Flyer file photo
Overton Park Conservancy (OPC) executive director Tina Sullivan responded late Thursday evening to the Memphis Zoological Society's (MZS) lawsuit saying her group will "vigorously oppose" it.
Sullivan said the suit on Thursday came after the zoo agreed to mediation Wednesday and called the filing an "extraordinary step."
"They apparently base this suit on a letter requested by a member of the [Memphis City Council] on New Year's Eve, hours before Mayor Strickland took office," Sullivan said. "We believe the letter was mistaken, factually and legally, and that the Overton Park Conservancy was given the responsibility for managing that area of the park in its 2012 management agreement with the City."
Sullivan said OPC will continue to work with park the city and zoo users to find parking solutions.
The board of the Memphis Zoological Society filed for a declaratory judgment Thursday afternoon "to once again reaffirm our right" to manage the Greensward and use it for overflow parking, according to a letter to Memphis Zoo members Thursday evening.
"With this action, we are not looking to prohibit anyone from using this area for recreational activities when not in use for our purposes," says the letter, signed by zoo president and CEO Chuck Brady. "Our intent is simply to reaffirm and further solidify our management of the area, as recently upheld by a legal opinion issued by [Memphis City Council] attorney Allan Wade in December."
With the letter, zoo officials would "also like to clear the air about the trees removed" from Overton Park. The trees were, indeed, removed to make way for improvements to the area of the Greensward zoo official expected they'd need when the Zambezi Hippo River Camp exhibit opens this spring. The letter does not define the improvements.
Here's what Brady said about the trees and the zoo's commitment to conservancy:
"As such, our trained horticulture team carefully unearthed the young trees, which were planted illegally there by the Overton Park Conservancy three years ago and impeded a key ingress/egress point in the area. For the record, the trees were not harmed in this process and are currently being nurtured elsewhere until the Overton Park Conservancy picks them up and plants them in a more suitable location. Please know that we appreciate nature almost as much as we love our animals."
Brady's letter also says the Greensward parking debate has been a distraction "for too long" and that it is "unfortunate that there has been so much speculation and misleading information shared by our neighbors in the news and social media."
Further, Brady claims the zoo has used the Greensward since 1986 at the suggestion of park neighbors and the city, in an effort at the time to limit the cutting of mature trees and impeding on natural areas. He said further use of the Greensward is imperative.
"Without it, 75,000 visitors would be turned away every year simply because of the inability to park, and that includes the countless families who take advantage of our free Tuesday program. [The lawsuit] is a step in the right direction in maintaining the zoo’s position as one of the best zoos in the entire country, a major economic driver for the region and Memphis’ best family-friendly attraction that can and should be enjoyed by everyone."