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VOL. 131 | NO. 143 | Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Zoo and OPC Reach Compromise in Greensward Controversy

By Bill Dries

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This is the map for the compromise agreed to Monday, July 18, by the Memphis Zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy.

-- Overton Park Conservancy

The Memphis Zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy reached agreement Monday, July 18, on a compromise to end the zoo’s overflow parking on the Greensward that fills in some of the blanks left in Mayor Jim Strickland’s proposal and changes some of the terms.

It leaves out a shuttle system, pushes the zoo parking lot and a berm a bit further onto the greensward and creates new greenspace along East Parkway.

The proposal goes to the Memphis City Council Tuesday for a final vote.

With council approval in some form Tuesday, the compromise would become a consent decree or settlement ending the Chancery Court lawsuit filed by the zoo in January seeking undisputed control of the Greensward.

The compromise drops Strickland’s proposed shuttle between a new surface parking lot on the East Parkway side of the park – now a city General Services maintenance yard -- specifically for zoo patrons and it broadens the use of the East Parkway land to include recreational and green space near the surface parking all overseen by the conservancy. It also pushes the zoo’s main lot a bit further onto the Greensward.

“Ultimately, we all agreed that it would be more efficient and less disruptive to find a way to add additional spaces closer to the zoo’s main entrance,” said OPC director Tina Sullivan.

Zoo President and CEO Chuck Brady, in a written statement, said that even with the 100 spaces added from the July 1 plan proposed by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, the compromise is about 200 spaces short of the 600 cars the zoo had the ability to park on the Greensward.

“While this is less than our current allocation for overflow parking days, we are committed to making this compromise work, so we can continue providing the world-class experience our visitors have come to now and expect,” Brady said.

The Prentiss Place parking lot, east off McLean Boulevard will be expanded to include a patch of grass that is now between the existing Prentiss Place lot and the main zoo lot on the other side of Morrie Moss Lane. The main parking lot would still be reconfigured and would extend east onto a part of the Greensward on both sides of the gravel drive that is now where overflow parking pulls onto the Greensward.

All of the new parking spaces created there would be further west of where cars now park on the Greensward. And there would be aberm to screen the zoo parking from view on the Greensward.

A grove of magnolia trees would remain as they are.

“It’s a little bit of Prentiss Place, a little through a careful reconfiguration of the zoo’s existing lot and then pushing that lot out toward the Greensward just a little bit,” Sullivan said. “This compromise pushes out a little bit more but it still allows for the restoration of the open lawn of the greensward to be returned to public park use.”

Zoo board member Richard Smith, who was also involved in the earlier mediation process and the talks around Strickland’s plan since mediation ended at the end of June, said the compromise “alleviates the reasonable concerns of City Council and Zoo board members regarding convenience and safety for visitors.”

In a written statement, Smith described the incursion onto the Greensward as “minimal.”

“And with the General Services area being converted to park parking and predominantly recreational space, it provides a substantial net increase of urban green space for Overton Park.”

The compromise gives the zoo 415 new parking spaces on its main and satellite lot with Prentiss Place becoming an exit road from the zoo and all those entering the zoo by car coming in the park’s main entrance on Poplar Avenue at Tucker.

Zoo leaders had been adamant that requiring zoo patrons to be bused in from more remote lots would discourage visitors from coming to the zoo.

Meanwhile, the zoo’s suggestion late last week of a tram between the new East Parkway lot to the zoo via the Old Forest was effectively taken off the table Monday with an email to Strickland from Tennessee Commission of Environment and Conversation Robert Martineau.

An Old Forest tram route “would impede the visitor experience at the Natural Area and an alternative is available, thus, we do not expect to change the management plan to accommodate such a request,” Martineau wrote Strickland.

The forest is a state-designated natural area that is managed for the state by the Overton Park Conservancy.

The conservancy has adamantly opposed any kind of motorized vehicles in the forest. Strickland cited that opposition and the state’s prohibition on motorized vehicles in outlining his proposal for the shuttle system earlier this month.

“We are confident that the city of Memphis and the Memphis Zoo will be able to agree to an efficient method of transportation for zoo visitors without compromising the visitor experience at Old Forest State Natural Area,” Martineau concluded.

Daily News publisher Eric Barnes is a member of the Overton Park Conservancy board. He did not participate in the reporting or editing of this story.

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