After a case has been fully presented, the Board will vote to approve, approve conditionally, or deny the request. A concurring vote of three members is required to approve, defer or deny an item. If the request is approved, the applicant can use the property in accordance with the Board's approved action. If denied, appeals of the decision of the Board may be filed with the District Court of Oklahoma County (any person may appeal any decision of the Board to District Court), or re-apply after a minimum of six months, providing the request is different, or the physical facts in the area have changed.
      Board of Adjustment Members. I figured that my readers would want to know who the present members of the Board of Adjustment are, and I figured that getting those names would be a piece of cake. It turns out that the city likes to keep that information close to its chest, even though it is analogous to, say, looking up to find out the names of the judges of the District Court of Oklahoma County. To my amazement, that proved not to be the case. To get this simple information, here are the steps taken:
  1. Checked the city's website but could not find the members of the Board of Adjustment listed anywhere.

  2. Called Preservation Oklahoma. They didn't know but it was suggested that I call Lance Gross with the Board of Adjustment staff. I did. He said that he couldn't just tell me, but he said that I could call Cynthia Workman of the City Clerk's office.

  3. I did. She was not in but I asked the person who answered the phone if she could tell me. "Yes, but you'll need to file a request." "A written request, and not just this oral request," I asked? "Yes. I cannot just give you the names over the phone." "Now this is really getting weird," I thought to myself.

  4. Then, I called a person I know at city hall thinking that he/she could just tell me. Even that person was cautious and would not say, I adding, "Well, I don't want to put you on the spot." However, it was suggested that I look at some of the on-line Agendas of the Board of Adjustment and see what I could see. "Amazing," I thought to myself.

  5. Anyway, I found the Agenda for the April 15, 2010, Board of Adjustment meeting, and there they were ... the actual names of the closely held membership of the Board of Adjustment. I'll make it easy on everyone and show those names below for all to see.
Current Members of the Board of Adjustment
(I hope I'm not letting out a state city secret here)
  1. Rod N. Baker, Chair
  2. David Wanzer
  3. Jim Allen
  4. Jeff Austin
  5. Michael E. Dunn
Geez! What a deal, what rigmarole was needed to be circumvented just to quickly find the names of the five members of Board of Review, just a little bit of public information which ought to be immediately available to anyone. Should one need to submit a written request? I don't think so.

      About The Board of Adjustment Panel. This April 21 update adds a bit of information about the above Board of Adjustment members, such as I could locate on the internet.
  • Rod N. Baker, Real Property Broker. According to Spoke, he "has 26 years of real estate experience, and founded Baker First Commercial Real Estate Services in 1988. Rod's specialties include commercial sales, leasing, management and development of retail, multifamily, office and mini-storage projects. He has sold and developed hundreds of properties throughout central Oklahoma. Rod is a CCIM designee, and a licensed Real Estate Broker in the state of Oklahoma. He is a member of many organizations - Chairman of Board of Adjustment for Oklahoma City, Member of the Board of Commercial Real Estate Council, and Board of Advisors for the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. He is a past Chairman of the Commercial Industrial Division of the Oklahoma City Association of Realtors, the Uptown Kiwanis Club and of Oklahoma Goodwill Industries."

  • David Wanzer, Designer. Film Row development has engaged much of his time and a very nice interview in January 2010 by Steve Lackmeyer with Wanzer in that regard is located here. See this link and this link for more about David Wanzer.

  • Jim Allen. I have no information about this Jim Allen. Initially, my best guess was that he is the same Jim Allen who is with Nichols Energy Advisory Group at 1125 N.W. 50th Street, but I now know that is not correct.

  • Jeff Austin. No information found, as yet. I'll amend this when I do.

  • Michael E. Dunn. He is a lawyer officing in the Oklahoma Tower. According to this website, a snapshot of his background is: "President, Oklahoma City Tax Lawyers Group, 1979. President, Oklahoma City Estate Planning Council, 1981-1982. Oklahoma City Board of Adjustment."
The resolution of Preservation Oklahoma's appeal is in the hands of the above citizens. I presume that it would be inappropriate for ANYONE to contact them about the matter — in the same way that it would be inappropriate for a litigant to have a private conversation with a judge.

      Procedure Before The Board of Adjustment. I have no first-hand knowledge, but the quoted portion of the April 15, 2010, agenda which appears below suggests that appeal will not get a heck of a lot of time to be presented. Presumably the appellant and appellee get more than the 5 minutes allotted to other citizens who are there to state their views.

The applicant will be requested to present their case first. Following the applicant's presentation, the public will be called upon to present testimony, for or against, the stated request. Each person who speaks should first state their name and address. Each person shall be given the opportunity to present their case once, as succinctly as possible. All parties should limit their remarks to five minutes. Large groups who want to address the Board should choose one spokesperson. After protestant's remarks, the applicant will be entitled to one brief rebuttal.
* * *

After the case has been fully presented, the Board will vote to approve, approve conditionally, or deny the request. A concurring vote of three members is required to approve, defer or deny an item. If the request is approved, you may seek a building permit, if applicable, to use the property in accordance with the Board's approved action. If denied, you may: (1) Appeal the decision of the Board to the District Court of Oklahoma County (any person or persons, jointly or severally, or any taxpayer, or any officer, department, board or bureau of the municipality may appeal any decision of the Board to District Court of Oklahoma County pursuant to the requirements set forth in Section 59-4250.10.F of the Oklahoma City Municipal Code, 2007), or (2) Re-apply after a minimum of six months, providing the request is different, or the physical facts in the area have changed. If an appeal is filed with the District Court of Oklahoma County, the Board may enter into a settlement of the case. Should the Board of Adjustment's decision regarding an application be appealed to the District Court, all interested and affected persons that were originally notified and persons who made an official appearance before the Board will be notified by regular mail to inform them of the appeal.

For more information about the Board of Adjustment, call 297-2417 (TDD 297-2020)
Just don't try calling that number to find out who the Board of Adjustment's members are, though.

THE APPEALING PARTIES. If this were regular civil court (i.e., District Court to Supreme Court stuff), the appealing party would be called the "appellant" and the other party would be called the "appellee." I don't know whether those labels are the terms used in municipal appeal parlance, but I'll use them since that's what I'm familiar with in civil court stuff.

        The Appellant — Preservation Oklahoma, Inc. At its About Us webpage, the organization describes itself as follows:
Preservation Oklahoma, Incorporated, is the state's only private, nonprofit membership organization that is dedicated to promoting, supporting, and coordinating historic preservation activities throughout the state. Founded in 1992, Preservation Oklahoma is a Statewide Partner with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and works on joint projects with the Oklahoma Historical Society, State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).
The organization has an impressive list of accomplishments and also bestows honors, some shown at right (click the image for larger view).
The mission of Preservation Oklahoma is to promote historic preservation statewide. Preservation Oklahoma addresses this mission by:
• advocating for preservation issues at the local, state and national levels
• serving as a clearing house for technical assistance to homeowners, municipalities and other nonprofit preservation organizations
• conducting lectures and conferences to educate the public about historic sites and preservation issues
• building awareness through publishing an annual list of Oklahoma's Most Endangered Historic Places
• collaborating through peer groups and associations with other organizations
• communicating through a quarterly newsletter and web site
• acting as steward to the Henry Overholser Mansion
It maintains a list of endangered historical properties throughout the state, placing them in "most endangered" and "moved to watch list" categories. It's 2009 rendition did not include any of the properties which are the subject of the SandRidge proposal — my oh my, the times, they are a-changing!

        The Appellee — SandRidge Energy Corporation. The visually impressive plans that SandRidge has been approved to proceed with include the demolition of several vintage downtown buildings, most notably the original Oklahoma City Savings & Loan (and its abutting structures) and the 1902 India Temple. Much of that has already been covered Bye Bye Miss American Pie, even though my focus there was the India Temple Building.

SandRidge has some impressive moral support figuratively sitting on the front pew within the direct gaze of the Board of Adjustment as it considers the appeal. See Larry Nichols' (CEO of Devon Energy) March 25 letter and Thunder Chairman Clayton Bennett's April 6 letter.

The members of the Downtown Design Review Committee are not parties to the appeal, as such, but Steve Lackmeyer has nicely described the 1st meeting (April 15) of that committee after its April 8 6-1 approval of SandRidge's request to destroy the old buildings and replace them with something of its own concoction, largely beautiful plazas, trees, and public spaces. In his April 16 Oklahoman article, he described what several committee members had to say about the flawed process that led to its own 6-1 vote a week earlier.

Will the committee's staff report opposing the destruction of the old properties come up? One would suppose so, as may Anthony McDermid's now famous statements that,
I think that some of us will feel that we will have blood on our hands at the end of this decision. I have seen a lot of terrible mistakes made in this city from an urban design standpoint in my lifetime as well as before my arrival in Oklahoma City. I fear some of us will become a part of that legacy.
We shall see.

One last thing. I like the tone of the comment made by Pete Brzycki (owner of in Steve Lackmeyer's April 19 OkcCentral blog post, where Pete suggested that a compromise might be in order and would be a good thing. Among other things, Pete said,
April 20, 2010

Lots of good points made here but this is not simply a binary all vs. nothing issue.

Of course, SR is great for downtown and should be commended for renovating the old KMc tower, bringing great jobs downtown, etc.

And of course further investment in downtown is a good thing.

But can’t we have both those things and still retain SOME of the density, preserve the Robinson urban canyon and not great a huge open space in the middle of the CBD? Certainly we can.

So, how about a compromise??? If SR would merely add back a building or some sort of structure south of the Braniff building along Robinson, I think 99% of the objections would cease and this entire project would could move forward with great support.
As for me, I'd be in what Pete might see as the 1% for what it would take for SandRidge to become the hero and not the goat since, of all the endangered buildings, by far the one with the most historical significance is the 1902 India Temple building on Broadway.

But, to each, his and her own. I agree with Pete that it doesn't really need to be an all or nothing solution and that compromise would be a good thing for SandRidge and for you and me.

This article is now substantially done but will be updated to include corrections and later developments as the May 20 hearing draws nigh.

For Further Reading. Oh, yeah, one more thing: Check out this grass roots website,, as well as Steve Lackmeyer's blog for more information.

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Suzette said...

Your blog, with all the important links, is amazing and valuable! Thank you for providing this information.
Suzette Hatfield, board member, Preservation Oklahoma

Doug Dawg said...

Thanks, Suzette. Be sure and watch downtown get exploded in the companion article, Bye Bye Miss American Pie.

Anonymous said...

Doug, I find it incredible you had such a difficult time getting the names of the Board of Adjustment members. This is a matter of public record and I doubt they would have treated a reporter the way they've treated an ordinary resident (and really, you're protected by the same law that I am).
- Steve Lackmeyer

Doug Dawg said...

Yes, that was so very strange. I kept wondering, "What the heck is going on here?" But it became very clear that, for whatever reason, employees, including people that we both know, were not willing to give a straightforward answer to such a simple question.

Grant said...


Great post. Also, thanks for the link to the staff report. I had trouble locating it on the city's website and couldn't get the info I wanted (staff recommendations) from the meeting minutes. Part of the value of the staff report is that it shows compromise in the recommendations. It's quite disappointing that they were so readily dismissed.

Digger (aka Grant)

Doug Dawg said...

Thanks Grant.