Broken Arrow to study housing trends, options for future
By John Dobberstein, Editor
With Broken Arrow continuing to grow in all directions, city officials are getting read to conduct a housing and demographic study in accordance with goals outlined in the city’s NEXT Comprehensive Plan.
The City Council approved a request by city staff to retain a professional consulting firm to help the city analyze current data and provide guidance for future growth and policies. The study will also help establish projects and policies to help older and declining neighborhoods.
“We’re going through many, many growing pains in the city and that continues to grow throughout the region,” said Larry Curtis, the city’s Community Development director. “This will help guide us on all types of housing developments and will provide demographics need to accommodate our current citizens and future citizens as well.”
Curtis confirmed that the Broken Arrow Public Schools will be brought in on the study. “They will be part of that process to find out what kind of impact each type of housing will have on the community as a whole,” he said.
The city’s Comprehensive Plan, approved in 2019, specified goals and policies for analyzing and studying the city’s future demographic and housing trends. The study is expected to provide guidance for future housing needs, capital improvements and infrastructure needs.
The last demographic study for housing was completed in 2017 through Census data collected from 2015 onward. The 2020 Census shows Broken Arrow’s population has gone beyond 116,000, with an approximate household count of 41,000 within the city’s 62 square miles. The city’s unincorporated fenceline of 101 square miles has also seen proportionate growth.
City planners noted the median age of Broken Arrow residents has gone up from 26.9 years in 1980 to 37 years currently. About one third of the city's subdivisions were developed prior to 1985.
Conversely, Curtis said the city has seen a tremendous demand for different housing including multi-family and single family residential.
With the largest growth increase in its demographic cohort of residents over the age of 60, future housing demands -- such as housing for the elderly and aging -- will also have to be addressed.
Broken Arrow’s population grew nearly 15% just in the last decade. Development projections show Broken Arrow’s population could reach 137,500 people by the year 2040.
The 2020 Census showed Broken Arrow had 2.7 persons per household on average, 86% of the population lived in the same house as the year before, and 73% of the household units were owner-occupied.
Future is now
City leaders and residents are facing many crucial decisions about how the city will grow.
Tracts of undeveloped land continue to be converted into subdivisions and commercial developments. And as south Broken Arrow begins to develop, tension is mounting with some residents over potential problems with traffic, noise and concerns about crime with new homes and businesses.
Developers wishing to build multi-family housing are running into frequent resistance, especially when projects are bordering single-family subdivisions.
Some concern has also been voiced by residents as well about numerous short-term rental requests coming for city officials for approval and the effect that could have on the value and desirability of adjacent homes.
A few weeks ago at the Broken Arrow Planning Commission’s regular meeting, a developer requested rezoning for a proposed a 20-acre multi-use development at the southeast corner of Olive Avenue and New Orleans Street that would have included multi-family units.
Just to the south, the Lakes at Rabbit Run is selling lots for high-end single-family homes, and the luxury Rabbit Run housing development sits across the street.
A rezoning request was approved for the project with conditions, but not before residents vehemently opposed multi-family housing at that locations. The discussion and debate between the engineer representing the developer and the Planning Commission went on for more than 2 hours.
When the rezoning was to go before the City Council this past Monday, the matter was tabled as the developer plans to have a public meeting with area developers and nearby residents.
Third Ward City Council member Christi Gillespie, who lives in the Nottingham neighborhood across from The Lakes at Rabbit Run, said there are 7,700 apartment units in Broken Arrow, with approved potential units sitting at 850. Vacancy rates for apartments are at only 5%, although Gillespie questions whether the figure needs updating.
“I’m not against multi-family and I like the fact we have different kinds of multi-family in city, but if we’ve been at 95% occupancy and we’re adding 10-12% on top of that,” she said.
“I just want to make sure what we’re doing makes sense, not just this area of town but all areas of town. We have a nice subdivision going in just to the south and want to make sure what ends up going in there works because they are selling lots right now, and people making decisions on where they want to live based on that.”
Jason Coan, a member of the Planning Commission, has been digging into the issue of apartment construction in Broken Arrow and offered these statistics, pulled from information available online and from tax records and the Census Bureau.
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* From 1970-1979, there was a 203% increase in population in Broken Arrow from the decade before, but construction of apartment units increased 3.24% -- for an average increase of 0.32% units year over year.
* From 1980-89, the city’s population grew 62% and there was a 3.5% increase in apartments units built;
* From 1990-1999, the population increased 29% and there was 6.54% increase in apartment units constructed;
* The population increased 32% from 2000-2009, with a 5.5% increase in apartment units;
* From 2010-2019, there was a 15% growth in the population, but a 19.2% increase in apartment units built;
* For 2020-23, based on proposals that have come before city regulators for approval, Coan noted a 7.25% increase in population and projected 20.42% increase in units.
In other words, he said, Broken Arrow has seen double-digit increases in apartment units built despite the lower increases in population growth decade over decade. He applauded the developer of The Enclave at Southern Trails and city staff for coming up with an innovative proposal for that intersection but added that a more complete analysis of housing and population trends was needed by the city.
“We don't need to be a city that is overburdened with apartment complexes, but right now that’s the rate that seems to be going from 2010,” he said.