City Council approves affordable housing purchase, student housing project

Jan. 24—The Norman City Council on Tuesday night gave the green light for the purchase a five-acre lot for an affordable housing initiative and a five-story student housing project on 10 acres.

Despite the proposed apartment building's location in a partial floodplain, the council approved the preliminary plat for the project.

The applicant obtained conditional approval from the city's Floodplain Committee and supplied a hydrologic study, which demonstrated little impact on the floodplain, the council learned.

The building will include 430 units and 665 beds and will be located at the corner of Constitution Street and the west side of Classen Boulevard.

No protest against the development was filed and no one spoke against it at the meeting.

Ward 7's Stephen Holman thanked the applicant for "choosing to come to Norman."

The council then voted 5-2 to approved a contract for the city to purchase a 5-acre lot at the northeast corner of Imhoff Road and Oakhurst Avenue.

Mayor Larry Heikkila and Ward 3 council member Kelly Lynn voted no. Ward 6's Elizabeth Foreman was absent. The Ward 1 seat is vacant since Brandi Studley resigned because she is moving outside the city.

The amount for the empty lot is $525,000 and will be paid out of American Rescue Plan Act home funds identified for affordable housing, City Manager Darrel Pyle said.

So far, the city has set aside $6.4 million for such projects.

After discussing the contract in last week's study session, the council agreed staff would apply for a tax credit program for the project. According to the tax credit program, it requires a developer who has experience building properties that qualify for tax forgiveness in order to offer low cost rent.

Assistant City Attorney Anthony Purinton told the council it has a lengthy due-diligence period to conduct an appraisal, environmental assessment and inspections to "satisfy tax credits" criteria for the program.

The city would not operate the property, Purinton said. If approved for the program, the property would have to offer low rent prices for 10-15 years, he said.

If the tax credit program does not materialize, staff has said it could turn to the Norman Housing Authority or the Norman Community Housing Development Organization to develop an affordable housing project.

"We might have to get more creative with the funding opportunities, we might have to leverage grant opportunities in order to do that," Purinton said.

Ward 2's Lauren Schueler noted the purchase was far from the final conversation about how the city would develop the property.

Purinton said the city would know more about how the property can be developed once the "scoring will come out," he said of the tax credit program.

While it was not determined how many units the project would offer, a developer planned to build 75 apartments as a senior living complex, Purinton said.

"We might be able to get more because we're focusing on one-bedroom units," Puriton said. "The more units the better for our application."

John Scamehorn spoke against the project, telling the council it was not the role of city government to provide affordable housing and the money should go to the police department.

Maguerite Lawson spoke in favor of the proposed project and thanked the council for bringing it forward. Alex Lampier also spoke in favor of it in light of inflation and rising rent prices.

Lynn agreed with Scamehorn's comments and said "a lot of people do."

Holman said housing is a form of infrastructure and that it is in the purview of city government to address it.

Because the project is funded with ARPA housing dollars and not funded with the general fund and cannot be used for police, fire or other city expenses, Holman encouraged the council to support it.

Lynn said the money did not have to be spent on affordable housing and could be used on bridges at a time when the city plans to ask voters to approve a bridge bond program.

Helen Grant, who represents Ward 4, asked if the funds could be spent on bridges. The city's Financial Services Director Anthony Francisco pointed out the cash is from ARPA's "home" or housing program funds.

Schueler said the money is being used for a one-time expenditure — — not a recurring expense — and the city would likely never get the same opportunity again.

"This provides a very unique opportunity to take the biggest chunk out of those beds that are deficient for affordable housing," she said. "We probably would never have another opportunity to do something like this."

Ward 5's Rarchar Tortorello said he would support the project because the city has done a lot of "good" with ARPA funds, including funding a shortfall in the police department's capital project, the emergency operations command center and funds for local businesses to recover from the economic strain of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lynn made a motion to table it because Ward 1, where the development will be located, does not have representation.

Its council member, Brandi Studley, resigned earlier this month after taking a job outside of Norman. The motion failed for lack of a second.

Mindy Wood covers City and County government news and notable lawsuits for The Transcript. Reach her at or 405-416-4420.