Norman City Council considering high-density housing proposal
Two brothers from Manhattan, Kan., are trying to get a project approved for a high-density housing development in Norman.
Chris Elsey and his brother, Brian, of Elsey Partners are hoping to build a housing project near the university that would include some sort of parking structure and is geared toward students, Chris Elsey said.
Although Norman City Council denied the project’s special planning area Oct. 23, Elsey said they still are trying to move forward with the project.
“Density” refers to how the city views units per acre, Elsey said. So, for example, if a project has been approved for 10 units per acre, typically people will build 10 four-bedroom apartments.
Students, however, typically prefer one and two-bedroom apartments. So while 40 one-bedroom units would provide the same number of rooms as 10 four-bedroom units, the 40 one-bedroom units greatly would increase the housing density, Elsey said.
Norman has a maximum density of around 26 units per acre, according to an Oct. 24 article in The Norman Transcript.
Elsey Partners wants to build a project with around 150 units per acre, Elsey said.
The City of Norman was formed on a suburban — rather than an urban — growth pattern, and units per acre originally determined how many single-family homes could be built on a given amount of land, Elsey said.
If the city wants students to be able to walk to campus, however, housing can’t be so spread out, and density must be increased, Elsey said. In other words, Elsey Partners can’t develop a new project on a suburban growth scale and expect students to be able to walk everywhere.
Most people would agree being able to walk to places is a good thing, but they don’t want the high-density housing that comes with that, Elsey said.
If their project is approved, Elsey said he expects about 90 percent of its occupants will be students.
After driving around the campus and seeing there were no apartments with parking garages, Elsey Partners felt there was an opportunity in Norman, Elsey said.
Originally, Elsey Partners proposed building on the northeast corner of Classen Boulevard and Boyd Street, catty-corner from The Mont near University Falls. Homeowners from that neighborhood objected, however, so they moved the project to the northwest corner of Boyd and the railroad tracks, Elsey said.
Elsey Partners felt this location’s proximity to Campus Corner would make it a dynamic area, Elsey said.
First, this project would create a pedestrian-oriented community rather than a vehicular-oriented community, Elsey said. Second, it would preserve the character of single-family neighborhoods by meeting the student market rental demand.
The property around the Elsey Partners’ project is roughly 90 percent rental homes, Elsey said. These single-family homes were built around the turn of the century when the university was much smaller. These homes are showing the wear and tear of inappropriate rental use, and the high-density housing project would provide students with an alternative to infiltrating those single-family neighborhoods.
The City of Norman considered input from members of the community about what they thought high-density housing should look like and where it should be necessary, Elsey said.
Six meetings were held between June 11 and Aug. 30 to cover a variety of topics regarding high-density housing, according to the City of Norman’s final report. The top-five issues identified and discussed in these meetings were: compatibility; location; building height; parking, traffic and infrastructure; and design, according to the report.
This data will be presented in December, so the project has been put on hold until then, Elsey said.
The city now is creating a high-density zoning district, said Susan Connors, director of planning and community development. A draft ordinance will be presented to and reviewed by the Community Planning and Transportation Committee on Dec. 17.