VOL. 132 | NO. 169 | Friday, August 25, 2017
New Cooper-Young Apartments Receive Green Light
By Patrick Lantrip
A contentious apartment complex slated for the heart of the Cooper-Young Historic District is moving forward after receiving the green light from the Memphis & Shelby County Board of Adjustment. But the board’s approval of the project Wednesday, Aug. 23, wasn’t a quick process.
Board members debated more than an hour before voting 5-2 in favor of Los Angeles-based developer Focal Point Investments’ plan for 999 S. Cooper St. north of Walker Avenue.
The project – which includes a three-story, nine-unit building fronting South Cooper and a four-story, 16-unit building tucked behind it – had drawn mixed reactions from the surrounding neighborhood, with residents and nearby business owners showing up to Wednesday’s board meeting to voice their opinions.
“This lot has been vacant for more than 18 years,” said Dedrick Brittenum Jr., a legal representative for Focal Point. “The area south of Young has yet to be fully developed, so this would be the first opportunity and the first development to go into the south portion of Cooper Street, and we hope this will be a catalyst for the rest of the development of Cooper all the way to Southern.”
Rendering of Focal Point’s 25-unit, two-building apartment development on Cooper Street. (Focal Point Investments, LLC.)
Although the development garnered the support of the Cooper Young Business Association, some nearby residents felt as though the 25-unit, 17,625-square-foot pair of buildings was too large for the 0.4-acre site and argued that the size of the development would only create more parking issues in an area that is already packed.
Since the design configuration was somewhat atypical, there was some debate at the meeting on whether Focal Point met the parking requirements under the Unified Development Code.
Under the UDC, for each studio apartment unit, one parking space is required. However since the bottom three apartments fronting Cooper will be “live-work” units (think artist’s studio), they require two spaces each, bringing the total to 28 spaces.
Focal Point originally planned to have 21 on-site spaces and a bike rack that could hold up to 25 bicycles. The developer later reached an agreement with First Congregational Church, located across Cooper from the apartment development, to add five more spaces, bringing the total to 26.
However, Shelby County Office of Planning and Development director Josh Whitehead said that certain provisions, including a property’s proximity to a bus stop or the addition of bike racks, can lower the required number of spaces.
“When you add these up – 5 percent here, a 10 percent credit there – likely you could build up four or five parking spaces just in your credits,” Whitehead said.
Meaning that after the credits were applied, the development only needed 19.6 spaces under the UDC.
Since that was the case, the only issue requiring a use variance was the height of the two buildings, which the Midtown Overlay portion of the UDC states cannot exceed three stories.
However, Brittenum again noted a special circumstance – that even though one building was three stories and the other four, because the Cooper-facing units are larger, both buildings were 48 feet tall, which brought it into the spirit of the law in terms of general height.
With the board’s approval, Focal Point is clear to move ahead with construction.
In addition to its approval of the Cooper-Young apartments, the board of adjustment granted the Tennessee Brewery developers a one-year extension on their variances to accommodate for construction delays for Phase II of the project. Development team 495 Tennessee LLC cited utility installation delays and the city’s roadway improvements as the reason the four-story, 130-unit apartment building at 11 E. Tennessee St. was behind schedule.
Additionally, a hotly contested plan to bring a Domino’s with a drive-thru to the corner of Union Avenue and Rembert Street was delayed for a month.
Residents on Rembert who opposed the project argued against the delay, saying they had a strong case and would still be opposed to any plans that require a drive-thru, but the board ultimately felt it was best to give the developers time to work through their plans.