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VOL. 132 | NO. 211 | Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Mayor Stands By Decision On Sewer Connections

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland says if he had it to do over again, he would probably give more advance notice that the city was ending city sewer connections for developments outside the limits of Memphis.

“Very few of the suburban cities are extending sewers outside their city limits.”

–Jim Strickland
Memphis mayor

But he has no regrets about the policy itself that took effect in August.

“The state Legislature and the county commission took away the city’s zoning authority. We had zoning authority three miles outside the city limits,” Strickland said on the WKNO/Channel 10 program “Behind The Headlines.”

“If our authority ends at our city limits, our responsibility ought to end at our city limits,” Strickland added. “I made a mistake, though. I made that decision without really consulting enough people.”

The decision to end the approval of new developments near, but not within city borders, was related to the state’s decision to end annexation by ordinance three years ago. That state decision put city-designated annexation reserve areas on hold.

While 74 developments with agreements for city sewer system access are affected by the moratorium on new connections, according to county commission chairwoman Heidi Shafer, Strickland said he has only heard from “four or five” developers with projects.

“If we are legally responsibility, if we legally have to extend those sewers because of detrimental reliance or literally a contract, then we will do so,” he said, adding he hopes to have a resolution to those cases sometime next month.

“Memphis, I think, ought to be looked at the way these other cities are. Very few of the suburban cities are extending sewers outside their city limits,” Strickland said. “Fire and police on an emergency basis – all of the cities cooperate and go outside their limits. Most people, including the people who live in unincorporated Shelby County, support our decision.”

“Behind The Headlines,” hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

On tentative riverfront development plans announced last week, Strickland said the city is working with an expert on aquariums as tourist attractions as part of an overhaul of Mud Island River Park.

“There are people who would invest money, private investors who would invest money into aquariums,” he said. “There is a return on those aquariums. That’s a possibility.”

He said private donors or philanthropy are more likely for the funding of a proposed new location Downtown for the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art – specifically the site of the city fire station and a public parking garage on the west side of Front Street between Union and Monroe avenues.

The new location for the Brooks would be tied to Mud Island by a pedestrian bridge across the Memphis harbor to one of the two aquariums – at the end of the River Walk, which is an existing a scale model of the Mississippi River that is a central feature of the park.

“The bones of the park I think are pretty good,” Strickland said. “The problem with those things is they look exactly the way they did in the early ’80s. There’s been no money to be able to spend on it. The amphitheater, which is a great place to watch a concert, is just so dated. The bathrooms are bad. The stage is too small … We keep those basic elements and improve them. But you can also put an aquarium out there.”

On the Confederate monuments controversy, Strickland emphasized that he and the Memphis City Council are “on the exact same page” to remove a statue of Confederate general, slave trader and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest through an appeal of state rules.

The city is awaiting a November hearing before an administrative law judge to press its claim that the city does not need a waiver from the Tennessee Historical Commission to remove and relocate the statue.

“A war memorial is a term of art that is used like the Vietnam War Memorial,” Strickland said. “It is dedicated to that war. This statue is dedicated to an individual and we believe that cannot, as a legal matter, be a war memorial.”

The council approved an ordinance last week that spells out numerous other options to remove Forrest’s statue, including closing Health Sciences Park where the statue is located and erecting a monument to lynching victims around Forrest’s statue.

“I haven’t really had time to absorb that. I am not sure closing the park – I understand the sentiment – but if we close the park you still see the statue,” he said. “Putting other memorials or statues up, I’m very open to that.”

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