MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

January 20, 2013

Appearance not part of city code

By Wendy Burton
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Two buildings recently approved for demolition in downtown Muskogee have sparked a reaction among history buffs.

The Bully Good Saddle Shop and Kress’ Department Store will soon be no longer.

Some would like to see Muskogee take action to preserve the remaining buildings downtown.

Sue Tolbert, director of the Three Rivers Museum, said the city needs to adopt codes or guidelines for exterior condition of commercial buildings.

“They need to develop a preservation plan and develop codes that do not allow building owners to let their buildings deteriorate to the point they have to be torn down,” Tolbert said.

City Manager Greg Buckley said Muskogee does not have ordinances that cover appearance of properties.

“Somebody can paint a building purple, and we can’t do anything about it,” Buckley said.

Buckley said it is possible for cities to pass such ordinances.

Oklahoma City’s exterior structure codes require properties have no visible holes, breaks or loose or rotting materials and all doors and windows be in good repair and weather-tight.

Fort Gibson’s codes are less specific than OKC:

• “All structures and grounds shall be maintained in good condition in keeping with the historic nature of the site designated.”

• “All interior portions of structures shall be kept in such good repair to the extent necessary to prevent structural deterioration.”

In a four-block radius near the center of Muskogee’s downtown, of 82 buildings observed, 14 would not meet the code requirements of Oklahoma City or Fort Gibson. Of those, 13 were unoccupied buildings or storefronts.

Fort Gibson also has an ordinance that requires property owners downtown to get approval from the town’s planning and zoning commission before making changes to building exteriors.

Steve Clinkenbeard, a member of the commission, said the town adopted a commercial business district that goes about a block each way north, south, east and west from the stoplight at Lee and Poplar streets.

“So any colors, signage, building materials must be approved by the commission,” Clinkenbeard said. “And that is a recommendation that goes on to the Board of Trustees for the final approval.”

Clinkenbeard said Fort Gibson’s downtown has greatly benefited from private investment.

“Private dollars is what you need, and that’s what really separates Fort Gibson — the people who have bought these old buildings and are willing to put money in to them,” he said. “And even though there are vacant buildings, they are in good condition and available to rent if someone wants them.”

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton@muskogeephoenix.com.