A controversial zoning measure that places restrictions on the construction of dollar stores in a section of north Tulsa was approved by the City Council on Wednesday.
The vote was 5-2, with two councilors absent.
At the heart of the Healthy Neighborhood Overlay is a requirement that small box discount stores — commonly referred to as dollar stores — within the affected area be built at least 1 mile from an existing dollar store.
The overlay makes permanent restrictions included in the six-month moratorium on small box discount stores approved by the City Council in September, and adds incentives for businesses to provide healthy food options in the area.
District 1 City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper has been pushing for the restrictions for more than a year. She has consistently said she is not against dollar stores such as Dollar General, Family Dollar and Dollar Tree, but is concerned their proliferation in Tulsa’s poor, urban neighborhoods is keeping full-scale supermarkets from locating in those areas.
Without larger grocers, Hall-Harper has argued, north Tulsa residents have no place to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and meat.
“It (the overlay) is an effort to address the issue of proliferation and unbalanced development that I believe plagues District 1,” she said Wednesday.
The overlay would apply to three contiguous areas of north Tulsa: the Crutchfield neighborhood; Unity Heritage neighborhoods, and the 36th Street North corridor.
Councilors voting in favor of the overlay were Blake Ewing, Anna America, Jeannie Cue, Connie Dodson and Hall-Harper. Opposed were Councilors Phil Lakin and Karen Gilbert. Councilors Ben Kimbro and David Patrick were absent.
Dodson said there was no doubt in her mind that small box discount stores have hurt north Tulsa’s chances to attract other commercial development. It is not uncommon, she said, for communities to enact policies to help local businesses fending off competition from national retailers.
“It is not limited to small box stores,” Dodson said. “There comes times when communities do need to step in (if) they don’t want it.”
Lakin said he was raised with a different philosophy about how to encourage development.
“Rather than building fences around things, I like using tools to incentivize people to come to parts of town that need fresh produce, vegetables and everything else,” he said.
Lana Turner-Addison, who has announced she will run against Hall-Harper in this summer’s council elections, was one of three people who spoke in opposition to the overlay.
If the overlay isn’t good for the rest of Tulsa, “why is it good for north Tulsa?” Turner-Addison asked councilors.
She also asserted that the overlay would send a message that north Tulsa is not open for business.
“It (the overlay) will not accomplish its intended purpose,” Turner-Addison said. “The intended regulations will make it difficult for increased and sustained economic development in north Tulsa.”
The Rev. Mareo D. Johnson noted that the new Dollar General store at 744 E. Pine St. — which is expected to offer vegetables, meats and produce — is doing strong business.
“In spite of it being boycotted, protested against, the northside residents are patronizing the same Dollar General,” he said. “That should speak volumes.”
Christopher Brown was one of 14 people who spoke in support of the overlay. He and other supporters urged councilors to give north Tulsans a say in how their community is governed.
“We need healthy food, we need healthy choices,” Brown said. “We should be able to determine what comes into our community.
“It’s weird, we talk about one Tulsa, (and) most of the time when it comes to our community, somebody else tells us what we should want, or what we should have.”