Developer Richard Tanenbaum has designs on a “Big House.”
The Oklahoma City Planning Commission has approved plans for Marshall Square, an apartment complex that Tanenbaum said won’t look like apartments — the buildings will look like big houses — at the site of the old John Marshall High School.
The “Big House” design is a specialty of Dallas-based Humphreys & Partners Architects. Tanenbaum said he toured two Big House projects in Dallas and one in Tulsa — and that the gated Marshall Square will be a good fit for the former high school site southwest of Britton Road and Western Avenue.
The commission approved the plan over neighbors’ objections. Petitions with more than 250 signatures were submitted to the commission. The 20-acre property, at 9017 N University Ave., is surrounded by single-family houses. The complaints focused on density, traffic — and affection for the old school, which educated generations of young people from 1950 to 2006.
Carol Tims, 1425 NW 91, told the commission the project would harm the neighborhood and that residents want no multifamily housing there of any kind.
“It’s already a community there,” Tims said. “They’re trying to put a community inside a community.” She said the area is fragile. “We’re trying to come together. I see this tearing us apart.”
Attorney David Box, retained by Gardner Tanenbaum Group, told the planning commission the plan before them would result in 30 percent less traffic than Tanenbaum’s first proposal, which itself would have meant less traffic than when the high school was in operation.
Box said the developer went back to the drawing board in the face of opposition to his original plan. Tanenbaum first planned a traditional complex with three-story buildings and 364 units, or 19.15 units per acre, while the “Big House” plan’s 270 units come to 13.41 units per acre. All apartments will have garages, and buildings will have two stories, Box said.
Using the deteriorated high school buildings is not an option, Box said. The buildings, constructed in the late 1940s and unused for several years, have mold issues and other problems. Wiring has been stripped. At least one fire was intentionally set. Tanenbaum said gangs also damaged the property.
Tanenbaum’s Premier Assets paid the Oklahoma City School Board $400,000 for the old school — three buildings totaling 220,000 square feet — this year. The property was listed for $650,000 in 2011. Other buyers had it under contract previously, but the deals fell through.
Tanenbaum said Thursday that the land alone made it a good investment, but that the school “has to be demolished.”
Commission member Janis Powers said she understood some people “have some attachment to the school,” but it had deteriorated too far to be used. “To drive around the school, it’s a scary place,” she said.
Powers said she had concerns with Tanenbaum’s original plan but approved of the revised concept.
Big House designs typically have large stone chimneys, gables, bay windows and other features from single-family architecture — but bigger.
The plans now go to the city council for a final vote.