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VOL. 119 | NO. 94 | Wednesday, June 1, 2005

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By Andy Meek

County Studies Development Moratorium

Committee will explore idea to stop residential construction


The Daily News

As president and chief executive officer of her own marketing firm, Deidre Malone knows how to plug a good idea.

Over the next few weeks, Malone will likely draw on that knowledge as she leads a group of fellow Shelby County Commissioners in a potentially divisive study: whether to halt residential development in part of Shelby County.

Unchecked growth. Because the county now faces about $1.7 billion in debt, Malone wants to explore a moratorium on new construction in unincorporated Shelby County. She said the county has not practiced smart growth and pointed to a home-building boom in the suburbs as proof. Citing figures from the city-county planning division, Malone said about 15,000 residential lots were approved in Shelby County from 2001 to 2004.

You know, were approving a lot of development, she said. And thats not necessarily a bad thing. But its only good if you can afford it.

A moratorium is especially needed now, Malone said, because Shelby County Mayor A C Whartons real estate transfer tax proposal did not get enough legislative support in Nashville. She said the tax would have been a major new source of revenue for the county but that it was defeated after heavy lobbying by the home building industry.

Tough sell. But home builders, real estate developers, fellow commission members even Malone herself all have acknowledged a moratorium on development in Shelby County would be a hard sell.

I know what I want, but Im only one vote, Malone said. This is definitely something we need to look at, though the revenue versus expense and what development is costing us. This County Commission and previous commissions have been very, very supportive of the development and real estate industry. But we are billions in debt, largely because we have not practiced smart growth.

Malone put forth the idea at a committee meeting earlier this month. Michael Hooks, chairman of the commission, is expected this week to name members of a committee to explore the issue. Based on a memo to commissioners, Malone said the committee would likely include Hooks, along with Tom Moss, Joyce Avery, Julian Bolton and Cleo Kirk.

That group will be weighing the moratorium proposal over the next two weeks, Malone said.

I didnt really have anything specific in mind, just an open discussion, Malone said of the committee meeting at which she introduced her idea. But at this point, that real estate transfer fee was the only new kind of substantial stream of revenue the county was looking at. Thats why I think we should at least discuss having a moratorium on development.

Several obstacles. Home builders and those in the real estate industry, however, insist the problem lies with a glut of government spending and inefficiencies. And one former city planning director who declined to be named said Malones proposal would likely run into legal trouble because development would effectively be stopped in the unincorporated county but left to continue in suburbs like Collierville and Germantown.

Malone said that hiking development fees already in place could also be a target of the study. Commissioners will also look at best practices in other municipalities, she added.

Another proposal. Developer David Goodwin Jr. said he believes Malones proposal is a non-starter and suggested an idea on handling the countys debt that has been floated more than once recently.

People want to paint you as some kind of lunatic if you say anything about doing anything to Shelby Farms, he said. But here we are sitting there with about 4,000 acres of prime land and I know this is about as unpopular as anything you can raise but here we are with $1.7 billion in debt, and were sitting here with the largest urban park in the United States. Could we not still have a great facility with 1,000 or 1,500 acres?

That idea is similar to one proposed earlier this year by Dawn Kinard, daughter of developer Waymon Jackie Welch Jr.

Kinard, a member of the Land Use Control Board, was part of a committee studying the future of the urban park. She suggested leasing or selling about 100 acres of the park along the north side of Walnut Grove and Germantown Parkway.

Goodwin said the property could be used for a number of purposes.

You could take all that property along Germantown Parkway, ground lease it to people like Wal-Mart, maybe develop some into residential but that might be one solution to the problem, Goodwin said. People would say thats a one-time shot, but if you could get the debt paid down and learn from our past mistakes, I think you could have a county that didnt have the financial woes were experiencing now.

Just a reaction? According to Goodwin, the moratorium idea is simply a reaction to Whartons proposal being shot down in Nashville.

This idea really is just some sour grapes, he said. With the transfer tax being defeated, I think this is just them expressing some frustration. And I dont think shed be able to get a majority to follow along with that.

Malone, however, has said shes already gotten plenty of encouragement and doesnt intend to back down.

Ive heard from some folks who agree with looking into this that I never would have expected, Malone said. Its definitely going to be an interesting discussion.


PROPERTY SALES 91 158 16,219
MORTGAGES 98 179 18,735
BUILDING PERMITS 136 349 33,738
BANKRUPTCIES 63 115 10,429