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VOL. 129 | NO. 78 | Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Overton Square Parking Gets Latest Solution

By Bill Dries

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Work on a pair of pedestrian crosswalks across Cooper Street at Monroe Avenue in the next two months could be the beginning of remedying traffic problems in Overton Square.

The crosswalks are the first crucial part in the plan that so far includes permits for residential parking on Monroe and some reserved parking in the Overton Square garage specifically for businesses in the area.

An ordinance to allow the permits for on-street parking for a one-year pilot project will probably show up in Memphis City Council committee sessions April 29 for discussion.

“If Cooper-Young is in this huge uproar about being included, then we will just deal with it.”

–Jim Strickland

Council Chairman Jim Strickland, who has been brokering talks with merchants and residents in the area, wasn’t sure last week if he would try for a vote on the first of three readings at the council session later that day.

The specific problem the remedy would address on a long-term basis is parking on Monroe at Restaurant Iris and its companion restaurant, Second Line, next door.

Neighboring business owners and residents complained that rather than park across Cooper at the recently opened Overton Square garage, patrons were making it increasingly difficult for them to park at their businesses and homes.

Iris and Second Line owner Kelly English has since leased a lot nearby for valet parking at his businesses.

That would leave on-street parking for residents on Monroe and other streets in the area on terms and boundaries still being worked out. Those terms could continue to change through a first and even second reading of the ordinance.

English’s concern was that the crosswalks be completed before Monroe goes to permits for on-street parking. Without crosswalks first, English was firm that the solution wouldn’t work.

“We’re basically outlawing commercial traffic,” Strickland said of the concept used in other cities. The ordinance does include exceptions for commercial vehicles loading and unloading.

English said he’s heard from some Cooper-Young residents just south of the Overton Square district who face the same general traffic problems and are at least curious about the remedy taking shape in the square area.

Some in the Cooper-Young neighborhood favor a city-financed parking garage there as well.

“My intention is to limit it to Overton Square for a specific amount of time and see how it works,” Strickland said. “If Cooper-Young is in this huge uproar about being included, then we will just deal with it. … I’m not 100 percent sure it will work in Memphis.”

The terms discussed last week at a meeting at Playhouse on the Square among the various groups were for a $50 a year permit with two permits per household.

The cost for the permit is still being debated among those involved in the talks with Strickland with the idea being that the permit fees would cover the costs of street markings as well as the signs that will be crucial to letting all know the rules of the road for parking. The signs come at a price of approximately $250 per sign.

Still to be determined is whether the permits are transferable or whether they are registered with the city engineer’s office by license plate number. Those parking without such a permit, whatever the terms are, would have their cars towed.

Also being worked on is an agreement with Loeb Properties, developers of the square who run the city-financed parking garage, for garage spaces to be reserved for specific businesses.

The ordinance sets out a zone where parking permits on specific streets are allowed. In order to trigger permit parking on a specific street, 75 percent of the residents on the street would have to petition the city engineer’s office for such parking. It is the same percentage and process required for residential streets in Memphis to apply for speed humps.

More changes in the immediate area of Monroe and Cooper are coming with the tentative June opening of the new Hattiloo Theater. The side of the building that faces Monroe will probably have some lighting for the new sidewalks on Monroe. The street lighting is a key part of encouraging more patrons to park in the garage and make the walk east on Monroe to the theaters and restaurants on the southern part of the square.

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