VOL. 133 | NO. 73 | Wednesday, April 11, 2018
City Council Grants Historic Overlay Status to Cooper-Young
By Bill Dries
Memphis City Council members gave final approval Tuesday, April 10, to a historical overlay district for Cooper-Young – the first historic district status granted by the city in 20 years.
But the 7-3 vote on third and final reading likely isn’t the end of the discussion about how decisions will be made by the local Landmarks Commission enforcing terms of the overlay that govern what can and cannot be built there or who it can be changed.
The ordinance passed with an amendment by Council member Kemp Conrad that delays approval of the item in council minutes of the Tuesday meeting until the council approves what would be a companion ordinance more specifically defining standards in the overlay.
The process could take months. But Josh Whitehead, planning director for the Memphis-Shelby County Office of Planning and Development, said under terms of a recent Tennessee Supreme Court ruling the Landmarks Commission will make decisions about those standards in the interim.
Conrad saw deficiencies in the ordinance although he agreed with the general need.
“This is a major policy decision,” he said. “There are a couple of more of these in the pipeline.”
After the extended debate, the council approved on the first of three readings a historic overlay district for the Crosstown area.
The council heard from homeowners and some small business owners in Cooper-Young who sited recent infill projects in the area.
Robert Hatfield of the Cooper-Young Community Association showed pictures of the infill – small, narrow homes with no front porch and an attached garage. “This is drastically changing the built environment in Cooper-Young,” he said.
Conrad’s problem was with definitions that would allow a developer and homebuilder “pretty narrow” conditions under which they could demolish an existing building and without “a middle ground” on that and other standards.
He and other council members cited multiple architectural styles in Cooper-Young as possibly leading to arbitrary decisions by Landmarks with the only appeal being to Chancery Court.
Council member Martavius Jones served notice he will likely be pushing for the council to hear appeals short of going to court in the follow-up just as the council does in other development cases from other bodies.
He cited “regular taxpayers” forced to spend more money on going to court to contest a ruling by the Landmarks Commission -- an un-elected body.
Council member Jamita Swearengen, whose district includes Cooper-Young, saw things differently. “It amazes me how we, as public servants, some of us focus on developers and some of us focus a great deal on constituents. … The developers don’t elect us.”
Council member Frank Colvett said he understood the desire for the district status, calling the attached garages of some of the infill construction “an abomination.”
But he said he felt there was a need for more specific standards for decisions the Landmarks Commission will make to enforce the standard.
“I feel like what we are missing is some more detail,” he said.
Colvett and fellow council members Reid Hedgepeth and Bill Morrison voted no with council chairman Berlin Boyd and council member Edmund Ford Jr. abstaining.
Meanwhile, the council approved a business park on the south side of Ketchum Road east of Labelle, near Memphis International Airport, by Performance Properties.
The “Airport Business Park” development on the site of what was once the Pendleton Arms apartment complex and an adjoining neighborhood of single family homes that were part of the airport buyout area will include a new billboard that faces Interstate 240’s north side.
Some council members balked at a new billboard.
“It’s a good development,” Colvett said as he chaired the council’s planning and zoning committee earlier in the council day. “Is there a way to approve this and later take out the billboard?”
Swearengen, whose district includes the development, argued against it.
“I think the billboard will be an asset,” she said. “We want the word out that we have an opportunity in that area. It’s a message of opportunity.”
Attorney Dedrick Brittenum, representing the developer, said the billboard might have some public service announcements but will be for advertising with the revenue helping the developer to pay delinquent taxes owed by the previous owners that have to be paid in order to close on the property.
Representative of Neighborhood Preservation Inc. called for a delay in the council vote saying approval from General Sessions Environmental Court is necessary for the new owners. As the apartment complex, the property was declared a public nuisance under state law.
Brittenum said it is customary to close on the property and then go to court for approval. And he said the court was aware the developers were going to the council to approve the change in zoning from residential to employment district.
The Office of Planning and Development and the Land Use Control Board recommended rejection of the zoning change.
OPD staff said the general rezoning to include light industrial uses was “too broad and … would deteriorate the balance of uses in the area.”
Swearengen said the alternative to the business park would be one of those other uses including possibly a truck stop.
In other action Tuesday, the council approved on the second of three readings ordinances for the de-annexation of part of Eads and an area of the southwest Memphis flood plain that is uninhabited.
The council approved on the second of three readings the ordinances that commit the city to partial funding of an expansion of prekindergarten classrooms across Shelby County.
The council also approved funding of $250,000 for a driver’s license reinstatement and diversion program. Working with the General Sessions Court Clerk and the City Court Clerk, the council fund will go to help those who meet program guidelines clear court fees they owe that has led to their driver’s license being suspended or revoked. The council is using the $100,000 it was allocated for MLK50 activities and initiatives.
The city fire station at 211 Jackson Avenue was sold to ALSAC, the fundraising arm of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for $1,725,000 by council resolution Tuesday. And in a separate resolution, the city sold the Vehicle Services Center and Sign Shop – properties beneath the Danny Thomas Boulevard overpass to St. Jude at their appraised value of $3.3 million.