Grumbles about the final Greensward parking plan began even before the Memphis City Council recorded its unanimous vote to approve it last Tuesday.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland unveiled a plan to permanently end the Memphis Zoo's use of the Overton Park Greensward on July 1st. That plan included adding parking spaces on existing zoo lots and on North Parkway, a new zoo entrance on North Parkway, and running shuttles from a new zoo lot on East Parkway.
Council member Bill Morrison brought a modified version of that plan to the council on July 19th, one approved by the zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy (OPC). The Morrison plan added 415 new parking spaces to the zoo's existing lots and added parking along North Parkway.
With this, zoo officials said they no longer needed the added parking on East Parkway and, thus, no longer needed to run trams through the Old Forest or on city streets. The city's General Services lot on the east side of the park will instead become parking and green space for Overton Park.
But all of this will take time. Morrison's plan won't end Greensward parking until 2019.
Also, the plan gave the zoo legal latitude to park on the entire Greensward until the new changes are instituted. However, zoo officials have said they will continue to park cars on its traditional footprint, which is roughly the top third of the 12-acre Greensward.
The new agreement does not set legal boundaries for park entities, a contrast from the council's March 1st resolution, which gave the zoo control of two-thirds of the Greensward. Instead, council members gave the city engineer authority to establish those boundaries — flexibility to change the plan as engineers fit the 415 spaces in the area.
All of this raised the ire of Citizens to Preserve Overton Park (CPOP), an independent park advocacy group.
"And just to put a cherry on top, this action was a violation of state Sunshine Law, because the public had zero access to this resolution or exhibit until a citizen requested that information during the city council meeting," read a CPOP post on Facebook.
Details of the final plan were not divulged until the council's executive session, only two hours before the group was set to vote on it. The resolution was passed out to council members during that session but wasn't made available to the public beforehand via the council's website.
Getting that information led to an awkward exchange between CPOP member Stacey Greenberg and council chairman Kemp Conrad. Greenberg asked Conrad if the resolution was the final vote on the issue. Conrad said nothing.
"Mr. Conrad, did you hear what I said?" Greenberg asked. "I asked a question."
"I heard you loud and clear," Conrad said.
After a moment of silence, Greenberg said, "You're not going to answer?"
Conrad replied, "I think it's pretty clear."
The final Greensward plan also calls for a northern portion of the field, a low-lying area with trees, to be paved.
"[One hundred and fifty] of the trees in this picture will be removed and paved over in accordance with our 'win,'" said, Hunter Dempster, a member of the Stop Hurting Overton Park Facebook group. "We have the numbers and stats that show they don't even need the Greensward."