Mixed-use development rezoning approved over Penn Square Mall objections
Developers wanting to build a 20-acre, mixed-use development at Northwest Expressway and Pennsylvania Avenue won unanimous city council approval for rezoning, overcoming opposition from residential neighbors and owners of Penn Square Mall.
OAK, being developed by Ryan McNeill and Everett Dobson, is set to include 200,000 square feet of Class A office space, 60,000 square feet of loft office, 350,000 square feet of retail, 400 residences, a 140 room hotel, three garages and a 7,000-square-foot community greenspace
In addition to approving zoning for the development, the city council also approved the developers’ proposal to realign NW 50 to match up with the traffic light to the entrance of 50 Penn Place.
Dobson told the city council the development was inspired by mixed-use lifestyle centers elsewhere that incorporated public spaces, courtyards, infrastructure for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit.
“We can do this in Oklahoma City,” Dobson said. “This market is ready for this. Oklahoma City has gone through transformation thanks to MAPS, the city council and other folks in this city. It’s a significant project. I’m putting a sizable amount of risk capital into it. And we have unique national brands we will be bringing in that aren’t in Oklahoma or in Oklahoma City.”
Those opposing approval of rezoning on Tuesday included a few neighbors and Simon Malls, the largest real estate investment trust and mall operator in the United States. For more than two hours, the city council listened to concerns about increased traffic and potential building heights.
Robert Sheets, an attorney representing Simon, told the city council he wanted additional time to look at traffic impacts and noted OAK’s own traffic study shows it will add 18,000 vehicles a day to Northwest Expressway and Pennsylvania Avenue and 1,100 cars during daily rush hour.
The traffic, he said, could hurt not just Penn Square Mall but restaurants, stores and businesses throughout the area.
“The Simon property group is not against this project,” Sheets said. “We see it as beneficial to the city. What we’re against is walking into this without a full understanding of how it will affect traffic at what the city says is one of the busiest intersections in the city.”
David Box, attorney for the OAK group, responded the traffic should help the mall and added representatives of Simon repeatedly refused to meet and discuss the development and traffic changes.
“Those people in cars are likely going to the mall or someplace else at 50th and Pennsylvania,” Box said. “It seems like they benefit from there being traffic.”
Councilwoman Nikki Nice, meanwhile, questioned why Simon representatives did not show up at the planning commission presentations and did not voice any protest until last week. Sheets responded they were not aware of the development and rezoning request until after the planning commission vote in June (the project has been reported on by The Oklahoman multiple times since April).
Trent and Nancy Hight told the city council they did their best to keep up with the numerous meetings held by McNeill and even canceled a vacation to attend a meeting that was then canceled by McNeill.
Hight said they were caught by surprise when the rezoning request changed from a 50-foot setback and 35-foot-high limit for buildings facing nearby homes to no setback and a 75-foot height limit. The developers agreed to a 10-foot setback during the planning commission process, and the city council on Tuesday changed the height limit from 75 to 60 feet.
Another neighbor, Bill Porch, complained the development will destroy the area’s “peaceful” environment, while another, Bill Firquain, quipped “it looks like you have a five gallon of milk and you're trying to put it in a quart bottle and it just won’t fit.”
In response, Box told the city council the neighbors are among a minority protesting and dismissed them as owning rental properties (the Hights' daughter lives in their residence).
The council approved the zoning and street alignment after being told by both city planning staff and engineer that the project fits in with the city’s comprehensive plan. The development will also be served by a funded bus rapid transit route, the city’s first.
Mayor David Holt assured representatives of Penn Square Mall they are valued by the city, but added they prompted a two-hour, in-depth zoning decision that is usually performed by the planning commission.
“We got further into weeds due to Simon not participating at planning commission,” Holt said.
Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper, who represents the area at Northwest Expressway and Pennsylvania, praised the OAK developers for including sidewalks, public spaces and connections to current and future public transit.
“I’m excited about this possibility,” Cooper said. “I as a public transportation trustee for the past four years believe in public transit and transit oriented development. … This fits. I am excited and encouraged by this corridor.”