referendum petition
Edmond City Councilmembers Christin Mugg (far left), Josh Moore (left) and Mayor Darrell Davis (far right), listen to City Attorney Stephen Murdock (center) speak on the city's options regarding the submitted referendum petition at its meeting Monday, July 25, 2022. (Joe Tomlinson)

Edmond voters will likely see a local zoning question on their November ballot, but the election would be functionally irrelevant because the issue that spurred a referendum petition bringing the matter to a vote has already been resolved.

During Monday night’s meeting, the Edmond City Council discussed whether to place the rezoning question on the city’s Nov. 8 ballot as required by state statute or pursue legal action in Oklahoma County District Court to dismiss the question entirely, as a string of events has effectively killed the petitioners’ reasoning for filing the referendum.

As of now, city attorney Stephen Murdock plans to explore options at the district court level, but if the question cannot be avoided, the City Council will place it on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

“I have received my direction,” Murdock told council after half an hour of discussion on the item.

‘I’m 73 years old, I’m long past ready to retire.’

The property in question is located north of Memorial Road and west of the West I-35 Frontage Road. Property owner Frank Battle previously had a deal with development company Case & Associates to construct a 301-unit apartment complex on the property.

But after a referendum petition was filed by a group of neighbors who opposed the apartments, the proposal between Battle and Case & Associates has been dropped, and Battle now has a contract in place with another developer to build a “commercial park” which would only meet the requirements of a retail general commercial zoning, the property’s original zoning.

“It looked to me like a vote of the people was going to go in the direction of not approving apartments,” Battle told the Edmond City Council on Monday. “So I had an opportunity to deal with someone that needed E-1 commercial.”

Battle’s shift in plans will mean that, if the referendum question is placed on the ballot and approved by voters, his property would be rezoned to a planned unit development and the newly proposed commercial development would not match the new zoning. At that point, Battle would have to submit a rezoning application to the Planning Commission to rezone the property back to a retail general commercial designation, which could take months and put his new contract in jeopardy.

“Let’s just say it does not roll back [to commercial zoning], and it gets approved for apartments. I’m not going to go out and find an apartment user, or go back to Case (& Associates) and say, ‘Hey, come on back,'” Battle said. “I’ve got a better deal to do the commercial, and I’ve got to be able to pay my bills and pay off my debts. I’m 73 years old, I’m long past ready to retire.”

If the potential ballot question is rejected by voters, Battle’s property will keep its current zoning, as both a single-family dwelling district and retail general commercial. If this occurs, Battle could then submit a site plan to the Edmond Planning Commission and City Council.

The potential ballot question language reads:

Shall Ordinance No. 3832 rezoning certain property generally located north of Memorial Road and west of the West I-35 Frontage Road from A Single Family Dwelling District and E-1 Retail General Commercial to PUD Planned Unit Development which will contain two variances, and (301) multifamily apartments be approved?

Shall the proposed ordinance be approved?

Although the development of an apartment complex on the property is no longer in the cards, the potential ballot election could become a proxy vote for Edmondites who support or oppose the construction of more affordable housing options in the city — an issue councilmembers have called a “crisis” in Edmond.

Background on referendum petition

Frank Battle, the manager of Expressway Development, LLC, speaks before the Edmond City Council on Monday, July 25, 2022. (Screenshot)

On April 12, 2021, the Edmond City Council approved an ordinance which rezoned Battle’s property to a planned unit development. However, a group of neighbors near the property in question filed a referendum petition against the rezoning, collected more than 3,000 signatures — which surpassed the required 25 percent of the city’s total voters who participated in the last mayoral election (about 10,900 voters) — and then submitted the referendum to the City Clerk, triggering an election to uphold or reject the rezoning ordinance.

Attorney Todd McKinnis then filed a protest in Oklahoma County District Court on behalf of Case & Associates “regarding the manner in which some of the signatures were obtained,” Murdock said. A hearing was held on Dec. 29, 2021, and District Court Judge Natalie Mai denied the protest.

Although Battle no longer intends to pursue the development proposal that spurred the referendum, state law requires the rezoning question to be placed on the ballot, owing to the submission of a referendum petition.

“There’s a discussion about perhaps we could ask a district court judge to not require us to have an election by some method of a friendly suit or asking the court to allow us to cancel the election or the referendum,” Murdock said. “My legal research would indicate that the next step, according to statute, is to schedule an election.”

The Edmond City Council must call for the election by its Aug. 22 meeting if it wishes to place the question on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Councilman David Chapman wants Murdock to “find a way” to avoid putting the question on the ballot, even though he admitted he’s not sure if the council has the power to do so via its city’s charter.

“I don’t know if a district judge would allow us not to have the election, considering it looks like what the citizens would be wanting out of the election is already granted,” Chapman said.

Councilwoman Christin Mugg does not believe the council has the authority to do so.

“I don’t think we have the power to change the zoning until we put it on a ballot, unless a judge tells us differently.” said Mugg, an attorney. “I highly suspect that the judge will not.”

As it stands, Murdock is going to explore the city’s legal options in Oklahoma County District Court to determine whether there is any way the city can avoid putting the question on the ballot.

Design group presents idea for new fields at Mitch Park

Also on Monday, Geoffrey Evans, firm principal at Planning Design Group, presented two different design concepts for the Mitch Park northwest sports fields master plan that includes additional rectangular game fields.

One concept contains four synthetic turf fields and is estimated to cost just shy of $9 million, while the other contains three synthetic turf fields and is estimated to cost about $7.5 million. The three-field option contains a nine-acre flex play area — which could be used by parkgoers for any purpose — while the four-field option includes an eight-acre space.

Each councilmember expressed support for the development of additional fields, but questions remain regarding the maintenance and operating costs of the project, as well as the decrease of green space brought on by the development of fields.

Sam Anderson, chairwoman of the Parks and Recreation Board, said the item was “tabled” at their meeting last Thursday, because “there were a multitude of questions that we had, that just couldn’t be answered yet.”

Mugg said the council needs to make a more concerted effort to retain green spaces around the city.

“Do we look at acquiring more land for park space so that we can have some open space?” Mugg asked.

A community connections meeting between the parks and recreation board as well as stakeholders on the project is planned to be scheduled soon.

“We have a lot of moving parts, but bottom line is, there’s a consensus: ‘Yes, we want the fields as much as possible,'” Mayor Darrell Davis said. “But we’ve also got to be able understand what are the other elements in there, how much stakeholders are going to pay, and how much the total life cycle [of the fields] is going to be.”

(Correction: This article was updated at 1:33 p.m. Tuesday, July 26, to correct a mistake regarding who filed a protest in Oklahoma County District Court. NonDoc regrets this error.)