Memphis City Council members voted Tuesday, Nov. 5, to start over again in plans to find a legal use for city funds in renovating the Southbrook Mall in Whitehaven.
And the administration of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. gave a qualified endorsement through what amounts to a new feasibility study on the mall due before the council in a month.
The council approved $1.5 million in funding in October for general renovation of the mall contingent on a legal opinion about whether the funding would be for an illegal private use.
The funding would have come from state and federal money for improvements to the Elvis Presley Boulevard streetscape that will not be spent this year. But if the funding had been used for what federal officials later determined was a private use, it would have endangered the larger amount of federal funding for the streetscape improvements as well.
The legal opinion from the city attorney’s office is that the council cannot fund the mall renovation in that way. And council attorney Allan Wade made the same point.
That set off a council debate about whether to try to revive the possibility with a public use like a police precinct in the mall.
Council member Kemp Conrad, at one point, proposed and the council approved an amendment directing the administration to “attempt to conjure up a public use for the property.”
Conrad is a critic of the attempted funding of the mall renovation.
Council member Harold Collins later amended that language out of the resolution and replaced it with directions to “find an appropriate use for the facility, if any, and identify the proper funding to carry it out.”
The council approved that language and a report from the administration is due by the Dec. 3 council meeting.
The council debate on the next move in the controversial project saw council members on both sides of the debate raising broader questions about the extent of the administration’s support as well as whether the administration has ever expressed outright opposition to any similar proposal for funding.
Meanwhile, the council approved $7.5 million in capital funding for initial project work on a redevelopment of the Raleigh Springs Mall. The money from the city’s Division of Housing and Community Development is a transfer from a line item that was to go to building a new Memphis Police traffic precinct near the mall. The city has tentative plans to relocate the traffic precinct to the footprint of the mall.
The council also approved on the second of three readings an ordinance that would establish a retirement supplement for city sanitation workers of up to $1,000 per worker per year. The supplement is to be funded with savings from an overhaul of sanitation services that the council is scheduled to vote on next month.
An attempt by council member Janis Fullilove to add new rules for citizens to opt out of Memphis Light Gas and Water Division’s Smart Meter program was ruled out of order by council chairman Edmund Ford at the end of what amounted to the council’s second lengthy debate of the new meters in four months.
The first was when the council approved a $10 million expansion of the pilot program this past August after Fullilove delayed the contract numerous times in her council committee.
Wade advised the council that Fullilove’s resolution violated the separation of powers between the council and the utility board which makes policies for MLGW.
Fullilove wanted to give utility customers the ability to opt out of Smart Meters by calling the utility.
MLGW President Jerry Collins said the utility has to verify who they are talking to in such an instance and sends those who call-in a form to fill out that starts the process of opting out. Collins also said the utility doesn’t allow those not on the list to get the new meters the ability to opt out because the meters are being phased in over a seven year period during which many customers will move.
Some council members were working on a resolution which would suggest a phone opt-out option be considered by the MLGW board.
The council also delayed approval for two weeks of an $860,834 contract by Memphis Light Gas and Water Division with Ventyx for further development of the Downtown Smart Grid project.
Also approved by the council Tuesday was $24.8 million in funding to rehabilitate the city’s wastewater collection system to meet terms of a consent decree with the federal Environmental Protection Agency that settles claims of pollution on the Mississippi River the federal agency filed against the city. The funding is financed through a state revolving loan fund and is to be paid back from the city’s sewer fund.
In planning and zoning items, the council approved the Overton Square North planned development at North Cooper Street and Court Avenue with conditions that any retail business operating there will close by 9 p.m. The council also approved a funeral home at Knight Arnold Road and Mendenhall and a day care center at 1135 Winchester at Twinkletown Road but restricted it to no more than 30 children. And the council gave the green light to four single-family homes as infill development on Allison Avenue west of Graham Street.
A council vote was delayed for two weeks on a commercial retail development by Crosstown Art LLC at 495 Watkins Street at Autumn Road.
And the council elected current vice chairman Jim Strickland as its new chairman for 2014. Strickland was elected for the one-year term as chairman without opposition.
Council member Myron Lowery was elected vice chairman over council member Wanda Halbert.