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Concerned citizens claim development plans are at odds with wetland health



It was the natural beauty of the Lake Overholser area that drew Lynda Bahr and her family to move from the Midtown area; and it is a possible threat to that natural beauty that is spurring Bahr and others living in the area to fight a proposed development.

Bahr is part of an activist group that is hoping to derail the development plans.

"A lot of people do care, but we're just now forming," Bahr said. "We need 'worker bees' willing to make calls and write letters and do research."

The effort is designed to combat a planned apartment complex and grocery store on a 60-acre plot of land just north of Lake Overholser. The area of concern is bordered on the south by Route 66, on the west by the Kilpatrick Turnpike and on the east by Morgan Road. It sits just west of the Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge " an area featuring an abundant array of wildlife and a popular location for outdoor recreation.

"This area is absolutely gorgeous," said Jean Braun, who moved there from Maryland in July. "Of all the areas in Oklahoma City, this one is a particular gem. Stinchcomb is a real wildscape. This is an area where there is such a gorgeous wild setting basically in an urban setting."

Along much of the planned development area's southern border, and a portion extending north into the middle of the property, is an area designated as a freshwater forested wetland by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Wetlands Inventory. According to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, the wetland area drains into Lake Overholser, which is Oklahoma City's oldest reservoir.

The land is currently zoned as commercial " after an aborted attempt to bring in a Walmart " and the land's majority owner, Ken McGee of McGee Investments, is looking to zone part of the land as residential to make way for an apartment complex.

According to documents filed with the city, the development area will be known as Route 66 Landing, with commercial development on the western side and residential development with up to 15 residences per acre in its northeastern corner.

The planned unit development application will be considered at the city's Planning Commission meeting on Jan. 13, and McGee said he hopes to break ground on the development sometime in 2011.

Bahr said she opposes the development because of possible flooding, safety issues, increasing urban sprawl, the effects on wildlife and birds that migrate through the area and water quality.

"First and foremost, I would like to see the area protected as wetlands and included in the wildlife refuge," Bahr wrote in a letter to Ward 1 City Councilman Gary Marrs. "I strongly oppose a high-density apartment complex."

McGee said the new planned unit development seeks to protect the wetland area on the property and even expand that area.

"We are going to protect it," McGee said. "In fact, we're expanding it because we think the wetlands area is larger than designated. You can't build in those areas, so as part of the overall development plan we're going to be installing two very large ponds on either side of the wetlands area. We'll leave a lot of the trees in place in that wetlands area."

McGee said he and his team have met with homeowners and city staff about the development, as well as conducted environmental and traffic studies of the area.

"We've tried to do our homework to make sure we're very sensitive to everyone and that we're doing the development the right way," McGee said.

With water quality in Lake Overholser already rated in the fair-to-poor range, it is important that any new development take precautions to make sure pollutants do not drain into the lake, said Derek Smithee, water quality director at the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.

"Overholser (water quality) is OK, but I wouldn't call it one of the miracles of the state," Smithee said. "There are more nutrients in the reservoir than we would like there to be."

Testing shows that phosphates and algal blooms in the lake are at higher levels than preferable, Smithee said, and that poorly managed drainage from development could lower water quality even further.

"Anytime you disrupt the surface of the earth, you have a potential for environmental impact (on water quality)," Smithee said. "If done right, it shouldn't be a problem; but it's not easy to do. That's the key: You've got to make sure it's done right and maintained." "Clifton Adcock

above Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge Photo/Shannon Cornman


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