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VOL. 131 | NO. 48 | Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Greensward Dispute Mediation Begins

By Bill Dries

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The city-backed mediation effort between the Memphis Zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy begins Tuesday, March 8, following a busy weekend in Overton Park that brought out large crowds for the zoo as well as the park in general.

There were some sporadic sit-ins in Overton Park but no arrests Saturday as zoo overflow parking worked around the protesters. More of the greensward was used for overflow parking on Sunday.

(Daily News/Bill Dries)

And the two groups met on the greensward acreage that is at the heart of the mediation effort brokered by Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the conservancy board said the group remains "optimistic" and is "willing and anxious" to resolve differences by agreement in the mediation process.

But Ray Pohlman also pointed to what could be a future legal challenge in the matter even if mediation should produce a long-term compromise.

"It is our belief that the mayor, as the city's sole contracting officer under the charter, has jurisdiction to decide whether and when satisfactory alternatives to greensward parking are and should be adopted," Pohlman said. "Therefore, as and when alternative parking solutions are found, accepted by Mayor Strickland, and he so directs, parking on the greensward should be reduced accordingly, with the ultimate goal that it be eliminated."

Overflow parking on the greensward Sunday easily covered a third of the acreage which the zoo controls via a resolution approved Tuesday by the Memphis City Council.

The cars and those with picnic spreads on the lawn were in close to each other Sunday afternoon given a much larger parking area was needed than the one used Saturday.

On both days, some of those in the Save the Greensward effort were on McLean Boulevard directing those turning into the park to free, on-street parking in the neighborhood west of the zoo and park.

A group of about 100 people, many carrying Save The Greensward signs, turned out in Overton Park Saturday. There were several sporadic sit-ins but no arrests.

Off-duty uniformed Memphis Police Department officers working for the zoo as well as on-duty uniformed police officers guided cars around the protesters but made no effort to arrest them.

Michael Mosby was one of a group of three people who picked their spot within an area marked off by orange safety cones for the parking.

“Our daughter had soccer practice today,” he said later. “It’s just kind of infuriating to think that half of the park is for empty cars. So we just wanted to sit down and see what happened.”

Mosby praised the police officers.

“They were very kind. They were very professional,” he said. “They allowed us to make our point and stood around us and protected us.”

The orange cones are a regular feature on the greensward during the spring and fall which is most of the 65 days a year the zoo uses the greensward for overflow parking.

Over the last year, the cones have been matched on weekends with the Save The Greensward signs put up by protesters.

Jenay Boggs walked her bicycle to one of the sets of cones and signs, spread out a blanket on the parking boundary and read a “Beekeeper’s Handbook” as the area within the cones filled with rows 20 cars long.

Boggs, a volunteer at the zoo, said she came “because of everything that’s happened in the last week.”

“I love the zoo. I love the park,” she added.

After a brief 11 a.m. lull in traffic, cars began making their way around Boggs to get to parking places on the northernmost end of the greensward. By 12:30 p.m., some of the cars were again being directed to open spaces in the zoo parking lot.

The first round of mediation Tuesday will likely determine whether the Chancery Court lawsuit over the greensward continues or is withdrawn.

The zoo filed the lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment from the court giving it control of a part of the greensward, just as the mediation effort was announced.

Strickland said the lawsuit was anticipated by his administration when it brokered the mediation process. The conservancy expressed surprise at the lawsuit.

With the council action last week, zoo CEO and president Chuck Brady said the zoo would withdraw the lawsuit if the conservancy withdrew its counterclaim against the zoo.

Conservancy leaders have said they want to see how mediation progresses before making that decision.

The zoo has named FedEx Corp. executive Richard Smith as its proxy in the mediation session.

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