About 50 people turned up for last night's public meeting at Peabody Elementary on the proposed Midtown zoning overlay.
After the proposed Overton Square grocery store development fell through earlier this year, the Memphis Regional Design Center got together with the Midtown Development Corporation, the Cooper-Young Development Corporation, and the Cooper-Young Business Association to draft a plan that would dictate development standards for renovations and new construction.
"The community says, 'this is what we want our neighborhood to look like,'" said Memphis city councilman Shea Flinn, who was instrumental in beginning the overlay process. "We're not going to prostitute ourselves for any developer who comes along."
In the overlay area, which is in a sort of upside down L/arrow shape because of the historic neighborhoods already designated in Midtown, current commercial zoning would change to mixed-use commercial and there would be a review process for all 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 regional design center.
The standards would dictate how commercial buildings are placed on the site.
Because of the urban nature of Midtown, the overlay looks to see buildings that are pulled up to the street with parking in the back and windows on the front.
Pickard also suggested taller buildings.
"To have a Trader Joe's or a Whole Foods, we need to create more density," he said. "The only way to do that is to increase the heights."
Much of Cooper is currently zoned "commercial - highway, which allows motor vehicle sales and service.
"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 out on the highway."
The overlay would change much of that zoning to the least intensive commercial use.
"It's just historical. Much of Midtown is like that," Baker said of the highway zoning on Cooper. "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 a higher intensity that way."
The city later came back and rezoned the residential network but didn't change the commercial areas.
"Now we have an opportunity to get rid of some of it," Baker said, "and that's a good thing."