Streetcars, apartments to hike downtown OKC density

Published: Friday, September 8, 2017 By: Molly M. Fleming Source: The Journal Record

There are nearly 9,000 people living downtown. And with the streetcar line starting to run in 2018, the density is expected to increase, especially with another 5,100 apartment units coming online.

The streetcar line will run through several districts, and development guidelines near the tracks vary depending on the area.

“There are design regulations within the zoning ordinance that all projects must comply with,” said Lisa Chronister, principal planner in the city’s current planning and urban design division.

The design regulations were created to make the city more cohesive and match the high-quality public projects, she said.

“We recognize that the city has invested all this time and money, so we want development to be high-quality and designed to be successful,” Chronister said. “Otherwise, all the public development has been a waste of time.”

Chronister spoke Thursday at the Central Oklahoma Commercial Association of Realtors luncheon, held at 214 E. Main St.

In downtown, developments have to be places where people can eat, sleep, work, and have fun. All categories of housing are allowed, but there is a three-story height minimum in downtown districts.

Chronister said having a height minimum can be a foreign concept to someone who’s used to building single-family residences in the suburbs.

“But this is downtown,” she said. “We want density.”

City planning experts recommend having 14 units per acre to have an effective rail transit system, but Chronister said those units do not have to be directly on the rail line.

“You can be just a couple of blocks off (the line) and still have a tremendous audience and opportunity for business,” she said.

Within four blocks of the streetcar line, the downtown design framework calls for high-density and low-density residential uses. Chronister said that can vary from town homes to projects such as The Edge, which has 60 units per acre.

Realtor Bart Binning, who led the luncheon, said one goal with residential development is to have more affordable housing.

The Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency’s Darrell Beavers said the agency has several construction financing options. It does not own or build housing. The OHFA’s financing can help make projects more feasible, he said, and it’s hard for developers to justify a project when land costs are high.

Most housing built with OHFA financing has to allow people who make 80 percent or less of the area median income to live there. Oklahoma City’s AMI is about $64,000. He recommended using the Oklahoma Housing Trust Fund, which is a construction loan with a 2-percent interest rate. The project has to allow people that make 80 to 120 percent of the area median income. He referred to those projects as workforce housing.

“I think for what developers are trying to do downtown, this would be an excellent source,” he said.

But Oklahoma City splits access to about 35 percent of the money with Tulsa. The rest of the money is saved for rural Oklahoma. The $5 million is allocated by the state Legislature.

Besides housing, Chronister said, there are also retail development designations along the route. Projects in downtown are required to have street interaction on the first floor; though it doesn’t have to be retail, storefronts make the most sense.

“Retail works better in densely populated areas, clustered with other retail, and across the street from other retail,” she said. “If you’re building something (downtown) and not putting retail on the ground floor, you’re missing out.”

Read the original article at JournalRecord.com

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