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The Road Not Taken

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The opening of the Avenue Carriage Crossing in Collierville in 2005 marked a critical juncture in the history of the town. The mall's existence made palpable and immediate what had been true on paper for a long time: Collierville's a big town and growing fast. Traffic congestion on Poplar and Byhalia is one sign. And Target opening a store in 2004 carried its own share of the classic small town having truly made it. But when what is arguably Shelby County's premier mall opened in Collierville -- far-removed from the town square but a Collierville zip code nevertheless -- a couple of juxtaposed (but not exactly contradictory) questions came immediately to mind: What's to become of the once small town, and how high can this baby fly?

All of those stretches of undeveloped land between the mall and the town proper looked about ready to pop.

One swath of land, west of Houston Levee and north of Bill Morris Parkway, was targeted by Memphis-based developers Clark & Clark for transformation. Their original proposal, called Bailey Farms, had the land turned into a mix of retail, office buildings, and hotels that could capitalize on the heavy traffic brought in by the mall and the proximity to Highway 385.

Bailey Farms is "retail designed to simulate small-town architecture," says Ben Clark, a partner with Clark & Clark. "It's something different for Memphis."

That "something different" was not just consistent with the town visually but was also unprecedented in physical size. The Bailey Farms proposal covered 292 acres to be developed in a number of phases. Its neighbor, Carriage Crossing, sits on approximately 100 acres. "The fact that the master plan is so grand in scale affords the opportunity to create a real sense of place," Clark says. But he admits that the scope of the development might have built-in disadvantages, as well. "It's so large, the magnitude is not something Collierville deals with on an every-year basis," he says.

In Collierville's 2001 land-use plan, a non-legally-binding outline of how the town sees development progressing far into the future, the area proposed for development is described as open space, low-density residential, and office and business parks. Bailey Farms, with its heavy retail, does not fit that description.

When Bailey Farms went before city officials for approval, it was denied.

Jim Kuzdas, Collierville town planner, says, "When the Avenue Carriage Crossing was approved, the planning board made a commitment to not rezone the property around the mall as endless commercial and retail space." The image town administrators wanted to avoid, an image Bailey Farms called to mind for some of them, was Wolfchase Galleria, with its acres of asphalt and retail.

Instead of approving the development, the town opted to take a wait-and-see approach. Since the Bailey Farms proposal came hot on the heels of the mall's opening, the attitude was "let's see what happens with the mall," Kuzdas says.

In addition to timing, the size of the development was a concern for town administrators. "The board liked the overall design, the character, the identity of Bailey Farms," Kuzdas says. "But it was almost too big to get our arms around.

"The vision for the town is to try to retain as much of its small-town character as we can, to find a good balance between quality growth and development," Kuzdas says. Town administrators have referred to the land-use plan throughout the years when considering new developments, and Kuzdas says Collierville has "held to true to the overriding goals and principles of the plan."

But a land-use plan is not law. The zoning map is, and the Bailey Farms project is by no means dead. Clark & Clark has applied for and gotten approval for three rezoning requests for sections of land within the scope of the proposed Bailey Farms. These sectors are now zoned MPO -- Medical Professional Office -- though other parcels of land are still zoned in a way that would not allow for the retail space that Bailey Farms calls for. Clark says his company continues to talk with Collierville about the future of the development.

According to Kuzdas, "Growth will be coming. We need to prepare for it carefully and make sure we have adequate infrastructure." With regard to Bailey Farms, he says, "Maybe down the road, five or 10 years, as we see how Collierville develops, some portion of the project could be more acceptable.

"That location is prime, and at some point in time it will be developed."

The story of growth in Collierville isn't a Pandora's box and it's not a perfect storm. It's just town planners and private developers striving for what is best for the town in the long run. The future of Collierville lies somewhere between the two visions. ■ -- GA

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