Plans for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce's new home have been officially approved, but not by many.
Oklahoma City's Downtown Design Review Committee last week approved the silvery, football-shaped design with only three of the seven-member committee voting. Two members resigned after confronted with a recently discovered state law that dealt with conflict of interest, one recused herself from voting, and another didn't show up the day of the vote.
But the three who did approve it Sept. 18 were unanimous.
The vote followed a short presentation by Clay Bennett, chairman of the Oklahoma Thunder and former chair of the chamber. The Oklahoma Publishing Co. donated part of the land where the chamber building will be located.
"We wanted to develop an iconic architectural presence," said Bennett, husband of Oklahoma Publishing Co. Secretary Louise Gaylord Bennett. "The site is very unique "¦ for a front door to the entire community as a whole."
One voter, committee member Richard Tanenbaum, said he was biased in favor of the chamber " and proud of it.
"I'm also on the board of the chamber," Tanenbaum said. "I'm partial because this has got to happen."
With that, he and committee members GiGi Faulkner and Jim Loftis voted in favor of approving the chamber building, but contingent upon the project receiving "variances" or permissions for the areas where the building departs from Oklahoma City's downtown guidelines.
Those places are many, according to city planner Scottye Montgomery, who presented the staff's report, which recommended the committee not approve the building design. Among the problems stated, the building sits squat in the middle of the plot selected for it, not along the street.
"The issues that we have are that it does not meet the downtown zone's "¦ setback requirements." Montgomery said. "We also have an issue with the sign."
According to the plans, the chamber's design proposes a huge, hanging curtain-like sign that will use LED lights to create pictures, effects and flash messages where the building faces E.K. Gaylord Boulevard.
The staff report presented by Montgomery indicates the sign would be exactly the kind of thing the ordinances were enacted to prevent.
"The size of the media façade does not meet the limitations of the sign ordinances as referenced in the downtown ordinance and would require a variance to the sign ordinance," reads the report, which Montgomery referenced during her address. "The electronic capabilities could be used to produce the effects of a moving sign, which, if this is the intent for use of this sign, would also require a variance."
Other considerations not approved by the city's planning staff include elements of the building's construction and that its odd-shaped design is not in the character of the buildings surrounding it.
"We recommend you deny item one, the main building. If you approve, we recommend you require a variance from the board of adjustment," Montgomery said.
The planning staff approved items associated with landscaping and a parking lot for the building.
Sitting in the audience, as the Downtown Design Review Committee voted, was chair Betsy Brunsteter. Her presence, although she abstained from voting, created a "quorum," or a minimum legal number of committee members present in order for official public business to take place. Committee member Charles Ainsworth was absent.
"Robert's Rules of Order states that once you establish a quorum, if a member abstains, it doesn't do away with the quorum," explained John Michael Williams, a municipal law and zoning attorney who helped represent the chamber at the meeting.
"And I was not allowed to leave the building," Brunsteter added. "I had to stay in the room to maintain quorum."
A former board member, Anthony McDermid, who said he had to resign after city officials confronted him with the state law, made a plea during public comments for the designers to move the building to the east in order to preserve the green space as a park. City officials claimed the resignations were coincidental to the timing of the chamber proposal.
"That is the only grass open space in downtown Oklahoma City," McDermid said. He said "there are no open, flat, grass spaces in downtown Oklahoma City that can be used for a multitude of events."
McDermid mentioned the finish area for the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon, the deadCENTER Film Festival, and as the prominent "Field Of Screams" during Oklahoma Gazette's Ghouls Gone Wild Halloween parade.
"This is a place used by all citizens," he said.
Developer Grant Humphreys said he would like to preserve green space.He called for the straightening of E.K. Gaylord Boulevard because the site "is one of the most pedestrian-unfriendly, vehicular-centric areas of downtown."
Chamber officials said moving the building is out of the question. "Ben Fenwick