New Type of Subdivision to Replace Foote Homes

By Madeline Faber

Memphis’ last traditional public housing complex is coming down and a new kind of subdivision will rise in its place.

The Land Use Control Board formally accepted the site plan for the South City development at its Thursday, Sept. 8, meeting. With the help of a $30 million federal Choice Neighborhoods grant, the Memphis Housing Authority plans to raze the 420 units of Foote Homes that date back to the 1940s to make way for Memphis’ first sustainable subdivision.

The sustainable subdivision is a distinct zoning type in the Unified Development Code. It incorporates some of the latest advances in land use and community development, like building townhouses, commercial buildings and mixed-use apartments in proximity to promote neighborhood stability.

Josh Whitehead, planning director with the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Planning and Development, said that the sustainable subdivision was written into the UDC in 2010, but no one has yet stepped forward with an application for that kind of project.

The UDC states that sustainable subdivisions encourage development within existing communities while conserving natural and financial resources.

Whitehead said that South City follows the same general planning principles that were incorporated at other MHA projects, like University Place, Legends Park and Cleaborn Pointe at Heritage Landing.

“The main difference between South City and those appears to be the proximity of the buildings to the perimeter streets, such as Danny Thomas and Mississippi Boulevard, which is appropriate in this more urban setting,” he said.

Those arteries will help bridge the redevelopment of affordable units and the redevelopment of the greater neighborhood. Choice Neighborhood’s predecessor, the Hope VI program, only allowed for redevelopment of affordable housing on an existing site. The current program extends those boundaries to encourage more housing and services in the surrounding area.

The sustainable subdivision zoning dovetails with that goal. Among its many criteria is proximity to day care centers, public transit, education, employment and places of worship. The housing within the South City neighborhood will be a mix of affordable and market-rate units.

“It creates an environment where people are encouraged to grow by being a part of it because there’s such a mix in the community that you see options for living, and they’re right around you,” said MHA executive director Marcia Lewis. “It encourages people to be more self-sufficient, to become homeowners, to become independent of subsidy.”

Cady Seabaugh, vice president of communications and sustainability for South City developer McCormack Baron Salazar, said that building up a sustainable community provides a better return on investment.

“We’ve found that if you built with that mentality in mind, you’re paying more attention to the details that keep a community healthy, stable, safe, welcoming and attractive,” she said.

McCormack Baron Salazar is recruiting a grocery store and plans to bring in local farmers’ markets. The developer also is pursuing LEED certification for neighborhood development, Seabaugh said.

In planning a sustainable subdivision, a developer is allowed greater density than what the OPD usually permits. The trade-off is that there is more shared space and greater ease of walkability to a network of amenities and employment opportunities.

A sustainable subdivision is a natural fit for MHA’s vision for the Foote Home’s redevelopment, Lewis said.

“The Choice Neighborhoods program, what South City is part of, creates an entire neighborhood. It reaches outside of the footprint of the public housing development into the broader areas.”

South City’s network of sidewalks within the development will be considered public streets, and a park in heart of the project will promote gathering and community health. The project also will incorporate green building principles under the Enterprise Green Communities criteria. Efficient appliances and structures will provide cost savings to the residents, Lewis said.

She added that South City’s connectivity extends beyond the neighborhood. With the aid of T-Mobile and the Women’s Foundation of Greater Memphis, her team has given away 500 tablets to neighborhood residents, and more donated tablets are on the way. She’s currently in discussions to install a wide area network to provide Wi-Fi for all South City residents.

“It provides access to a greater world outside of that development,” she said.