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VOL. 125 | NO. 126 | Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Midtown Zoning Plan Draws Public Interest

By Bill Dries

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Midtown Memphis would become denser, mix up commercial and residential more and grow up under terms of a Midtown zoning overlay that is being considered by the Memphis City Council.

The overlay is a guide for future short-term development created by the Memphis Regional Design Center. The first council votes on the overlay could come as early as next month.

The center and the Midtown Community Development Corporation hold the last in a series of three public hearings June 30 at 5:30 pm at the Memphis Leadership Foundation, 1548 Poplar Ave.

Charles “Chooch” Pickard, executive director and chief design officer of the center, said the overlay will work with the Unified Development Code (UDC) for the whole county now making its way through the council and the Shelby County Commission.

“We use it, see how it works,” he told The Daily News. “Where it needs tweaking, we can tweak it through text amendments to the ordinance. It’s something that’s expected, particularly the UDC. That’s definitely going to happen. We’ve already got a list of things we want to change six months from now.”

The second public hearing on June 23 at Circuit Playhouse drew a standing room only crowd of over 200.

The theater is near Overton Square. It was a planned development including a supermarket on the south side of the entertainment district that prompted the move toward an overlay. The developers called it off citing opposition from the community.

“We just felt right now there is no predictability,” Pickard said. “Those developers came in and everyone was arguing about what they wanted to see. We need to get together and decide: What do we want to see?”

The overlay suggests buildings that are close to the street with parking to the side or in the rear.

“I think we need to start looking at more density and bringing more people into the inner city,” Pickard told The Daily News. “It’s the only thing that’s sustainable. We can’t keep moving to the suburbs.”

The overlay also recommends multi level buildings with retail on the ground floor and places to live above it.

“Downtown we’re there,” Pickard said of the mixed-use trend. “It’s been happening for years. It’s legal there. But it has not been legal for it to happen in Midtown or the rest of the city and county. You have to get a planned development (permit) for it to happen and it’s just not encouraged.”

That’s would change with the overlay. Pickard heard from residents and business owners who are all for the plan. He also heard from some who have concerns about whether the requirements will make it prohibitively expensive to continue living, working and renting property in Midtown.

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