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"We’re legislating taste and being arbitrary doing it."

Ed Lynn, owner of the popular Buffalo Wild Wings on Northwest Expressway, may finally get to build his dream house. After living in the suburbs with his wife for the past 25 years, they want to move their home downtown.

West Midtown was an appealing choice for the Lynns – a revived neighborhood centered at NW 7 and Shartel is being rebuilt with a mix of renovated existing homes and a lot of new modern contemporary homes. Some call this the cottage district of Midtown, others call it SoSA. I’m sick of the emergence of new districts and conflicting names, so from here on out I’m just going to refer to it as what it is – Midtown or west Midtown.

“We’ve raised six children and we’ve anticipated this empty nest phase of our life,” Lynn said. “We were in Denver seven years ago and we fell in love with urban living. We purchased this lot four years ago. We designed a home that has been in my mind and my heart.”

The Urban Design Committee saw it differently in April as the Lynn’s sought approval for their home at NW 7 and Dewey Avenue. Suddenly a neighborhood that has celebrated the apparent rejection of conventional home designs was arguing Lynn’s home, with far more street interaction than we’ve seen from many of the new contemporary homes, and with a second floor and minimal street set-back (as suggested by the design ordinance guidelines) was the odd fit.

City planners, meanwhile, also recommended the Urban Design Committee deny the application, even though it was largely similar to one Lynn filed in 2011 when he first bought the property. Back then, the planning staff only took issue with parking set in front of the house, which was moved to the rear in design resubmitted this year.

“It’s a different staff in 2015 versus in 2011 so I can’t speak to the decisions of 2011,” planner Lisa Chronister explained “But in this case staff felt it did not meet with the guidelines, that it is out of the character of the neighborhood.”

The Board of Adjustment not only reversed the Urban Design Committee’s ruling, but also rebuked their approach to these cases (another item to note: committee member Brian Fitzsimmons has voted not once, but twice, on controversial cases where he clearly had a conflict as an immediate neighbor and yet did not recuse himself).

The Board of Adjustment members noted Lynn’s residence conforms more with the guidelines than does the contemporary homes which have only been built after obtaining height variances from the panel.

“The architectural style is not the issue,” member Jeff Austin told Lynn. “The neighborhood is eclectic. It meets all the guidelines and setbacks. It’s the perception you have a very large house.”

Janice Powers disagreed, arguing the debate really is about architectural style.

“If it’s not about the architectural style, I don’t know what it’s about.”

And if this debate was about architectural style, the Board of Adjustment members couldn’t understand what the fuss was about.

“It looks like a great family home and it looks like a great addition to the neighborhood,” Austin said.

Scott Cravens then urged his fellow board members to send a message to the design committees.

“They were in my opinion legislating on taste,” Cravens said. “We’re legislating taste and being arbitrary doing it. We have to send a message to these boards and committees that they are trying to legislate taste that they have to be careful when they do that. Personally, this is not the home I would build, and maybe you would not be in the home I live in. And that’s cool.”

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Steve Lackmeyer

Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's... Read more ›