VOL. 133 | NO. 74 | Thursday, April 12, 2018
Cooper-Young Overlay OK’d With Footnote
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 will require approval of a companion ordinance further defining what can and cannot be built there or how properties can be changed so the local Landmarks Commission can properly enforce terms of the overlay district.
That companion ordinance was an amendment brought forth by council member Kemp Conrad. Creating that companion ordinance more specifically defining standards in the overlay 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.
Backers of a historic overlay for Cooper-Young rallied at City Hall Tuesday, April 10, for a City Council debate followed by a 7-3 vote for the status, which means the Landmarks Commission enforces rules for development in the area. (Daily News/Bill Dries)
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 more of these in the pipeline.”
After the extended debate, the council also 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 cited recent infill projects in the area.
Robert Hatfield of the Cooper-Young Community Association showed pictures of one infill project – 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 the Landmarks Commission, with the only appeal being to Chancery Court.
Council member Martavius Jones served notice he will likely be pushing for the council to hear those 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 – a body that is not elected.
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,” Swearengen said.
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 also 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 against the overlay district on third reading, 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 will be developed 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. The park 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 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. The revenue will help the developer pay delinquent taxes owed by the previous owners that have to be paid to close on the property, Brittenum said.
Representatives of Neighborhood Preservation Inc. called for a delay in the council vote, saying it is necessary for the new owners to get approval from General Sessions Environmental Court because the apartment complex 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.