Thursday, March 22, 2012

Administrative abuse

Last November I wrote a piece criticizing the proposed design of Rick Dowell's "Dowell Center," where he is having to do some major facade stabilization as a result of removing the adjacent parking-thing next to it (SandRidge project). SR is also reportedly helping Dowell with this project, as they remove a level of the garage at a time, to allow Dowell to stabilize the next level of the facade, as they both go down the building.

The problem is, as I detailed in my post last year (and I hate when I'm right about these things), that they're adding a blank facade. An orange blank facade, at that. OK, pretty bad, but they were at least going to be orange-reddish brick veneer, so maybe it was just a bad rendering.

Well, fast-forward to last month. Administrative approval was given by what is becoming a very clueless and destructive Planning Department to replace the brick veneer with..wait for it...EIFS! Last month I thought I vented and got my grief off my chest over this on OKC Talk, which exploded, as Steve notes on his blog (the link there).
6. DTCA-11-00092, at 250 N Robinson Ave (DBD), by Pierre Derenoncourt for Midland Center LP for revision to original Certificate of Approval to install EIFS in place of originally approved brick veneer on upper levels of the east elevation; and modify the proposed work to reflect only floors 13 to 18 at east elevation.
7. DTCA-11-00092, at 250 N Robinson Ave (DBD), by Pierre Derenoncourt for Midland Center LP, for second revision to original Certificate of Approval to delete previously approved window systems in upper levels of east elevation; install metal panel systems in lieu of windows in same configuration and location at rear elevation.

But I was realizing, this is becoming a trend of abuse when it comes to administrative approval. It's not just the big orange EIFS tower going in opposite the coniferous Sandridge forest (if you haven't seen it, yuck). Administrative approval has also been at play recently with the Bicentennial Park upgrades, where administrative approval was granted to advance construction AFTER council had deliberated and criticized the project. Not that it mattered as council reconvened the next week and a few key members decided to sing a different tune (hmmm, as they say).

Administrative approval was given in Bricktown for a giant inflatable dragon along the canal that violated just about every public appearance code. It was also given for a building that was demolished a few years ago along Sheridan. Both were Jim Brewer projects.

Administrative approval doesn't stop there. It is commonly given whenever developers throw up the distress flag and need to come out on the cheap. Or whenever there is a fire. However, these are instances in which a LOT of cities commonly stand their ground. It isn't at all uncommon for a city to recommend property owners pursue alternatives to demolition when a building is NOT totaled in a fire, especially if they show no viable building replacement plans. And when developers think of a good reason to orchestrate the old "switch and bait," other cities often stand their ground as well, but not OKC.

Here is another good example of the old switch and bait, one of the oldest tricks in the developer playbook.

I am beginning to think that the capability of an incompetent Planning Department to issue administrative approval to ANYTHING they want is one of the culpabilities of our currently broken building permit system, and one of the reasons that we have NO real building standards to speak of, and no desire to even try and enforce standards in the few districts with design overlays. Then there's also the problem of the switch and bait.

There are absolutely no repercussions for Planning Department to deal with when they wrongly issue administrative approval. There are absolutely no repercussions for developers when they orchestrate the switch and bait, so ostensibly, any developer can get away with building on the cheap just by proposing something higher, building something very different. This used to happen a lot with OCURA projects, too.

Somebody needs to be responsible. Somebody should be accountable. There is no way that we will ever have building standards or a better building permit system, even a streamlined system that developers keep calling for, if nobody is responsible, and nobody is accountable.

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