By Chad Neal
Eagle Staff Writer
Tulsa City Council members voted in a unanimous decision to table the recent proposals for urban renewal, presented by the Tulsa Development Authority (TDA), that would largely affect the citizens of north Tulsa’s residential areas. Citizens in huge numbers came to city hall to voice their objection to the TDA’s plan in the city’s Urban Renewal Plan. So many residents came to the meeting that the Assistant Fire Marshal would only allow the max number of 217 persons into the city chamber, which left scores of angry residents standing in the lobby area’s outside the chamber, and crowds outside the doors of city hall itself.
Many citizens from the Tulsa area who would be affected by the proposed action in the TDA plan came to Wednesday’s council meeting in objection to the measures being presented in the plan for urban development of their residential areas. “I am profoundly disappointed in this calamity caused at the hands of TDA,” Councilor Ben Kimbro said.
Then, in his inimitable style, he added: “In fact, if I ever needed guidance on p—— off a bunch of people, you all would be the first people I would call.”
Kimbro made his remarks after listening for 90 minutes as speaker after speaker railed against the two development plans.
Longtime residents from the northside of the city came to the meeting after saying they received what was described as “impromptu and inadequate notice” of the meeting, informing them the measure was going to be brought before the city council for a vote. These citizens opposed the specific action of eminent domain, which would allow the city to take property considered to be in poor condition, with or without the owner’s approval, and give the owner a “fair market amount” for the property.
Brenda Nails-Alford told councilors her ancestors lost their property in the 1921 Tulsa race massacre and again during later urban renewal efforts in north Tulsa.
The family has been in its current home for 94 years, she said.
“As a third-generation to uphold it, I am very, very upset that you want to take it,” she said. “It is the one thing that you left us, and we will not give it up.”
These citizens believe that they are being disproportionately targeted by the TDA in an effort to take their property, rather that provide them with assistance to restore their homes so that they can keep this property for themselves.
Citizens who spoke at the meeting commented that the language in the plan paints a bleaker picture of the proposed area than what actually exist, which they believe was intentionally done largely because it is a minority community, in order to secure their property and in effect destroy the community.
Speakers also say there has been no attempt by TDA to reach out to the residents in the areas mentioned in the to receive these planned changes, so that they could be apart of the discussion as to what should done to maintain the integrity of the community while revitalizing it as well.
Speaking for TDA was O.C. Walker, executive director of Tulsa Development Authority, who said the organization has no plans to acquire any land in the boundary of the Greenwood/Unity sector plan.
He also attempted to clarify that the blight study that accompanied the plan is an inventory of all properties within the sector plan boundary and that not all of the properties are blighted.
“It doesn’t mean that every property in here is blighted or vacant or that TDA is even wanting to acquire them,” Walker said. But he also made the case for TDA’s acquiring dilapidated properties, saying eminent domain is always a tool of last resort.
“Some of those properties, again, need to be dealt with, and if we don’t have a mechanism in place, we’re (only) going to get more than what we have,” Walker said.
Walker, who grew up in Tulsa north, acknowledged the community’s mistrust of TDA and called for town hall meetings to discuss the sector plans.
“It is one thing to come here tonight and hear about it for the first time, but let’s spend a little time together; let’s get to know each other,” he said.
The council, at Kimbro’s behest, voted to table the development plans, but not before he made clear that things would have to change before TDA would ever get council approval for anything again.
“It is my want and desire — it is my insistence — that TDA is going to shape up its ship — that you radically reform how you do business and how you engage the community,” he said.
No date has been set for such town hall meetings, nor did the City Council give any indication of when it would take up the sector plans again.
Mayor G.T. Bynum was out of town and unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting, but he told the Tulsa World it is clear that more due diligence is needed before the sector plans can proceed.
“We are committed to ensuring that a blight declaration is not brought forward for the council’s reconsideration — and that the sector plan is not actionable by TDA — until strong public engagement is completed to develop a strategic, just approach to development and redevelopment, and clear support from the community is present,” Bynum said.
Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper, whose district includes the area covered in the Greenwood/Unity Heritage Neighborhoods Sector Plan, echoed Kimbro’s concerns and said she does not trust the TDA.
“I’ve said that publicly,” she said.
Wednesday night, she was not alone.