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City Reporter



Buckle Down

Memphis prepares for new child safety-seat law.

By Janel Davis

Bouncing up and down in the back seat, poking their little heads out of the car window, and stretching out in the back for a nap will be "remember whens" next week when Tennessee's new child safety-seat law goes into effect. Child-safety advocates and seat providers are preparing for the change.

The law becomes effective July 1st, with the most notable rules requiring children ages 4 through 8 and less than five feet tall to ride in a booster seat supported by a seat belt in the back seat of a vehicle.

The law also requires children under age 1 and weighing 20 pounds or less to ride in rear-facing child seats. Children ages 1 through 3 and weighing more than 20 pounds must ride in a forward-facing child seat. Both age groups must be placed in the vehicle's rear seat.

"The law is a good thing," said Babies 'R' Us marketing and safety coordinator Nicole Braden. "We had training with a safety organization and found that 48 percent of unintentional child deaths are the result of children improperly restrained in vehicles."

Babies 'R' Us sells seats for older children and offers parents assistance on proper installation. Braden admits that some seats can be bulky and difficult to install in smaller cars, and prices can be expensive for some families. Some seats cost more than $100; even the cheaper models are priced at $50. But those obstacles do not change her support of the law. "I think there needs to be more education," she said. "A lot of misuse comes from miseducation and affordability."

The Shelby County Health Department has long been an advocate of child-seat safety and has assisted low-income families by providing reduced-price seats for about 20 years. The health department offers infant seats for $5 and toddler seats for $10. They receive no state or federal money for the program but are funded by revenues from citations given by police for drivers violating seat-belt laws.

"So far this year we've gotten $150,000 and have given out 3,500 seats," said program supervisor Nellie Campbell. This is down from about 4,200 seats distributed by the same time last year. While the health department does not offer seats for older children, the program provides them to safety instructors with the Memphis Police Department (MPD) for distribution.

Cheryl Pollich, who instructs child-safety classes at the health department for parents, said most of their clients are aware of the new law, but many are not happy. "Once a child gets older, say 7 or 8 years old, sitting in that seat is not what they want to do, and they are not happy. Because the children are not happy, the parents aren't happy."

A child's unhappiness about safety seats does not concern most law-enforcement officers. With accidents involving children on the rise, safety is their primary concern. Ruth Hawkins, a child passenger-safety instructor with the MPD, is in charge of distributing seats for older children to low-income families for free. As a police officer she will also be charged with enforcing the new law. Hawkins said enforcement will not be any more difficult. "It's usually obvious to tell if a seat belt properly fits a child or if that child needs to be in a [booser or infant] seat," she said. "Ninety-nine percent of parents want their kids safe, but you have some that will only go by the minimum requirements and nothing more."

"With day-cares and anyone who transports children, it is a big problem because [the operators] know that booster seats are safer for children, but since the law didn't previously require it, they didn't do it," she continued. "This new law will make parents and drivers put their kids in seats."

Earlier this month, an accident involved a van transporting children from the Tree of Knowledge child-care center. One child who was inappropriately sharing a seat belt with another child was thrown through the windshield.

Warnings for violating the new law will be issued to drivers for the first year, with fines beginning July 2004. Of the $50 fine, $10 will go to the state general fund and the remaining $40 to child-safety funds.

Glenview Defenders

Homeowners take issue with vinyl-sided "plastic houses."

By Mary Cashiola

"Vinyl siding is a no-no in a historic district," said Rubye Coffman, president of the Glenview Landmarks Committee. "Maybe you can put it on the back, but not on the front."

Coffman is a spitfire of a woman who won't tell her age, because, she said, she doesn't look it. She's lived in Glenview, a beautiful community of wide streets and lush trees tucked between Lamar and South Parkway, since 1964.

But Coffman and the Glenview Landmarks Committee suffered a blow last week when a Memphis City Council committee approved an appeal -- for a house with vinyl siding -- that is out of compliance with design guidelines of the Glenview Edgewood Manor Historic Preservation District. And now the committee is gearing up for a fight.

After a neighborhood has been zoned for historic preservation, exterior changes must be approved by the Memphis Landmarks Commission (MLC) and a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) issued. At the MLC's May 28th meeting, the owner of 1171 Kyle requested a retroactive COA for some vinyl siding she was having installed.

According to the minutes from that meeting, the owner didn't know the siding was forbidden in the neighborhood or that she had to get a COA for any exterior changes. The MLC was sympathetic but unanimously denied her application and gave her 90 days to remove the siding.

But now the siding is going up, not down.

The owner appealed to the City Council's landmarks committee last Tuesday and the committee approved her appeal. And as much as Coffman and company dislike the way the house looks, their real issue is with the council.

"They kept saying she was over 80 years old and had already spent $10,000 on it," said an indignant Coffman. "Since when do age and money give you the right to circumvent the law? The council is not supporting what it's legislating."

Coffman, who points out she's no spring chicken herself, doesn't see this as an argument over one house but a battle for the neighborhood. "We're not going to let our neighborhood go down," she said. "It's widely rumored that there are some people who want to see our neighborhood go downhill because it's in a prime location."

The neighborhood's houses -- the city's first predominantly black historic district -- represent a variety of distinct architectural styles: Tudor Revival, Spanish Eclectic, Craftsman Bungalow.

Coffman said she talks to code enforcement "whenever I can catch them. ... When we see something wrong, we report it," she said. "We're all retired, but none of us are retired. We put the energy we used for working into this neighborhood."

Several houses in the neighborhood already have vinyl siding. In fact, Glenview Landmarks Committee member Janice Pettis says hers is one of them, but that those homes have been grandfathered in.

"It's the procedure and the process that I'm worried about rather than an indictment of one person. This establishes a precedent," said Pettis. "The city is trying to promote neighborhoods on the one hand, but that's what we're trying to do and we're not getting the support we need."

The group is currently considering legal remedies. In other Tennessee cities with historic zoning boards, appeals go to Chancery Court rather than the City Council.

And though this issue is not currently on the agenda for the next meeting, if a council member wanted to hear it in full council, it could be brought up there.

"We don't want our neighborhood reduced to a community of plastic houses," said Coffman.

Bye Bye, Beach

Maywood closes after 70 years.

By Bianca Phillips

Historic Maywood Beach, a one-and-a-half-acre lake near Olive Branch, Mississippi, is scheduled to close on June 30th, just four days shy of its 72nd anniversary.

The lake, which opened to the public on July 4, 1931, featured white beaches complete with sand shipped from Florida, diving towers, slides, and plenty of picnic space. Originally conceived by M.E. Woodson, Maywood was developed as a supplement to a housing division in hopes of attracting buyers. His plan worked, and the area soon became a family favorite for three-quarters of a century.

Current owner Hugh Armistead, a lawyer who has owned the property since 1987, said he can't secure liability insurance coverage anymore and is thus forced to shut down the operation. However, he said Maywood has an excellent safety record.

"We've been trying to arrange a continuation of our liability coverage, but we're just unable to do it. I guess it's the same problem the doctors have been having with insurance in the state of Mississippi. The insurance companies are pulling out of the large jury awards," he said.

Armistead plans on turning the area into a subdivision and says he will start work right away.

"I'm very disappointed. I grew up there, and I've worked there since I was 13, so it's special to me," said Armistead. "It's very painful, but nothing lasts forever. We got 70-something years out of it. We'll definitely miss it. There's a lot of fond memories."

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