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VOL. 131 | NO. 145 | Thursday, July 21, 2016

Morrison Orchestrates Overton Park Compromise

By Bill Dries

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Before the Tuesday, July 19, Memphis City Council vote approving the Overton Park compromise, council member Worth Morgan commended fellow council member Bill Morrison for taking up the torch of trying to find a consensus between the Memphis Zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy.


Morrison led the talks that came after mediation efforts had failed at the end of June and after Mayor Jim Strickland then responded with a proposal that filled in more of a framework for further discussions.

It wasn’t without its perils, said Morgan, whose council district includes the park and who was involved in the mediation process.

“Some have been burned by the torch,” Morgan said.

Morrison emphasized that he stuck to basic issues in what was a process of elimination with the conservancy and the zoo.

“The basic consensus comes with the number of parking spaces, ending use of the Greensward (by the zoo), protecting the trees and taking the Old Forest out of the conversation,” he said. “What we’re laying out are the key things that each group wanted protected, which is how we get to the compromise.

“If we get into the weeds, your compromise falls apart and then this body is forced to make a decision that we should really try to bring to a consensus.”

The details and their execution, by his strategy, are up to Strickland’s administration.

Morrison’s outline of his process was a response to council member Patrice Robinson who was troubled by the lack of boundaries in the resolution for where the expanded zoo parking lot ends and where the Greensward begins.

“I want us to end this today,” she said. “We don’t need to come back a month from now and talk about this is how much land you’ve got to give up, how many trees you’ve got. We should be able to do that today. This is hard to swallow.”

Morrison said it is hard to know that until engineers and other experts work out drainage for the parking lot and other details of the terrain.

He also made it clear the compromise began with a basic question: how many new parking spaces does the zoo need and can the conservancy agree to? The number is 415 net new spaces and the number is part of the resolution the council approved.

“That’s the number the zoo said they needed that the OPC and the zoo agreed to,” Morrison said. “If you go to the zoo, the zoo is going to say they need 600 spaces. They don’t need 600 spaces. This is about the number of spaces. I want to keep emphasizing that. It’s not about boundaries.”

Zoo president and CEO Chuck Brady estimated the parking lot overhaul and addition is a $3 million project with the cost to be split evenly between the zoo and the OPC with money they raise from their revenue and private donors.

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. 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 further onto the Greensward.

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 a berm to screen the zoo parking from view on the Greensward.

A grove of magnolia trees would remain as they are.

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.

The passage of the resolution Tuesday rescinds a March 1 resolution the council passed giving the zoo control of two-thirds of the Greensward for parking. The council also dropped a pending ordinance that does what the new resolution does.

The resolution approved Tuesday states that the zoo is permitted to use the Greensward for overflow parking until the parking plan is completed, with that construction to be done by January 2019.

The council action also takes a consent order with all of the terms to Chancery Court. The court would hear any disputes over enforcement of the terms that might come up. The consent order would also settle the zoo’s January lawsuit against the city and the OPC seeking undisputed control of the Greensward.

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