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Zone Offense

Proposed Midtown development standards unveiled.

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It all started with a grocery store.

After the proposed development at Overton Square fell through earlier this year — due, in part, to community outcry over the design — representatives from several groups began to draft a plan that would dictate development standards for renovations and new construction in Midtown.

"The community says this is what we want our neighborhood to look like," said city councilman Shea Flinn, who was instrumental in the proposed Midtown zoning overlay. "We're not going to prostitute ourselves for any developer who comes along."

About 50 people attended a meeting at Peabody Elementary last week to hear about the plan. In the overlay area, current commercial zoning would change to mixed-use commercial, and there would be a review process for all new commercial development.

"Outside of downtown, it's illegal right now to have buildings with commercial on the ground floor and residential above," said Charles "Chooch" Pickard, executive director of the Memphis Regional Design Center.

Almost concurrently, the Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission are primed to accept the new Unified Development Code, which sets new standards countywide.

The Midtown plan would also dictate how commercial buildings are placed on a site. Because of the urban nature of Midtown, the overlay seeks to put new buildings closer to the street with parking in the back. Under the current zoning, most new construction is suburban in nature, with the buildings set back from the street to allow parking in the front.

"This is to preserve the character of Midtown," Pickard said. "We don't want suburban development in Midtown."

The plan pays particular attention to areas of Cooper and Central, some of which were previously zoned for the heaviest commercial activity, such as car sales and service. Under the proposal, those areas will be downgraded.

"We've found a pattern of zoning that is too intensive for the land use," said Mary Baker with the Division of Planning and Development. "This zoning is appropriate for the highway."

Why is a street like Cooper zoned like a highway?

"Much of Midtown is like that," she said. "In the late '70s, city corridors were zoned that way. Much of the residential areas were zoned 'multi-family.' They thought things would develop with higher intensity that way. ... Now we have an opportunity to get rid of some of it, and that's a good thing."

Other public meetings will be held Wednesday, June 23rd, at Circuit Playhouse and Wednesday, June 30th, at the Memphis Leadership Foundation. Both meetings begin at 5:30 p.m.

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