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VOL. 128 | NO. 188 | Thursday, September 26, 2013

Conservancy Wants Guarantees on Shelby Farms Parkway

By Bill Dries

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The Shelby Farms Park Conservancy wants to see more work toward agreements about a proposed Shelby Farms parkway, including no big-rig truck traffic, that are its conditions for agreeing to the long-discussed road.

The Shelby Farms Parkway would intersect in some way with the extension of the Shelby Farms Greenline that runs parallel to Mullins Station Road and the County Corrections Center. The Greenline extension will be built before the parkway is.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

“We want to see to the greatest extent possible everything we’ve asked for,” said Laura Adams, executive director of the conservancy, after a Tuesday, Sept. 24, public hearing and update at Agricenter International by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. “We’re satisfied that we have reached agreements that could add benefits to the park and that we would be protecting the environmental and recreational assets of the park if we could establish that all of those agreements would be met.”

The state, city and county departments involved in the project, which is an extension of Kirby Parkway from the southwest and Whitten Road from the north, want the conservancy to agree that the modified parkway plan is a “de minimis” plan that minimizes harm to the park enough to allow it to go forward.

At this point, the conservancy has not agreed.

“They do not and that’s a board decision that would go back to our full board of directors,” Adams said.

The Sycamore View extension to intersect with the parkway that the conservancy opposes has been removed from the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s list of projects.

Banning tractor-trailers from the parkway would require an act of Congress, something city and county leaders have pledged to work toward.

TDOT officials at Tuesday’s hearing unveiled options for the parkway’s impact on two existing connector trails and the coming extension of the Shelby Farms Greenline, which are also among the points the conservancy wants agreements on.

For the two connectors, one of which is where those using the Wolf River Trail cross Walnut Grove at Farm Road, the options are underpasses that would accommodate pedestrians and bicycles as well as horses.

The greenline extension running parallel to Mullins Station Road and how the parkway interacts with it is still an open question.

“A lot of people said we already made this agreement and we don’t want to change the agreement.”

–Dennis Lynch
Chickasaw Group of the Sierra Club

“We’re going to finish greenline east way before they start work on the parkway and the parkway is going to have to react to the greenline,” Adams said. “The city and county have both expressed great commitment and interest in finding funding for a grade-separated interchange so that the greenline would go over the new parkway. They are looking at that.”

At the hearing, several dozen people took three minutes each to comment on what remains a preliminary design while others commented in writing.

Dennis Lynch of the Chickasaw Group of the Sierra Club advocated for no parkway but instead a revised intersection of Walnut Grove Road and Farm Road.

“We’re going to be talking more with the conservancy. We are also going to go to the City Council and to the County Commission,” Lynch said of a project, the bulk of which is funded with federal dollars but which also includes a 20 percent share of city funding.

That was the political advice of former Memphis City Council member John Vergos, who as an attorney in the early 1970s spearheaded efforts to stop the sale for development of what was then farmland that was part of the old Shelby County Penal Farm.

“A lot of people said we already made this agreement and we don’t want to change the agreement,” Lynch said. “But there are so many facts that have changed and also facts that were known at that time but not revealed to the public.”

But also speaking at the hearing were several members of a Shelby Farms Parkway advisory board that negotiated and backs the modified parkway plans and rejects an even heavier reliance of Farm Road – a road the conservancy’s long-range plan would close as an entrance and use only for internal park traffic – automobile as well as pedestrian and bicycle.

“Farm Road is a gash through this land,” said landscape architect Ritchie Smith, who was on the advisory board. “You are reinforcing a scar on the land.”

But other speakers, including Maxine Crowder, urged no changes.

“I deplore this rush to build,” she said.

State transportation official David Linderman responded, “The no-build alternative is still on the table.”

The project, which began as a straight-line road extension connecting Kirby Parkway to Whitten Road in the mid-1980s, has no start date contemplated for any kind of construction. Tuesday’s public hearing and update was a follow up to the last state hearing on the matter in 2007.

“Just pick a date and make a decision,” one citizen urged the officials, adding that he doubted that would happen and that he would probably see them again on the issue in two to three years.

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