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Improvements, changes, restructuring to help local housing development

Feb 12, 2019

STILLWATER, Okla. (Feburary 12, 2019) – Behind the scenes over the past year, City Manager Norman McNickle has been studying a large and complex matter: local development and housing needs.

McNickle and the Stillwater City Council were concerned about numerous statements like:

  • “It costs more to develop in Stillwater. We can build houses outside city limits quicker and easier.”
  • “The amount of paperwork just to subdivide...”
  • “We (developers/builders) are not confident that the regulations and standards will be applied equally to similar or like projects or from one project to the next.”

In lockstep with City Council, McNickle was determined that the City should be seen as a strongpartner—helping to bring residential housing developments inside city limits.

“We did not want the City to be seen as an obstruction to development anymore,” McNickle said. “We needed a new philosophy for local development—one that included stronger civic engagement (which includes soliciting citizen input), better customer service and using plain language and an easy-to-follow path for future development.”

In 2018, City Council asked for these ideas to be included in their Strategic Plan with concrete strategies to make them a reality. 

Development Codes

Next, staff was asked to look at the City’s development codes and to see if anything could be improved. The City had last revamped the codes in 2008, but since then any changes had been added intermittently. Council saw a need for a complete overhaul again. Staff made it a priority to work with the development community to ensure the codes were simple, clear and that they meet the expectations of the community.

Departmental Restructuring

When the deputy city manager resigned in June 2018, McNickle said that instead of filling the vacant position he and CFO Melissa Reames would assume all of those duties while they studied the situation.

The goal was to streamline the development process and to gain efficiencies and overall consistency.

To do this, they created a new high-level position to be the single point-of-contact for all development.

Development Services Director Paula Dennison stepped into the assistant city manager job and now oversees City Engineering, Public Works, Planning and Community Resources.

She has been busy. During the past few months, under her direction, the City has completed the following:

  • Took a multi-step process in determining whether a single residential lot is graded to drain and applied a national, typical lot grading standard adopted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
  • Commenced the evaluation of design and construction standards to adjust them to a simple, clear, logical set of performance expectations.
  • Began the compilation of development incentive information as a tool for economic development recruitment and implementation. This includes Tax Increment Districts, Federal Opportunity Zone areas, State Opportunity Zone areas, State Enterprise Zone areas, and New Market Tax Credit areas.

McNickle is optimistic. “While changes and adjustments do not occur overnight, steps have been taken to improve processes, to protect the City’s infrastructure, and to make sure that regulations and standards are appropriate for Stillwater.”

He stressed that the City should be responsive to its citizens and to its business community.

“Yes, we are making changes, and we will continue to challenge ourselves to be the best local government possible,” he added.

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