Ever since the Land Run of 1889, territory has been an essential part of the identity and history of Oklahomans. Immortalized in our state song, “Oklahoma!” by Rodgers and Hammerstein, the words “we know we belong to the land / and the land we belong to is grand,” seem to typify the importance of our beloved red dirt. In the 1800s, staking a claim on land was relatively straightforward, but as our population density grew, so did the need to regulate land use.

Since the mid 1900s – 1949 for Oklahoma City and 1953 for Tulsa – land use, infrastructure planning, zoning and development have been coordinated largely through planning commissions. These consist of around a dozen citizens who are typically appointed by city mayors, in cooperation with a city council. 

In OKC, the mayor appoints volunteer members throughout the year whenever a vacancy needs to be filled. Interested volunteers can submit an application any time online, and it will be retained until Dec. 31 of the current year. 

Similarly, in Tulsa, the mayor appoints six members to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, and Tulsa County appoints three additional members. The mayor and the chair of the County Commission (or their designates) serve as ex-officio members, bringing the total TMAPC membership to 11. Appointed members serve on a volunteer basis for three year terms. Members serve until their terms expire or a successor has been appointed. Tulsa’s Planning Commission is a joint city/county venture, whereas in OKC it’s solely a municipal entity. 

A planning commission’s main goal is to keep the community involved in ongoing conversation around land use and zoning. Both Oklahoma City and Tulsa have websites that keep the public informed of upcoming meetings, and each commission offers a variety of avenues to gather input and cooperation from civic leaders, businesses and residents. Any citizen can play a meaningful role in guiding the growth and development of a city. 

The work of a planning commission is essential for creating a strong city, and each decision strikes a balance between economic development, essential services, environmental protection and innovative change. The work should take into account the current needs of the community while planning for future residents and their potential needs and desires. 

An interesting example of this blending of current and future needs is exemplified in the City of Tulsa’s Mixed-Use Rezoning Incentive Program. As Tulsa implements new Bus Rapid-Transit (BRT) routes, they’ve also developed a program to incentivize what is referred to as “mixed-use development.” Mixed-use zoning (MX) allows a blending of residential, office and retail uses within the same building or property, which can help make it easier to walk, bike or drive to locations one frequents near home – like grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and other stores. 

To encourage pedestrian- and transit-oriented redevelopment, the Tulsa City Council developed an incentive program which waives application fees (typically around $2,000) for owners of eligible properties along the BRT corridors on Route 66 and Peoria Avenue.

Both commissions also offer a process for requesting changes to zoning ordinances for property owners, usually through Boards of Adjustment, whose members are appointed similarly to the larger planning commissions.

Oklahomans who would like additional information can learn more from their respective city’s websites – cityoftulsa.org and okc.gov

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