MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 20, 2014

Commission adopts urban renewal plan

Plan must be approved by commission, City Council

Urban renewal commissioners completed on Wednesday what they had hoped to finish by the end of last year: adopt a plan.

The document, which must win approval by planning commissioners and city councilors, is intended to guide efforts to redevelop an area in northwest Muskogee deemed blighted. Officials say commercial developers have expressed a lot of interest in the area.

The final piece of the plan, also approved Wednesday, were policies and procedures for the acquisition of property within the urban renewal area. The component also included provisions designed to assist and help relocate those who would be impacted by implementation of the plan.

“It’s not fun, it’s not pretty and it’s not sexy,” Assistant City Planner Tish Callahan said about the relocation assistance and acquisition policies and procedure. “While it may be more cumbersome, it is consistent and you know that ... everybody is treated the same way and treated fairly.”

The policies and procedures track federal law to the letter, a factor City Attorney Roy Tucker said would prove beneficial should federal funds be available for urban renewal projects. Tucker endorsed the provisions before commissioners approved them, describing them as “tried and true.”

Tucker said the acquisition procedures outlined as part of the plan differ somewhat from those authorized by state law when a governmental entity exercises its power of eminent domain. The primary difference, Tucker said, is that appraisals are completed before or during negotiations instead of after a lawsuit is filed.

Both Callahan and Tucker, however, said efforts will be made to boil down the 27 pages of legal jargon to a one-page summary a layman can understand. The same will be done for the urban renewal plan, which Tucker anticipates will be presented in April to planning commissioners for their consideration and subject to a public hearing.

The area designated for urban renewal is bounded by Chicago and 11th streets on the east and west and Shawnee Bypass and Talladega Street on the north and south. The zone has been divided into three project areas that would accommodate big-box retail development and infill commercial growth, along with residential construction.

Commissioners have been plugging away the development of the urban renewal plan for two years. During that time they have conducted the requisite blight study, designated three phases of development, and authorized “feasible methods of financing.”

“We tried to work on this plan as quickly as possible, but of course there have been some delays because this is a very technical document,” Tucker said. “We are satisfied we have a good plan — a good working document — and I don’t think the delays will have a substantial impact on the execution of the redevelopment of this area.”

Now that commissioners have moved the proposed plan forward for further review, Tucker presented a tentative schedule that projects property acquisitions could be in full swing by next autumn. Commissioner Robert Goolsby described it as “an awfully aggressive timeline.”

“I think aggressive is good,” Goolsby said. “There is no reason to sit around and wait.”

Tucker conceded the proposed schedule is subject to change, “but this gets the ball rolling.”

The Muskogee Urban Renewal Authority regularly meets at 10 a.m. on the third Wednesday of each month in the second-floor conference room at City Hall.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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