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VOL. 11 | NO. 15 | Saturday, April 14, 2018

Residents React to Cooper-Young’s Tentative Historic Overlay Status

By Patrick Lantrip

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Though the Memphis City Council on Tuesday, April 10, granted Cooper-Young the historic overlay district status it has been seeking since last year, there is still a sense of concern among many of the residents.

One of the primary concerns for Cooper-Young residents seeking historic protections for the district is the replacement of existing houses with infill they say isn't “in-character,” like these homes at Bruce Street and Oliver Avenue. (Memphis News/Patrick Lantrip)

“Overall I think it’s a positive win for Cooper-Young, but I don’t think the war is over yet,” said Cooper-Young resident Patrick Durkin. “The war is just beginning for the Landmarks Commission as a whole.”

Durkin was referring to an amendment that will require the council to draft and review a companion ordinance to define what can be built or changed in the district so the Memphis Landmarks Commission can enforce those terms.

“This is 300-plus acres, it hasn’t been done in 20 years, it’s a major policy issue and it’s just not as simple as some people make it sound,” Councilman Kemp Conrad, who proposed the ordinance, said about the historic overlay process at Tuesday’s meeting.

Other council members, meanwhile, cited concerns over the burdens that are placed on everyday taxpayers whose only form of appeals from the Landmarks Commission is through Chancery Court.

“We are not against development, we never have been,” Durkin said. “We just want something that fits and is compatible with the rest of the neighborhood – that’s all we’ve ever wanted.”

Thanks to a prior Tennessee Supreme Court ruling, Cooper-Young’s historic designation will be granted alongside the 13 other neighborhoods currently under the commission’s jurisdiction, until the City Council sorts out what, if any, changes it makes to the Landmarks Commission’s regulatory processes.

“Everyone from Glenview to Evergreen, Central Gardens, Rozelle, etc.,” Durkin said. “These neighborhoods all need to come together to support the Landmarks Commission as a whole.”

While not a Cooper-Young resident, Mark Fleischer lives in neighboring historic district Central Gardens and has been helping his neighbors with the process.

“Our concern is will they soften or move to soften the Landmarks zoning,” Fleischer said. “The same thing happened in 1989, then again in 1992 and 1993, where the City Council had a problem with some of the commissioners. They felt like Landmarks was overstepping its boundaries and was anti-development.”

He said that while the issues were resolved, it did result in a subtle reduction of the commission’s powers.

Fleischer also said that he was surprised at the number of inquiries his neighborhood has received from other areas of Memphis.

“I’ve really been quite surprise to see neighborhoods from East Memphis contact us and ask us what this means for our neighborhood,” he said. “We’ve had people reach out from those neighborhoods and asking what to do, because they are seeing property bought up, demolished and five house built where two are now.”

He also echoed Durkin’s sentiment that the Landmarks Commission is not anti-development.

“Historic preservation is sometimes interpreted as anti-development, and it’s not that at all,” Fleischer said. “We just want smart development and in-character development. And that’s what historical preservation is all about.”

In the meantime, Fleischer said, they are in the process of determining what their next steps are.

“We’re beginning conversations with individual council members, and we’re beginning conversations with Landmarks members, just to get a feel for where this might go,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cooper-Young Community Association board member Robert Hatfield, who is the on the committee that initially drafted Cooper-Young’s historic guidelines, said he feels optimistic going forward.

“We are very happy with the protections that have been put in place at this time,” Hatfield said. “We were very concerned with the amount of demolitions and inappropriate infill constructions that were taking place, so we’re very happy to have Landmarks protections active immediately.”

However, he did say he hopes the City Council and Landmarks Commission will find common ground that protects all of Memphis’ historic districts.

“Based on City Council’s comments, I think that everybody realizes that we have a problem with the amount of demolitions and inappropriate infill, but some people just have different philosophies on how to do address that,” he said. “And I think that as people become more aware of how the Landmarks Commission operates, they well realize it is a great solution for historic districts in Memphis.”

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