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Groundwork Being Laid for Arkansas River Development in Tulsa

Even without water permanently in the river yet, there are plans in the works to guide Arkansas River development in Tulsa.

One priority in Tulsa’s effort to build a series of low-water dams will be connecting the riverfront with downtown. Some of the groundwork is already in place for that.

City Planning Director Dawn Warrick said the Boulder Avenue bridge was built to accommodate transit, including some forms of light rail.

"That is already an asset that's in place that we can build upon and take further," Warrick said. "It connects from downtown — actually, north of downtown — all the way to the river, so it's a great corridor of opportunity for those types of connections."

There’s also an unfunded capital improvement plan for connecting parts of Tulsa with the river. Its price tag is about $20 million, and the plan is vague right now.

A steering committee for the Arkansas River task force is working on a system of zoning overlays for areas around the river. There are four tiers: river parks, river adjacent, east of Riverside Drive and properties needing significant public improvement.

"Depending upon the tier and the specific criteria of the overlay, it may speak to lighting standards or landscaping requirements, connections to the river — whether they're pedestrian or just visual," Warrick said. "It could even look at height requirements if there's a need for the development to kind of step down toward the river."

But the overlays will be difficult to adopt under Tulsa’s current zoning code.

"The overlay districts would be facilitated by the new zoning code, and we're excited to see what happens with that new code," Warrick said.

The idea is to apply the overlays in addition to zoning codes, creating a uniform guide for development near the river.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.