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OKC simplifying, redesigning city codes

The Journal Record

December 4, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY – In the same way tax laws grow unwieldy over time, so does a city’s codes and overall development blueprint, Planning Department Director Aubrey McDermid said.

“What we’re proposing is basically a new framework for that code, fixing the structure so that it’s easier to use,” she said Tuesday following the City Council’s approval to solicit a consultant for the job at a cost of $250,000.

“If anybody wants to build anything in Oklahoma City, they are affected by these codes,” McDermid said. “As the first step in this process found, depending on the zoning in your part of the city, you might have multiple steps and approval processes to get through, design review districts and layers of regulations. It’s become very difficult to navigate.”

What council members approved Tuesday speaks to the heart of PlanOKC, a comprehensive set of goals and guidelines to guide city policies for 10 to 20 years at a time. PlanOKC incorporates a wide range of issues such as transportation, culture, retail and entertainment opportunities, appearance, schools and safety. The underlying goal of the plan is to create a more sustainable and healthy environment for residents across 621 square miles, one of the largest cities in the country.

The Planning Commission and City Council unanimously adopted the latest iteration of PlanOKC in 2015 after research, analysis, surveys, studies, thousands of hours of public engagement and significant dialogue with residents, city departments, public agencies and the business community. At that time, the plan also recommended specific changes and improvements to the city’s subdivision regulations and sections of the municipal code pertaining to development, particularly for zoning, planning and signs, as well as better coordination with the drainage and nuisance ordinances.

So in mid-2016 the city issued a request for proposals, or RFP, to engage a professional consultant to conduct the first phase of code update. That included a diagnosis of current ordinances to identify barriers or misalignment with the comprehensive plan.

With the council’s approval, the city can hire a consultant for up to four years to oversee more public outreach and the resultant upgrades. Code hybridization and staff training is expected as well.

“The process itself is difficult because the code is difficult,” McDermid said. “When other cities have reached our size, they’ve found it necessary to simplify their codes to make it faster and easier for people to know what’s allowed and to get projects done. This has been a long time coming.”

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