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VOL. 118 | NO. 23 | Monday, February 9, 2004

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Grays creek

Residents Fight for Areas Rural Character

Grays Creek watchdog group forms to fight unchecked sprawl

LANCE ALLAN

The Daily News

Fields of gently blowing grass, country lanes lined with wooden fences and sprawling homes that occupy acres of land

A six-lane highway lined with big-box retailers, neighborhoods with hundreds of homes on tiny lots and lights that accompany suburban development washing out the starry night sky

Residents of the Grays Creek area hope their East Shelby County domain remains closer to the former scenario, rather than the latter.

Suburban growth. The Grays Creek area 58 square miles bordered by U.S. Highway 64 to the north, Grays Creek and Berryhill Road to the west, Wolf River to the south and the county line to the east is an obvious site for growth as development continues to move eastward. Due to the inevitability of suburban encroachment, the city-county Office of Planning and Development in 1999 approved the Grays Creek Area Plan, which maps out how growth in the area should occur.

In December, Grays Creek Development Corp. formed to keep an eye on that growth.

Adherence to the Grays Creek Area Plan is our objective, said David Sanders, founder and president of the corporation.

Open to all area residents, the group is working to establish a board of directors that will select a permanent president.

Preserving rural charm. Currently, the Grays Creek area is best known for its rolling hills, pastures, wooded areas and scattered estate-size homes. Also scattered throughout the area are neighborhood commercial centers and new residential developments.

Some recent developments that contradict the plan have caused residents to take action.

Subsequent to that (plan), there had not been much activity in terms of rezoning that we knew about, Sanders said. In December, I learned of a proposed development to put 152 houses on 50 acres, which is in violation of the Grays Creek Area Plan.

The development is near Macon and Pisgah roads bordering moderate- and low-density areas called for by the plan, Sanders said.

The project was on the Jan. 8 Land Use Control Board agenda, but was postponed until March, said OPD deputy director Mary Baker. The staff has recommended it be rejected, she added.

Another planned development, Carlyle Place II a 101-lot neighborhood on 20 acres on the west side of Pisgah south of Latting Road was rejected by the board due to nonconformance with the plan, Baker said. It is scheduled to go before the Memphis City Council Feb. 17 and the Shelby County Commission Feb. 23.

Strong participation. The corporation has gotten off to a positive start, Sanders said, as a January meeting drew 100 area residents. The group ultimately hopes to recruit 100 percent participation among the areas residents.

David Wade of Martin, Tate, Morrow & Marston PC has been retained as the groups attorney.

Sanders said he thought about developing a corporation to serve as the areas watchdog a couple of years ago.

But there didnt seem to be much movement out here related to development, he said. Now, theres an attempt to rezone in contradiction to the Grays Creek plan, so I felt it was time to get the organization together.

Residents fears. The area hasnt dramatically changed since the plan was originated in 1999. At that time, Grays Creek was largely undeveloped, with 65 percent of the land in agricultural use and 30 percent residential.

The fear was that two-lane Houston Levee Road eventually would become a six-lane thoroughfare of commercial bedlam.

If new development policies to guide growth are not put into place, Houston Levee Road is likely to follow the same path as Germantown Parkway, the plan states. These same development patterns also threaten Highway 64 and Walnut Grove Road.

The trend at the time showed development occurring in a manner which is threatening the natural environment of the Grays Creek Area, according to the plan.

Of particular concern is the preservation of the floodplain and protection of the quality of ground and surface water, the report stated. Policies need to be implemented which will better protect these natural features.

A large portion of the area is in the aquifer recharge area, meaning development of the land can affect Memphis drinking water, Sanders said.

Controlled development. The Grays Creek Area Plan calls for three density levels high-density with four to eight units per acre, moderate-density with four or fewer units per acre and low-density with two-acre lots or larger.

The high-density lots are located primarily in the northwest corner of the area. Moderate-density homes are called for in the central part, bordered by Grays Creek to the west and north, the county line to the east and Macon Road to the south. Everything south of Macon to the Wolf River floodplain is classified as low-density.

The plan also lays down specific guidelines for commercial development. For example, the future intersection of state Highway 385 and U.S. Highway 64 in the northeast quadrant of the area is designated for a large regional commercial center. Smaller intersections, such as Houston Levee and Walnut Grove, call for neighborhood centers.

Houston Levee and Macon, designated for community commercial centers, already contains a new center anchored by a Kroger store.

The long haul. With large portions of the area still undeveloped, Sanders knows the corporations work is long-term.

The example I give most frequently when talking to residents about this is that when I moved to Memphis in 1975, the citizens of Memphis rose up and stopped an interstate highway from going through Overton Park, he said. It was a remarkable effort of the citizens.

 

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