Ltr. to OSU/OK. A&M B of R

Dear OSU/Oklahoma A&M Regents:

I would like to make some comments on the recently unveiled OSU Master Plan.

By way of introduction, my name is Richard H. Dermer. I am a 66 year-old lifelong Stillwater resident; my father, the late Dr. O.C.Dermer, was a Regents Professor and head of the chemistry department for over 20 years. I am an OSU graduate with three years of graduate work, have lived within a few blocks of the campus all my life, and have owned and operated the well-known Hideaway Pizza Restaurant on the south side of the campus since 1960. In the past 45 years I have employed literally thousands of OSU students. I care deeply about both OSU and Stillwater; my wife and I are currently serving as co-chairmen of this year’s Stillwater United Way campaign, with a goal of $740,000.

I am extremely disturbed, disappointed, and incredulous over the manner in which President Schmidly and the OSU Foundation have attempted to foist off their long range Master Plan to the OSU community and the residents of Stillwater. They have, in a few short weeks, created more ill will toward Oklahoma State University than anything else the university has done in my life. In the words of Stillwater mayor Bud Lacy, “it has been a disaster”. (Quote from televised city commission meeting last Monday night.)

I do not know how well acquainted you regents are, scattered across the state, with the details of all the discussion that has been boiling over in Stillwater in recent weeks. I would, therefore, like to ask you a few questions:

According to OSU Director of Communications Gary Shutt, in the Nov. 27 Stillwater NewsPress, “We sought feedback through the entire process. In addition to feedback from the OSU Board of Regents, the administration and the stakeholder group, we held more than 50 public meetings that allowed the city, members of the community, faculty, and students to comment. That feedback has helped us create the current plan.”

How were those 50 public meetings publicized, and how many attended? Not only did I not hear or read about ANY of them, NOBODY I have spoken to heard about, read about, or attended any of them! This claim of “public meetings” has been heavily derided at at least four real public meetings which I have recently attended.

Who selected the “Stakeholders” group that provided input? I have read the list of those 35 stakeholders on the OSU web site, (not an easy list to find), and knew only four of them. The list seemed heavily weighted by OSU and Benham company employees. At one of the above public meetings recently, at least one of those “stakeholders” confessed that the Master Plan in its current form came as quite a shock to him. I guess that’s not so surprising; it came as a shock to the entire community.

Have you been reading the letters to the Stillwater newspaper about the Master Plan? There is a huge outpouring of outrage and anger over this Master Plan.

Are you aware of the draft resoloution which was to be presented at a special meeting of the Faculty Council on Tuesday, Nov. 29? (I do not know if this meeting will still be held, since its only agenda item was a recommendation to President Schmidly that the Regents hold off on the Athletic village and certain other matters until Jan. 27. Since Schmidly has now “determined that additional time was needed to address isssues raised during recent community meetings”, the meeting may or may not be held.) But you need to read that Faculty Council recommendation in any case.

Are you aware that public opinion is running HEAVILY against OSU because of the high-handed manner in which the OSU foundation has announced that it WILL acquire 410 units of property over 100 acres north of campus? I attended the public meeting in which the president of the acquisition company hired by the OSU Foundation used the word “voluntary, voluntary, voluntary, voluntary”, about ten times before saying that if that didn’t work, EMINENT DOMAIN would be used. The audience, to put it mildly, was incensed.

Regents, I understand that there are times when eminent domain is justifed, such as acquiring property in order to replace a dangerous, deadly highway with a safer one. But to use it to take over elderly retired graduates and faculty members’ homes, or retirement income rental properties, for ATHLETIC FACILITIES? When the university owns thosands of lightly used acres less than a mile to the west? Get real. While perhaps legal, this is morally wrong.

Did Boone Pickens, in his latest lavish gift to the university, earmark the donation to buy the SPECIFIC 100 acres now targeted for acquisition, or just to build an “athletic village”? If it was the former, I believe a strong majority of Stillwater residents, and probably a strong majority of OSU faculty and students, would vote to say “thanks, but no thanks.” If it was the latter, then not spending the estimated 30-40 million dollars needed to buy this residential property would enable OSU to build an athletic village second to none on property it already owns.

Back to the 100 acres, with its 410 housing units. (That’s not just houses; there are dozens of large apartment buildings in the area.) One local has estimated that it covers 7.5% of the residential area of Stillwater. Many people are concerned about the $200,000 loss in property tax income to the Stillwater school system, the impact on the elementary school just to the north, and the loss of electrical service income to the city. (Stillwater makes a lot of its operating income from the city-owned electrical department, but OSU buys its juice from OG&E.)

I am more concerned about the removal of a large block of relatively cheap, densely populated rental housing for students within walking distance of campus. I have not seen any estimates, but I would guess this targeted acquisition area may house between 2,500 and 4,000 students. Where are they going to live? Rents are going to shoot up on the east, south, and west sides of campus, and traffic is going to get worse as fewer students can live with walking distance of campus. It is going to cost more for students to live in Stillwater, and THIS IS GOING TO CUT ENROLLMENT!

Regents, just a few more questions. Whose idea was this “Master Plan” in the first place? My guess is that the initial idea came from President and “CEO” Schmidly, and was probably given some sort of initial go-ahead by your group. Then someone, (who?), hired the Benham Company to develop a plan and they in turn assigned the project to a group of young visionaries, including some OSU architectural graduates. At some point, without much real local input, a lot of fanciful ideas got put down on paper and are now dangerously close to becoming reality. Closing Hall of Fame, Stillwater’s second most heavily traveled East-West thoroughfare, permanently? Sprinkling Theta Pond-like water features across the campus, (and down Washington Street), as though the campus was a golf course? Taking over another chunk of student housing on the east side of campus between Knoblock and Duck, and perhaps all the way to Main? I have spent a lot of time looking at the current “Master Plan” and am not very impressed. A lot of it is pure fantasy. Some of it is unfair, such as the denial of the Stillwater Islamic Society’s plans to build a complex on North Washington, while allowing a new Farmhouse Fraternity house a block to the south, close to the center of the new Athletic Village. (The Islamic Society’s hoped-for building has been replaced with a pond.)

Regents, please. President Schmidly said, in a TV interview prior the the Bedlam football game last Saturday, that he is an “impatient” man. Do not let him stampede you. Do not let T. Boone Pickens stampede you. TAKE YOUR TIME. Host some real public meetings. Listen. Let the entire OSU faculty have some input, not just selected yes-men. Listen some more. If you must acquire property north of campus, make it truly voluntary–do not utilize eminent domain. The future of OSU-Stillwater public relations is in your hands.
Mess this up, and they will be stained for decades.

I would be happy to discuss this further with you, either individually or as a group. I plan on attending your meeting next Friday in Langston.

Sincerely yours,

Richard H. Dermer
1121 W. Eskridge Place, Stillwater, 74075
405-372-6127

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One Response to Ltr. to OSU/OK. A&M B of R

  1. Marion Agnew says:

    Letter sent to the Stillwater NewsPress:

    OSU claims its proposed expansion will bring economic development benefits to the city. The business community should be wary of this claim for two reasons.

    First, OSU’s very first announcement of this expansion mentioned its right to acquire land through its right of eminent domain. OSU has since claimed that exercising this right is a “last resort.”

    However, once the phrase “eminent domain” has been linked to specific properties, the value of that property drops. Terms like “fair market value” and “adequate compensation” become meaningless. The truth is that even if OSU’s purchases are “voluntary,” OSU is getting the land for far less than a private business enterprise could hope for. Therefore, this purchase is in fact preventing private development of this area — hardly an increase in economic opportunity for either private developers or the landowners.

    Second, at the moment, OSU can indeed acquire property by exercising its right to eminent domain. When OSU successfully uses eminent domain — or the simple threat of it — to acquire property, it sets a precedent that makes any later use of it that much easier.

    Therefore, no property is safe — not fraternity and sorority houses, institutions such as Eskimo Joe’s and the Hideaway, businesses on Washington Street, nor religious buildings such as the Wesley Foundation. In fact, privately owned property anywhere in the city is fair game if OSU decides it “needs” it.

    Looks like OSU’s obsession with acquiring property makes Stillwater an unsafe place to own a business. What are those economic development benefits again?

    Marion Agnew
    C.E. Donart Class of 1978
    former Stillwater resident

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