VOL. 132 | NO. 156 | Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Tensions of Density
By Patrick Lantrip
With hundreds of units already announced and all signs indicating there are more to come, the Midtown apartment market is primed to explode.
But when it comes to development, it’s no secret that Midtown residents can be fiercely protective.
So as more developers eye projects in the area, the question becomes: how do residents and developers strike a healthy balance between meeting the city’s need for more density and the desire to preserve Midtown’s unique nature?
The answer, according to Midtown Memphis Development Corp. board members Sam Goff and Mark Fleischer, is engagement.
“We’re all for density,” Goff said. “Density means retail is going to be more successful, it means you’re going to have more people wanting to bring new retail into the area, but it’s got to be well thought-out and planned.”
Since most of Midtown is covered with a patchwork of various local and national historic districts and unique zoning overlays, Goff said the key for developers is to involve residents early and often, address issues head-on, and listen.
“I think it’s important for developers to take into consideration the historic district guidelines for development,” Goff said. “It’s one thing to ask for a variance, it’s another thing to plow through it with a bulldozer.”
But engagement is a two-way street, they said, and if residents truly want to help shape the future of Midtown, it will require more of them than just posting their disapproval on social media.
“People talk about wanting to protect their neighborhoods, but there is a significant portion of those folks who won’t step out their door to fight for it,” Goff said. “I don’t think there is a neighborhood association in all of Midtown that feels they have too much involvement from people in their area.”
Ultimately, both sides need to be prepared to negotiate.
“You can’t be too rigid,” Goff said. “Nobody is going to get everything they want – the community and the developer need to work toward something that is acceptable for both sides.”
Developer James Maclin recently left MAA to start his own development venture, M&M Enterprises.
“For me, what makes Midtown special is its diversity – there is no one-size-fits-all,” Maclin said. “Good development in Midtown requires transparency, competition, and engagement.”
One of the primary driving factors behind the increase in development is the city’s desire for more density in its core. That is becoming evident in the city’s primary development entities the Downtown Memphis Commission and the Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County (EDGE).
“I really think the mayor’s incentives through EDGE are working,” Maclin said. “The change from DMC’s 8-year-max PILOTs to EDGE’s 15-year-max PILOTs shifts projects from no-go to go.”
Increased density will mean more people, more activity, more vibrancy, more shops, more entertainment, more jobs and higher incomes, but it is also expected to bring more traffic issues, less parking and a higher cost of living to the area. So only time will tell if the benefits will outweigh the negatives.
Everyone has their part to play in the process, Maclin said, and when the pieces are in sync at the appropriate time, special things can happen from a development standpoint.
“Fifteen years ago you could have bought a house (in Cooper-Young) for $80,000. Now try finding something for less than $200,000,” Goff said. “How do you create place a place where people want to live and without creating some of these problems? If you can figure that one out, then you’re smarter than I am.”