Zone change for hotel, event center approved by City Council

May 7—Heated debate continued this week during a Tahlequah City Council meeting on development of a hotel and resort center, with one neighbor calling the councilors "corrupt" and "tossers" before leaving the room.

Planning and Development Director Paige Harjo introduced the resolution changing the zoning for the property during the meeting Monday, May 6.

"A local investor came to the city regarding the property of 124 W. Shawnee St., which is owned by the city of Tahlequah," Harjo said. "They have proposed a project that entails a hotel, restaurant and event space."

The current zoning of "public space" does not cover those proposed uses, Harjo said. "Community commercial" covers all three elements, Harjo said.

Two meetings before the May 6 City Council meeting have allowed the public to voice their concerns or approval of the development, and Mark Paulissen has spoken out at each one.

The first was a meeting at Vidalia's Café and Catering April 23, when the public was allowed to see the project. The second event was the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on April 30, when the zone change was approved and sent on to the council.

A faculty member at Northeastern State University, Paulissen lives catty-cornered to the development. Paulissen said he is retiring this semester, and the home where he has lived for 18 years will have to be sold because of the disruption the development will create.

"Miss Harjo mentioned the developers did their due diligence," Paulissen said. "They did it on April 23, less than two weeks ago at a public meeting that left out something very important — our house, as if we didn't exist. Well, we do exist."

After several moments of expressing his displeasure at the workings of the system and calling the council "corrupt," Paulissen tore up Mark Seibold's business card and threw it to the floor. Seibold is architect on the project.

"Now just as I'm about to retire, I find they are building a hotel and event center — 250 people in the event center — and bringing noise, light pollution, dust, traffic and auto dust in our lives," Paulissen said. "We won't be able to live in our house anymore, so we are going to have to move."

Paulissen said the "most galling thing" about the situation is that at the planning commission meeting, Seibold let it slip that plans for the event center started four years ago.

Ward 2 Tahlequah City Councilor Keith Baker questioned Paulissen about his accusation of corruption.

Walking up to the dais the members and other panelists sat behind, Paulissen confronted Baker, and several firemen in the audience started walking up to make sure Paulissen posed no danger.

"I have no knowledge of this four years ago," Baker said. "Saying that we are corrupt without any evidence is kind of like you throwing trash."

Paulissen walked back to the podium, called the council members "tossers," and left the room.

Seibold said that in writing the comprehensive plan four years ago to try and grow downtown, a range of activities were identified.

"Increased retail activity, a downtown hotel, a central hub for water sports and entertainment — a whole host of things in the comprehensive plan," he said.

Seibold said in reality, the origins of the project came from his knowledge over several years of the property and the efforts to save the old Baptist church there.

"It is fortunate for the city and the residents that we have the opportunity to save the historic structure... to maintain the church, keep the structure, keep the historic context of the property and enhance that with new uses," Seibold said.

A conversation, if reasonable, is possible with Paulissen, Seibold said. Subjects could cover a one-way entry into the property, lighting design, limiting hours of operation and noise levels. The design of the center complies with zoning. He said there are many more hurdles to jump through before it is completed.

Baker asked if there was anything specific with the comprehensive plan that could be construed as indicating Seibold began this process four years ago.

"It is a pure coincidence that I was able to work with the lovely people in this community and also with this endeavor," Seibold said.

One resident who spoke in favor of the development was local attorney Ryan Cannonie, chair of the planning commission, which passed the zoning request for the city.

"I'm wholeheartedly for this proposal. I live about two blocks from the gentlemen that was just here," Cannonie said. "It will get rid of a blighted building that is nothing but an eyesore right now."

In other business, Ward 1 Tahlequah City Councilor Danny Perry introduced an ordinance to amend Tahlequah City Code to allow flexible working hours at City Hall.

"[This is] to modify City Hall hours so that more of our staff will be able to spend time with their families and do errands, and/or have some extra time during the week," Perry said.

Mayor Suzanne Myers said the proposal would be 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7:30-11:30 a.m. on Friday.

"Most of the items people come to City Hall for can be done online," Myers said. "So it's an exploration of how that could be better managed for our employees, as well as our community."

The issue will be considered again at next month's meeting.

Compliance Coordinator Ray Hammons received a commendation for 35 years of service with the city. Firefighters Edgar Alcantara-Rosales and Jeremy Dry received one for five years, and Shawn Keys, a laborer/operator, for 10 years.

Firefighter Brad Hale was promoted to lieutenant and received an adjustment in pay according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the International Association of Fire Fighters.

What's next

The next City Council meeting is June 3 at 5:30 in the City Administration Building.