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VOL. 125 | NO. 156 | Thursday, August 12, 2010

City Council Gives UDC Green Light

By Bill Dries

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It is complex. It is tedious. Some of its proponents even call it boring. And it took six years to create.

This week the Memphis City Council gave final approval to a new Unified Development Code that won final approval the day before by the Shelby County Commission.

The UDC, the first comprehensive rewrite of zoning and subdivision rules in 25 years, combines zoning ordinances and regulations for subdivisions in what had been separate chapters.

The new code also converts all existing commercial zoning districts to mixed-use districts that permit a mixture of commercial and residential uses in closer proximity to each other.

“The main emphasis of re-creating the zoning code was to allow for a mixture of uses in close proximity,” said Assistant City Attorney Josh Whitehead.

The change reflects a move toward denser, more walkable communities in urban areas where such uses wouldn’t be segregated but instead encouraged.

The mixed-use category is a major feature of the Midtown overlay, a comprehensive set of guidelines for future Midtown development that goes to the Land Use Control Board Thursday for approval. Without the mixed-use regulations in the UDC, the overlay would not be possible.

Council members took out a set of amendments suggested by Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division that utility president Jerry Collins said resolved conflicts between the new code and the city charter. The council will review them in committee later this month.

Council member Reid Hedgepeth said he couldn’t support the amendments because, “MLGW needs to play by the same rules as everybody else in the city, which is all of the developers.”

But most of the council’s debate wasn’t on the fine print of the UDC. It revolved around a call by council members Wanda Halbert and Barbara Swearengen Ware for a delay on the final vote.

“I am concerned that we’re wanting to approve this document today and we have not had the comprehensive presentation,” Halbert said.

Ware called for a delay saying a number of developers had expressed concern.

Other council members reacted to what has been a long-standing complaint by Halbert that she is asked to vote on items with little or no information.

“No one notified any of us that these discussions had been going on,” Halbert said, speaking of herself and constituents in her district who might be affected by the changes.

Council member Edmund Ford Jr. said that wasn’t the case.

“We have done a lot of diligent work. So, if some people have been misinformed, it’s not because the information has been hidden at all,” he said.

Council chairman Harold Collins pointed out that 11 council members, including Halbert and himself, have full-time jobs. It’s incumbent on them, he said, to be prepared.

Halbert complained that an afternoon committee session that was to be a briefing was canceled. But Collins and other council members said there had been numerous other briefings and workshops to explain the code.

Ware questioned whether six years of work had really gone into the code.

“I have spoken to many business people and there are still a lot of unanswered questions,” she said. “There are a lot of surprises in this ordinance.”

But no one came to the council session to speak in opposition.

PROPERTY SALES 92 480 7,835
MORTGAGES 115 551 8,785
BUILDING PERMITS 325 1,167 17,068
BANKRUPTCIES 39 311 5,159