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VOL. 125 | NO. 190 | Thursday, September 30, 2010

Council Approves Midtown Overlay

By Bill Dries

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The Midtown overlay is a done deal with this week’s approval by the Memphis City Council.

And the final result is a set of development guidelines that now allows the CVS pharmacy at Union Avenue and Cooper Street that wasn’t allowed by the overlay in its previous form.

Specifically, future development on that stretch of Union would not have to be built as close to the sidewalk as possible with no parking along Union. The stretch of East Parkway near the Mid-South Fairgrounds was also exempted.

The overlay and the process for enforcing it or granting exceptions was a result of the controversy over plans to build a supermarket on the southern side of Overton Square. And it figured prominently in the recent debate over plans to build the CVS pharmacy. The pharmacy was ultimately approved by the council.

The change in the overlay came in a set of amendments proposed by council member Reid Hedgepeth and accepted by council member Shea Flinn.

“Any overlay is a balancing test,” Flinn said. “This is not written in water or stone. It’s written in snow.”

The imagery caused council member Barbara Swearengen Ware to call for the shifting council consensus on the terms to be made more specific in writing.

Hedgepeth, a homebuilder and developer, said there are a lot of flaws.

“I want to see the good come out of this,” he said, citing ways around the overlay requirements that developers were already telling him they would take. “A developer is not going to do an overlay but a planned development.”

A planned development is a different designation that involves an easier process for winning approval of basically the same development.

The other amendments include a shorter appeals process for developers that would go from the Office of Planning and Development (OPD) directly to the City Council. OPD and the boards between the initial proposal and the City Council would also have more authority to grant exceptions to the guidelines.

Earlier versions of the rules permitted OPD and the Land Use Control Board to grant variances that totaled five percent of the 15 variances possible.

“This gives greater power to OPD,” Hedgepeth said. “That’s the only way this is going to work.”

The amendments also deleted a requirement of street side frontages at all major intersections. They also permit wood as a building material for fences and walls

Council member Jim Strickland, whose district includes the area, said he could live with the compromise.

“Those two streets (Union and East Parkway) are such major streets that they don’t necessarily call for buildings right up next to it. They are not as walkable,” he said. “I’m not as worried about those major streets. It certainly doesn’t gut the entire overlay because the overlay covers such a large area.”

Strickland, Hedgepeth and Flinn also cited the absence of existing on street parking on Union and East Parkway.

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