(Update: The Edmond City Council unanimously approved the site plan, preliminary plat and final plat for the Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park on Monday, May 22. The headline of this article was changed to reflect the park’s approval. The article below remains in its original form.)
A planned 62-acre art and sculpture park that some are comparing to Tulsa’s Gathering Place received approval of its site plan, preliminary plat and final plat by a 3-1 vote from the Edmond Planning Commission on Tuesday night, despite requests from area residents to continue the item before discussion began.
The Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park, planned for the northwest corner of East 2nd Street and North Coltrane Road, is a gift to the city from Edmond resident and developer Hal French. The park will be owned by the Park Conservancy Trust, for which the City of Edmond is the beneficiary.
French’s attorney, former Edmond Mayor Randel Shadid, represented him before the Planning Commission.
“About three and a half years ago, Mr. French with the French Family Charitable Foundation came to me, because we’re both art lovers and we were commiserating, and he says — ‘Randel, I want to buy some real estate on the east side of town. I’m going to build a sculpture park, and I’m going to give it to the city,'” Shadid said. “I about passed out because I’ve known Hal for 45 years and had no clue he had this idea in mind.”
French and his foundation have already purchased more than 40 sculpture pieces for the park which is also planned to include amenities such as a playground, a water play area, an adventure course, a dog park, sports courts, and an event lawn, among other pavilions and interactive structures.
Most of the project will be privately funded, but the city will need to make transportation infrastructure improvements near the park, Shadid said.
“Our plan is to build this park along the lines of the way the Gathering Place was done in Tulsa,” Shadid said. “The Gathering Place was a $460 million project. Our project started out at $51 million, the last estimate was $61 million, and it’ll be $71 million by the time we start to finish, because we know what inflation has done to construction materials, delays and what not.”
The project will be considered by the Edmond City Council at its May 8 meeting.
“If we can get started on construction after the May 8 City Council meeting, we hope to have it open by the fall of 2024, which is an optimistic schedule,” Shadid said Wednesday.
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HOA concerned by variances
Before discussion on the item began, Mark Hoose, who was elected to succeed Barry Moore as chairman of the Edmond Planning Commission earlier in the night, asked Shadid if French and his counsel would consider continuing the item before discussion started.
“We have — and I believe other members of the commission have received requests — that the applicant potentially consider continuing this for a period of two weeks,” Hoose said. “Is that something the applicant would consider, or would you prefer to proceed?”
“Due to the amount and significance of the variances, a staff recommendation is not available at this time,” the site plan memo states.
Shadid said continuing the meeting to May 2 would be pointless, as the Edmond City Council would have to review those variances anyway.
“On the surface, it seems like a lot,” Mark Zitzow, director of urban planning at Johnson & Associates said. “But I think as you’ll see when we walk through, the requests for the variances are not because we’re trying to get out of something, it’s actually because a lot of work and effort has gone into it.”
One example of such a variance is for the park’s “bird’s nest,” which will be an interactive structure that allows guests to climb to its top via a stairway and look over the park. The structure is estimated to be 62 feet tall, which requires a variance to the 35-foot maximum height requirement of structures within a property zoned neighborhood commercial.
Among the seven variances, area neighbors expressed most concern with two:
- Variance to eliminate the requirement for a traffic study;
- Variance to eliminate the requirement for road widening along Coltrane Road and East 2nd Street.
While each resident who spoke during the public comment period expressed some excitement about the project, many were troubled by potential traffic and the 444 parking spots slated for the park.
Caleb Morgan, a staff engineer with Johnson & Associates, said a traffic study is not “warranted” for the project, as it will “tell us what we already know.”
“We are requesting a variance from that because this is a park and the peak times for this park will be different than peak traffic for city streets,” Morgan said.
Chip Winter, a Planning Commission member, said he believes forgoing the widening of Coltrane Road could spoil the project for parkgoers.
“I really think it’s going to have to have four lanes. That’s going to be a busy place. It’s going to be lots of turns. There will be backups into 2nd Street,” Winter said. “I think it could ruin the experience of someone that has enjoyed such a great project.”
Morgan said the project would not prevent the city from widening Coltrane Road, as there is already available right of way. Additionally, as the park will be owned by the city, Morgan said the city will be able to widen those roads at their own accord.
“That’s 50 foot of right of way on the east side of Coltrane, and the roadway there is roughly 15 feet wide. So, you have a significant amount of space for any improvements,” Morgan said. “This project in no way could hamper the widening of Coltrane, if the city wanted to do so at any time in the future.”
During public comment, Steve Ditto, who serves as the Huntwick II HOA president, emphasized the lack of an evaluation from city staff.
“I don’t know much about the Planning Commission, but I don’t know how many preliminary and final plats you have approved without a staff recommendation,” Ditto said.
The park project ultimately advanced by a 3-1 vote of the Planning commission, with Blundell, Winter and Kenneth Wohl voting in favor. Hoose voted against it.
‘The roads are a problem in this city’
Former Edmond Mayor Dan O’Neil said the city needs to “step up their priorities” and complete the widening of Coltrane Road.
“We have about 10 different examples of half-completed streets in our town, and not that many of them have been taken care of over the last 20 years,” O’Neil said. “But the point I’m suggesting is — the city oughta step up and do their part on this project and finish the road because they are eventually going to be the owner of this particular project.”
Brian Blundell, a Planning Commission member, said after public comment that the widening of Coltrane Road prior to the park project’s completion is impossible.
“I would love to see this have the widening of that before this project happens. It’s not possible,” Blundell said. “The city doesn’t have the funds yet. They are already obligated. The (Capital Improvement Projects) committee is fully funded for the next several years.”
Blundell then called upon the city to consider using general obligation bonds to fund transportation infrastructure projects in the city. Essentially, general obligation bonds are loans taken out to finance projects with the city’s full faith and credit backing repayment over time.
“The roads are a problem in this city, and I think that this is an ideal time for the city to talk about GO bonds for road projects,” Blundell said. “So, I think everybody in this room should start thinking about that and when you start hearing a campaign, start really thinking about that.”