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Board of Adjustment Denies Turley Halfway House Project

In a 4-0 vote, the Tulsa Board of Adjustment denied the request for a zoning change to allow a halfway house to be operated for released prisoners in the old Cornerstone Baptist Church. The Board decided it was too intensive a change for the location, especially given the community opposition and the fact Turley already supports one of the area's major halfway houses. See the post below for background. Also see the comments to this post for my own reflection.

It was a packed meeting for over two hours with about 60 to 70 people present to protest and support the proposal (I'd say about two thirds to protest and a third to support, most of whom were connected with the Cornerstone Church.) The attorney for the group wishing to operate the halfway house presented for over 30 minutes and then was followed for another almost thirty minutes by a director of a halfway house in downtown Oklahoma City which was roughly used as a model for what this would be--though that pointed up the difference in the proposals, as Turley is more of a small town rural/urban area as opposed to downtown OKC, and the effects would not be the same. County Commissioner district one John Smaligo ( spoke first on the side of the opponents although he said his arguments weren't the same as many of those who opposed it; his position was that the community already was doing its share and the project would have an adverse effect. Jeff Kirkham, chair of the Turley Community Association, drew applause when he said that if it were true that the project would bring millions of dollars of benefits into the area then why weren't other communities bidding for the project. Many people, on both sides, spoke of the good benefits of halfway houses; some in favor of it spoke of the transforming work it does; some opposed said halfway houses were good but that this one still had logistical problems with transportation and infrastructure issues. Some opposed said it was another incident of North Tulsa and Turley getting something that other areas would be up in arms against.

One member of the Board of Adjustment who initially leaned in favor of the halfway house project said he was stunned to learn that people thought of Turley as its own area, as he had always thought of it, and of North Tulsa, as just parts of Tulsa. Almost all the officials, and those involved in the project, seemed unaware of the Turley Community Association, the history of Turley, and of the years-long effort to incorporate Turley as a city (see post below for latest news).

A good point was made by Jeff Kirkham to those in attendance who opposed the project, that he would love to see such a turnout for the regular community-building work and ongoing projects of the Turley Community, and not just to be opposed to something.

See comments for further reflections.


Ron said...

First, upon reflection, I must say that as a former teacher of public relations on the college level, this controversy would be a great case study in how not to do Public Relations for a proposed community project. The backers seemed unaware, or uncaring, of community groups, of community leaders, and of community concerns. Many months of working with local folks and lining up ways that a project will be a part of ongoing community concerns and projects is a necessary first step. The late bombshell dropping and rumor mill is a classic project PR killer.

Second, it was hard to be on the same side as some of the folks who were opposed to the project. I am a believer in halfway houses; I don't think they pose a safety risk; I live with my youngest daughter and wife near the Turley Correctional Center, though I understand its female population statistically makes it a lower risk than a male population. But, speaking of the TCC, when the attorney mentioned that people in Turley didn't know it was there, he misunderstood the comments of those who were referring to what they thought was another halfway house just over in Osage County that the same group, they thought, was behind. That turned out to be not the case, but just about everyone in Turley knows about the Correctional Center that is just about in the Tulsa City limits close to the Northridge Section. Also, the TCC is a prime example of a group that does good work but that needs to be much more involved in the surrounding community. It should have a representative at all Community Association meetings giving reports, answering questions, and looking for ways to involve the residents of the halfway house in community projects as much as possible. The community grants the privilege of these institutions into the community, the same as businesses, and the community needs to receive back from them in return.

Here are more formal comments about why I was opposed (something I normally would not be in general when it comes to halfway houses, even for those who are helping in the rehabilitation of sex offenders, the new "lepers" of our age as real lepers were in Jesus' time):

I am Rev. Ron Robinson. I live and work in Turley with my wife and my youngest daughter.

I like halfway houses. I like the transformational work they do. In Oklahoma particularly, because we incarcerate a higher per capita population than most states do, we need more halfway houses in many more places, and we need them now. But my objections to this proposal, thinking of the wider Turley community’s needs, and the wider needs should always be taken into account, is that it is a good cause in the wrong place and particularly at the wrong time. Turley is just starting its own transformational new life; Turley needs special attention and second chances too.

I like halfway houses. I don’t mind having them in my backyard. I live near the Turley Correctional Center and have no problem with it except one. There has been little to no connection between it and the community. Institutions come in and take resources from our community without giving back. This lack of information and relationship creates divides which ripple throughout the community; people feel they are neglected and that their opinion and presence doesn’t matter and that kills community spirit and that kills communities. I have so far, with this proposal, seen a similar lack of involvement and interest in the concerns of the community with no one coming to the community association to discuss it and to ask for ways to help it be discussed more widely and in more neutral settings, and with only a flurry of last minute information being given out in a limited way. That sends up a red flag to me about actions speaking louder than words. If the proposal is adopted, I hope it is coupled with stipulations that the institution become a regular part of the community association and give regular reports and look for ways to give back in service for the privilege, not the right, of operating in our community. We do have a community; we are not simply individual residents speaking for ourselves.

I like halfway houses, but I think they work best when they are not put “out of sight and out of mind.” That’s what Turley has become. We need more halfway houses like this, and we need them in downtown, midtown, Owasso, and in growing suburban areas where there is already an overabundance and balance of investment and community life that can best support them without damaging the communities. Turley is a special demographic; I wonder how many studies of halfway houses and property values are comparable with Turley’s demographic. It is a great place to live; I moved back here from a new subdivision in Owasso, but Turley is struggling with the highest areas of absentee home ownership, with rundown buildings, it’s used as a dump for other people’s trash and unwanted animals, and the civic and religious and social groups that once sustained it have declined or closed up as the area became more mobile and less economically viable, as the schools struggle to attract families, and its past leaders have retired and died. It is in a transition period, and it needs a different kind of investment going into this property and throughout its community. I would love to see our community strong enough to be able to embrace this halfway house proposal in the future; we have a lot of small good things going on now that will help us to be able to do that; the move to incorporate, aided by the Governor’s bill signing recently, is only one of these. And regardless of how the proposal turns out, I would challenge more of my neighbors to make their own community involvement stronger and more visible, joining with the groups already started, and starting more community projects so we become the kind of place people have to take seriously. So that we become the kind of community where we can have disagreements over things like this and become stronger neighbors for it, not more isolated and afraid.

Good people seem to be behind a good cause here, but I think putting it in Turley here and now strikes of more convenience, to take advantage of an available building, than of what the community in all good conscience needs right now for its own transformation.

Anonymous said...

I would just like to take some time too Thank all the people for doing what you do and make this community great im a long time reader and first time poster so i just wanted to say thanks.