Overton Park Plan Draws Ire, Confusion


  • savethegreensward.org

Some of Overton Park’s green space will be paved for the Memphis Zoo’s new parking lot, a city official said Wednesday, though some say the plan is “needlessly large,” and some are even calling for protests against it.

Doug McGowen, the city’s chief operating officer, said the Memphis City Council’s resolution, which outlines and drives the parking lot redesign process, orders new, permanent paved parking in a now-green area southeast of the zoo’s current parking lot.

Designs from Powers Hill show lots and drive lanes that come close to the park’s Formal Gardens and Veterans’ Plaza.

“There are areas that aren’t currently paved that will be paved per the council’s resolution,” McGowen said.

That's where the plan becomes a problem for some. A new petition at change.org calls the current plan “needlessly large,” saying it “consumes nearly three acres of park land.”

The petition, posted last week by Louis Grazer, said the plan needs several “design changes to prevent unnecessary and undesired visual intrusion into the park.” His petition says the council-mandated 415 parking spots can be housed on the zoo’s current parking footprint.

Alternate plans by independent Overton Park advocates have circulated on social media in recent weeks. Those plans include the 415 parking spaces mandated by the council’s resolution and fit them all on the zoo’s current lot.

McGowen said, in a note from city hall issued Monday, that he was aware of the alternate plans. But they won’t work, he said, because housing the 415 new spaces on the existing lot “is not possible given the specifics of the resolution.”

The change.org petition asks, among other things, for city leaders to eliminate a ring road around the parking lot (included to improve traffic flow in the new lot) because it “consumes a great deal of park land and places the sights, sounds, and smells of moving vehicles adjacent to Overton Park and its users.”

“It intrudes on the sanctity of Veterans' Plaza,” reads Glazer’s petition. “The circulation flow should be within the parking lot, not around it.”

As of Thursday morning, the petition had been signed by 2,041 people.

A long thread started Wednesday on the Stop Hurting Overton Park Facebook page had some urging patience with the process now in place, one that is set to end parking on the park’s Greensward. Others said it was time to renew protests around Overton Park.

“Friends of Overton Park, it appears that our attempt to play by the city's game book is meeting a dead end with a projected bad outcome for the Greensward,” wrote Michael Graber. “Is anyone ready to reactivate protests? Perhaps this time we can protest the zoo itself and set up posts on North Parkway and McLean and Poplar for more visibility?”

Many on the thread were confused by McGowen’s missive from Monday, calling it “vague” and that it “doesn’t really tell you anything.”

McGowen said the intent of the note was “to ensure people knew that we were still moving through the process and we have not stopped.”

In the note, McGowen said that, following a review of the latest version of the plan by designers Powers Hill, an independent advisory team, and the public, “several design changes were mandated by the adminstration.” Though, no specifics of the changes were given, nor were the reasons for them to be mandated by Mayor Jim Strickland’s office.

McGowen explained Wednesday that those changes were simply decisions made from a menu of options that came from all the input (inducing the public’s) that is guiding the planning process.

Some of the changes included the location of some drive lanes, the ability to pay for parking on a mobile app, installing pay parking kiosks along Prentiss Place, and whether certain trees were to stay or go.

All of the changes will be reviewed by the designers, and the advisory team, which is set to have another meeting within a month. The public can then weigh in on the decisions and the plan overall in a public meeting.

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