West 81st Street and Frankoma Road neighbors have persisted in their push for the Oklahoma Attorney General to open an investigation into the City of Sapulpa despite the nearby development being denied by the Planning Commission on June 23rd and despite City Attorney David Widdoes’s comments that their allegations are “scurrilous and completely devoid of merit.”
When speaking to the neighboring homeowners, they insist “We’re not trying to cause trouble. Our intent is to prevent something being put there that would lower the value of our properties.” They are also eager to see the land used in a way that they feel is in accord with its surroundings. They say they would not balk at a smaller development of higher end homes, such as 40 to 45 homes priced around $300,000, or a communal green space similar to the Gathering Place in Tulsa. Neighbor and local school teacher of 38 years Kathy Harrison suggests creating a nature preserve on the property with a nature center and amphitheater; a place for schools to take kids on field trips. “I’d love to see the wildlife kept intact,” she stated. “It would be a feather in the City’s cap.”
Harrison says her husband’s horse business has been just north of there for 47 years. “We have people come from all over the country and stay here during their horse training. They love it because it’s secluded and they love Sapulpa being close.” She says she and her husband encourage their guests “to use Sapulpa businesses because we feel like we are part of the town.” She claims that putting a large housing development of 200 duplexes on the land in question “would drastically change our business.”
This week a representative from the OAG’s office came to Sapulpa to speak to the group about the letter and packet of documentation they recently sent Attorney General Mike Hunter during a 90-minute meeting. One of the group’s leaders, local business owner Jeff Whitley, said that “Whether they find enough issues to move forward is their deal,” but that he “would think they would want to look into a few things.”
He said he and his neighbors began communicating about the situation because they wanted to “come up with a plat that would be suitable for all of us.” They saw the need to “make a development that will enhance surrounding properties” and align with “what’s going on in Sapulpa” now.
The contention between the neighbors and the City began when the neighbors were notified of the plans for the property, which included around 200 duplex units. They allege that the Planned Unit Development, or PUD, did not meet Sapulpa’s definition of one. Whitley said that his “take was that [the development] has to fit in with the existing, surrounding area.” He says, “I wasn’t against the plan itself, but it’s one that doesn’t belong on that piece of property.” It would be “low-income housing in an area that is zoned agricultural and includes horse farms and ranches.” “What will it do to the property values of the area’s existing homes?” he asks.
As reported last week, another one of the group’s complaints concerned some of the information shared by the development’s engineer at the June 23rd Planning Commission meeting. Whitley said 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.’”
Planning Commissioner Carla Stinnett said it was clear that Peterson was insinuating that he had a “side agreement” with the City so she asked him whom he spoke with from the City, but he declined to answer. She then asked Urban Development Director Nikki Howard if she was aware of any kind of side deal or agreement between the City and the developer, and Howard said, “Absolutely not.” When the Times spoke with Howard and with City Attorney David Widdoes, both emphatically stated that there was never any kind of “side agreement” with the developer of this property.
Stinnett told the Times that the proposed units on the development “nearly doubled what the City of Sapulpa defines for a PUD” and that for that reason she ultimately voted against it. She also stated that although Peterson seemed to imply that he had some kind of insider knowledge about the transaction, this was a non-issue. “The issue was Peterson acting like there was a side agreement [with the City] when there was no evidence of that.”
Though the neighbors have yet to formally meet with City staff, Vice Mayor Carla Gunn has gone to look at the property in question, and Widdoes met with Whitley at his place of business and mentioned that the City might now “have to purchase the property back from the developer.”
Nearby landowner Ernie Roberts says the group is displeased by Widdoes’s use of the term “nonresidents” when referring to them, as they live outside city limits. He says it’s legally true, but it’s “an insult to our intelligence to imply that the development of this property won’t affect the value of our properties.”
“We pay taxes, we contribute to the town, we’ve lived here for years. We don’t deserve to be treated like this. When you’re dealing with people’s lives and properties that they’ve invested their whole lives in, [the City] ought to listen, and not focus on making money on some development,” concluded Harrison. “Sometimes you need to do the right thing rather than something that will benefit two or three people.”
Widdoes has stated, “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” and that “an objective review of the facts will demonstrate no misconduct or inappropriate action.”