VOL. 131 | NO. 89 | Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Council Approves Overton Boundary Ordinance on First Reading
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members approved an ordinance Tuesday, May 3, on the first of three readings to set boundaries in Overton Park including the use of the park Greensward.
But some council members who supported a March 1 resolution that gave the Memphis Zoo control of the greensward were much more hesitant about the ordinance two months later.
Council chairman Kemp Conrad, who proposed the ordinance, insisted the action is a follow-through on the resolution that includes a “mete and bounds” survey to specifically set the boundaries. Conrad also said the ordinance would be amended to incorporate any agreements reached in the mediation between the zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy.
“This doesn’t at all interfere with the mediation,” Conrad said in executive session before the voting meeting. “What this will do is when the mediation hopefully concludes codify what the use will be for Overton Park. … But if there’s not an outcome, the mayor and the council – the city – will decide ultimately. We hope the mediation is successful and this will be amended at that time to reflect what we hope is the outcome of mediation, if not what the city decides is best for Overton Park.”
But there are concerns about whether the movement of the ordinance might have its own influence on the mediation, which is nearing a June 30 deadline for a complete agreement. If there is no agreement from the mediation by then, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has said he will act to resolve the controversy.
”I don’t want to do anything that would give people a reason to step away from mediation and not act in good faith,” said council member Worth Morgan, whose district includes the park.
“I still don’t see what we lose by waiting,” added council member Martavius Jones.
“What do we gain by waiting?” Conrad replied. “If you’re going to try to please the fringe element so they don’t get mad and go do bad things – then this job’s probably not for you.”
Conrad said he is optimistic about the mediation process.
The council heard at the end of its meeting Tuesday from numerous citizens opposed to or distrustful of the movement of the ordinance.
“The way the ordinance reads now is unacceptable. Do it after mediation,” said Stacey Greenberg. “There’s a lot of mistrust after what happened before,” she added, referring to the council’s vote to approve the March 1 resolution just hours after the text of the resolution was made public.
Conrad defended using the term “fringe element” to describe some critics of the council’s action.
“You should see some of the emails we get,” he told the speakers at the council session. “And it’s unacceptable.”
But Conrad said he appreciated “the positive civic engagement” by others who may also disagree with the council action.
“I don’t think there is anybody on this dais that thinks parking on the Greensward is a solution,” he added. “We are putting a legal framework in place to facilitate the decision that comes out of mediation.”
Without any delay, the council’s third and final reading of the ordinance would be at its June 7 meeting, which is the same meeting where the council is expected to take final votes on all budget matters for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The final budget votes usually make for a long council session even when they are the only major items on the council’s agenda.
If a final vote on the ordinance is delayed to the June 21 session it would be nine days short of the June 30 mediation deadline.
But Conrad said there is nothing to prevent a delay in a final vote to the council’s July 5 meeting.
In other action Tuesday, the council delayed for a second time a vote on a truck stop and hotel by Hospitality Builders of America Inc. for Hollywood at Interstate 40 on the site of the old Treasury department store.
Developers announced during the meeting that they are abandoning plans for the truck stop that drew some neighborhood opposition to develop a new use other than a truck stop. They also told council members the new proposal involves Shawn Massey of the Shopping Center Group.
The council approved a hotel/motel waiver for developers of a hotel in the Dermon Building, a vacant office building at 22 N. B.B. King Boulevard. at Court Avenue.
A tire store by Halle Properties was also approved at 7684 U.S. Highway 64 as well as an employee parking lot at Prescott and Raines Roads for Delta Wholesale Liquors Inc. also won council approval.
The council also approved on third and final reading an ordinance that allows some exceptions to a tourism tax or fee to those who stay at most hotels in the city. Hotels that charge less than $35 a night and have fewer than 45 rooms would be exempt from the fee. The council amended the fee guidelines to the 35-45 threshold after rejecting a proposal by council member Martavius Jones for $43 and 43 rooms.
Convention and Visitors Bureau Kevin Kane warned against going above the 35-room limit saying it could affect revenue projections. But ultimately he approved of the compromise proposed by council member Berlin Boyd.