Braum’s application to rezone a portion of Classen Circle to make way for a new location is in limbo. 

click to enlarge Audience members raise their hands in support of preserving the Donnay Building when asked by Planning Commissioner Janis Powers to do so. (Megan Nance)
  • Megan Nance
  • Audience members raise their hands in support of preserving the Donnay Building when asked by Planning Commissioner Janis Powers to do so.

The future of the mid-century Donnay Building and its distinctive tenants Charlie’s Jazz-Rhythm & Blues Records, The Drunken Fry and HiLo Club, along with neighboring business Classen Grill, remains unclear.

After the most recent Oklahoma City Planning Commission meeting, Braum’s Ice Cream and Dairy Store officials are no closer to receiving approval to rezone a portion of land at the corner of NW 50th Street and N. Military Avenue. The Oklahoma-based company seeks to rezone the land and raze existing buildings to make way for a new Braum’s store. The commission must weigh in on any zoning application before it reaches the Oklahoma City Council.

This is no ordinary zoning application. For one, the application hints at the development of a Braum’s on the entire triangle-shaped city block but only seeks to rezone the corner lots from residential to a simplified planned unit development (SPUD), which allows for a variety of uses and building types. In other words, the application asks the commission to consider rezoning only a portion of the city block while considering the potential development of the entire block. Furthermore, the applicant, Braum’s, only owns two of the residential lots. Red Oak Properties, LLC, which owns the Donnay Building, owns the other residential lots and the neighboring land. Both Braum’s and Red Oak officials indicate a forthcoming agreement for Braum’s to either buy or lease the properties for their development.

Such circumstances don’t sit well with at least two commissioners. Ultimately, three commissioners voted against the application, which also raises questions over traffic and pedestrian safety. With the commission one vote shy of the five votes needed to recommend the application to the city council, the application remains as an item before the commission.

“That is just not a way to come up with a plan for the development of this property that makes any sense,” said Commission Chair Janis Powers. “It is an incredibly difficult and challenging site. … This is the worst possible place to put a site where you are hoping to attract a lot of traffic. … There is no way in and out of the site that makes sense.”

The application could come before the commission for reconsideration as early as 1:30 p.m. Oct. 12 in the council chambers. Braum’s officials could ask for the application to be deferred to a later commission meeting or drop it altogether.

Raised eyebrows

It’s no secret that many patrons of Classen Circle businesses Charlie’s Jazz-Rhythm & Blues Records, Classen Grill, The Drunken Fry and HiLo Club oppose the pending zoning application that would ultimately lead to the development of a Braum’s Ice Cream and Dairy Store.

Their argument centers on preserving the unique, midcentury modern Donnay Building and the distinctive businesses that have called it home for decades. Nestled near the northwest Oklahoma City neighborhood of Helm Farm and the commercial corridor of Western Avenue, HiLo Club, which opened in 1956, is recognized as one of the first gay-friendly bars in Oklahoma City. The record shop also has a long and storied history dating back to the late 1970s. Neighboring Classen Grill, 5124 N. Classen Blvd., arrived a decade later. The Drunken Fry has served drinks to patrons for the last decade.

Filed in early July, Braum’s rezoning application with the City of Oklahoma City revealed plans for a new restaurant at the corner of NW 50th Street and N. Military Avenue and razing the Donnay Building and neighboring Classen Grill in order to create a parking lot.

Days after the application was filed, about a hundred protestors gathered outside the Donnay Building, waving picket signs calling for a Braum’s boycott and shouting “Save the Circle.” An online petition calling for preserving the Classen Circle properties has upward of 13,500 supporters. In September, protestors and neighbors fired their concerns at Braum’s officials who agreed to a neighborhood meeting to discuss their proposal.

Without Braum’s

Whether the zoning application is approved or not, the area will be redeveloped, according to David Box, an attorney hired to represent Braum’s. Both Box and Dave Kennedy, attorney for Red Oak Properties, reported the Donnay Building owner wants to sell the properties to Braum’s or raze the building in the spring for redevelopment.

Those circumstances make the application an anomaly, Box argued. The Donnay Building rests on land zoned C4-commercial. The zoning destination allows for nearly every kind of commercial development, which is why city leaders rarely approve applications for C4 status.

If city leaders reject the Braum’s application and the property owner moves ahead with demolition, the future development could be nearly anything.

“Would you rather have a Braum’s or a C4 development?” Box asked the commission.

Traffic concerns

With the application before the Planning Commission, protestors countered Braum’s argument with voiced objections over the potential traffic hazards a fast-food restaurant could bring to the area.

Mark Faulk, a community activist, asked for the application to be postponed for a traffic study.

“Four times we’ve reconfigured that area at the cost of tens of millions of dollars,” he said. “If Braum’s moves in there and the intensity of the traffic is as bad as it’s going to be, you will have to reconfigure it again. This area will not stand that amount of traffic.”

Print headline: Plans on ice; Braum’s application to rezone a portion of Classen Circle to make way for a new location is in limbo.

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