A series of transactions conducted by the City of Sapulpa regarding a tract of land on the northeast corner of West 81st Street and Frankoma Road is being questioned by a group of 12 citizens represented by local business owner, Jeff Whitley (Neal and Jean’s Flowers).
They allege that city staff used controversial practices while acquiring, selling, and developing the land and have asked Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter to investigate “deceptive zoning practices, under-the-table dealings with developers, and use of city taxpayer money being used to place a sewer line to enhance the sale of property bought by the city,” according to an email from Whitley to Sapulpa Times.
The plat and Planned Unit Development (PUD) for a proposed housing development of approximately 200 duplexes was denied at the Planning Commission meeting on June 23, but Whitley says that the neighbors are sure that the developers will come back with a new plan soon.
The packet Whitley sent to OAG Hunter and forwarded to the “Sapulpa Times” claims other dubious actions by the City concerning this piece of land, beginning with its initial purchase in 2005 for $300,000, which they say is not publicly documented. They also take issue with the fact that the City apparently initially acquired the land on which to build the new Youth Sports Complex, then later changed their minds, saying that the land was not suitable, and built the complex elsewhere.
The group of neighbors also allege the “City had an opportunity to sell the property and take a $100,000 gain but chose to sit on it for years. Now the city has borrowed $3,000,000 from the Oklahoma Water Resources Board for the sewer that was promised to the developer at the taxpayers’ expense.”
The group then poses several questions to OAG Hunter, including, “Is it legal for a city municipality to be in the land development business utilizing taxpayer money?” and “Is it legal or even moral for the City of Sapulpa officials to in essence ‘gamble’ with the taxpayer money?” Whitley goes on to answer some of the questions, including the last one, saying, “I do not believe it is the responsibility of the City to be in the business of partnering with developers to sell homes.”
One of their complaints concerns some of the information shared by the development’s engineer at the Planning Commission meeting. Whitley says that the engineer, Brad Peterson, from Crafton Tull in Oklahoma City, “stated to the commission that he was told by a city of Sapulpa official to ‘load the plat with as many houses and duplexes as he could get into that space.’ He was also told that ‘all zoning would be taken care of and that all complaints would be dealt with.’” Whitley went on to say that the vote was rushed through and that although one of the members of the commission questioned Peterson’s statement, an answer was not given.
In addition, Whitley laments that no one from the City tried to contact them about a solution, and that “this was just to be crammed down our throats. We do not trust the city officials or [the planning] commission.” The group is also asking for the City to undergo a financial audit. Whether or not these allegations, questions, and requests are applicable or if the City acted inappropriately remains to be seen.
When asked for a comment, Sapulpa City Attorney David Widdoes said, “the City understands that legitimate questions can always be raised about its functions, and as part of its commitment to transparency, remains fully committed to disclosing complete and accurate information regarding its activities. Zoning and land-use management matters are often fraught with conflict, and the City works very hard to balance the competing demands that present in any land development project. Financial documents and land use records are always open for public viewing.”
Importantly, he further shared that “the City scheduled a meeting to produce its files, answer questions, and discuss concerns expressed by this handful of nonresident landowners abutting the property in city limits that is currently being considered for development as a residential sub-division. Unfortunately, rather than attend this scheduled meeting to obtain accurate information, they did not participate and chose instead to equate conspiratorial innuendo with fact, flatly disregard open public record, and ignore more than a decade of oversight of city functions conducted by outside independent agencies, to smear the city in hopes of generating support for suppressing development of the property.”
“To be clear, any suggestion that a city official engaged in corrupt, illegal or inappropriate activity in relation to the purchase, sale or potential development of the property is patently untrue, scurrilous and completely devoid of merit. An objective review of the facts will demonstrate no misconduct or inappropriate action.”
Widdoes then emphasized, “I want the citizens of Sapulpa to know that…they can have confidence in their officials to follow the law, deal fairly and independently in the discharge of their duties, and to conduct themselves accordingly in the best interests of the entire city.”
“Sapulpa Times” has not yet spoken with the developers of the proposed housing development or with members of the Planning Commission.