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Jun. 23—Editor's note: this story has been updated to reflect changes to an ordinance on a ban for conversion therapy. The Transcript regrets the error.
The Norman City Council unanimously adopted two requests related to land use despite protest from local residents, and approved two previously discussed items for transit and a ban on conversion therapy.
The council on Tuesday adopted a special use permit for a student housing building that drew criticism from a nearby property owner and other residents. The development will see a parking lot at 430 S. Garner Ave. converted into a six-unit apartment building with four bedrooms in each unit.
Despite the Center City Form Based Code zoning requirements for a three-bedroom limit, city staff approved Peter Petromilli's special request to add a fourth bedroom. The Planning Commission also approved it.
Ward 4 Lee Hall asked Petromilli half a dozen questions regarding stormwater, parking and other zoning requirements.
Petromilli said he met the required one parking space minimum per bedroom and ensured rainwater is diverted from the roof to the underground systems, among other issues he had previously addressed with staff.
He asked for four bedrooms because he was appealing to a "certain demographic," and said there is a need for it in his business. The area is close to Campus Corner and a popular residential district for students, Ward 7 Stephen Holman noted.
A letter of protest submitted by an area property owner said the building would add cars to crowded streets and incite more nuisance parties. The author of the letter did not speak, but Hall asked where people would park if the temporary lot is taken up by the building.
Petromilli said he has made arrangements for additional parking on other lots nearby. No one addressed the concern about the threat of increased nuisance parties.
Norman resident Stephen Ellis cautioned the council against approving the property request, saying it would create a precedent that would "euthanize" the CCFBC, which is intended to attract a variety of demographics.
"It seems to me that passing this proposal tonight is at least an admission that we're not going to get what we want out of the Center City Form Based Code," he said.
In response to a question from Hall about special use permit requirements, City Attorney Kathryn Walker said Petromilli's request qualified for one.
Hall concluded the applicant had met all the other requirements and those for a special use permit.
Mayor Breea Clark also supported the request because it was consistent with other housing in the immediate area.
Clark said just because she supported this applicant's request "does not mean I will vote yes on other ones."
"The fact that this one is in between two other smaller housing that likely has students in it, I can assure you that nobody else wants to live in that besides other students," Clark said.
A second request that also drew a protest letter was adopted by council.
"Is it an alley or is it not?" was the question attorney Sean Rieger posed to council about a 10-foot area at Berry Road and Main Street.
The strip in question has a parking lot with public access, curbs and a dumpster in one corner, while on the other side is an alley. The property abuts three businesses and one owner of three wants to sell. The zoning designating it as an alley or otherwise was not clear, Rieger noted, and it created a problem for the seller.
"The title company and the lender want to clean this up," Rieger said. "They don't want a loan in on the property when this is still in dispute."
All three property owners did not dispute the request to close it, Rieger said.
Staff and the Planning Commission supported the request, and Public Works Director Shawn O'Leary told the council there were no objections to it.
No one spoke against the item, despite a property owner who previously submitted one to staff.
Two items on the consent agenda that the council previously discussed in study sessions passed.
The council approved a ban on conversion therapy. The therapy — which uses religious, psychiatric or physical means in an attempt to change a person's sexual orientation from LGBTQ+ to straight — has been called harmful and dangerous by the Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ advocates and the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
The ordinance initially applied only to the use of city funds regarding conversion therapy, but was amended to prohibit any clinician from its use. Violators face up to a $750 fine and are subject to a court injunction to stop it.
The council also adopted the long range GO Norman Transit Plan, which will see the expansions of transit routes, extended hours and greater frequency of routes, and determine a location for a downtown area transfer station.
Mindy Wood covers City Hall news and notable court cases for The Transcript. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 405-416-4420.