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VOL. 119 | NO. 144 | Friday, August 12, 2005

Zoning Consultants to Meet With City Stakeholders

By Andy Meek

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Streamlining Development
What: Update of Memphis/Shelby County Unified Development Code
Who: Consulting team led by Duncan Associates, along with various city/county stakeholders
Basics: The process, which will take another year to complete, will update Memphis and Shelby County's three-decade old zoning and subdivision regulations.

In the past, promoting "smart growth" in Memphis might have seemed like a pipe dream to neighborhood groups, government leaders, developers and urban planners.

One reason is the fact that Memphis and Shelby County's zoning and subdivision codes haven't been updated in almost three decades. Outdated blueprints don't make it easy to control sprawl and promote sustainable development - one of many reasons a consulting team led by Duncan Associates has spent the last several months refining the Memphis/Shelby County Unified Development Code.

Midstream meeting. The team will be in town Monday and Tuesday to meet with local stakeholders who have been involved with the process, which began late last year. Louise Mercuro, deputy director of the city-county Division of Planning and Development, said the process still has another year to go.

"It's a pretty intensive project," she said. "They're making major changes because the regulations haven't been updated in 25 to 30 years."

The consultants are meeting next week with a steering committee that includes architect Frank Ricks, Center City Commission planning and development director Andy Kitsinger and Land Use Control Board member Dawn Kinard. Attorney Ron Harkavy and developer Rusty Hyneman are also on the committee.

More to do. So far in the process, the consultants have interviewed city and county officials who handle existing regulations, as well as attorneys, landowners, developers and other stakeholders. Suburban leaders also have been interviewed, and the team has toured the city and county to get an idea of the types of development activity taking place.

Some of the findings are available online at www.dpd.duncanplan.com. But Lee Einsweiler, development codes director for Duncan Associates, said there is more to do.

"The zoning in place has tried, over the years, to sort of force the suburbanization of the city, and that's the wrong thing to do - we want the city to be the city."
- Lee Einsweiler
development codes director, Duncan Associates

"First and foremost, this is about the creation of a unified code," Einsweiler said. "And that means, in planner-speak, putting the zoning and subdivision ordinances together, along with any other development-related ordinances. And basically that single book makes everybody's lives easier.

"With a single set of definitions and a single set of procedures, there will hopefully be consistency among things like subdivision issues and site planning issues, which sometimes, inadvertently, have inconsistencies because they're in separate ordinances."

Streamlined regulations. The process will result in a single book that streamlines regulations for developers, for example, who want to build in the core city. Other audiences who can benefit from the project: architects and designers who want guidelines that promote attractive communities and neighborhood spaces.

"And certainly with the ordinances cleaned up, streamlined and with contradictions eliminated, that will all be done in the name of smart growth," Einsweiler said. "But all of that could be done without changing any of the substance. So there's kind of a second layer of activity in which we're talking about really significantly changing the substance of the ordinance."

Smart planning. Through other recommendations in the report, the consultants also are looking to undo some of the burden placed on developers by regulations that attempt to suburbanize the inner city.

"The zoning in place has tried, over the years, to sort of force the suburbanization of the city, and that's the wrong thing to do - we want the city to be the city," Einsweiler said. "A lot of the recent activity on the fringe has been solely residential, and really within those subdivisions, solely one kind of residential.

"There's a substantial homogeneity to what's being developed out there, and real cities, real communities, real neighborhoods don't work like that."

Duncan Associates and other members of the consulting team have already taken several steps to figure out what works in Memphis and Shelby County. In May, the team led a workshop that looked at using a new set of development codes to stimulate urban growth.

Improving development quality. The team will continue its work next week by meeting with local stakeholders.

"They'll be back in town to work with the staff, and they do this in modules, which the steering committee is overseeing," Mercuro said.

Einsweiler summed up the mission of the consultants by pointing to certain barriers in local ordinances the team is eager to remove. He said doing so would go far toward improving the quality of suburban development and encouraging more development in the inner city.

"We've been asked to go above and beyond just cleaning up and reformatting," he said. "We've been asked to tackle some of the substance of the document to remove barriers to infill housing and to improve the quality of suburban development. Revitalizing and refilling the inner loop area is another focus, and the issues there are very often regulatory barriers."

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