Update on Midtown Overlay District

By Aaron James

[singlepic id=280 w=320 h=240 float=right]The Memphis Regional Design Center (MRDC) remains hard at work with their efforts to create a Midtown Overlay District (MOD). As you may recall from our February article, the MOD represents proposed zoning restrictions that would supersede current, more generalized, zoning requirements. The MRDC has held a number of meetings over the last few months in an ongoing effort to solicit input on the plan, as well as to keep the general public up to date on the ever-evolving concept.

Perhaps the most exciting development since our last report is the expansion of the proposed overlay boundary to include a significant portion of the Glenview neighborhood south of Southern, as well as all of Lamar from Park to Midtown 240 (see map).  The heart of the proposed overlay has also been expanded from just west of Cooper, to now include everything over to Rembert.

For those not familiar with the MOD, the following quote from the MRDC website provides perhaps the best introduction to the proposal (reprinted here with permission):

The Memphis Regional Design Center in conjunction with the Memphis & Shelby County Division of Planning and Development, the Midtown Memphis Development Corporation and the Cooper-Young Development Corporation is pleased to announce the launch of efforts to develop a plan for the future of Midtown Memphis.  The Midtown Plan will include an overlay district that will cover areas of Midtown that are not currently covered by the Medical District Overlay or the various Historic District overlays indicated on the (adjacent) map… While providing specific design requirements that will ensure that proper development is occurring in Midtown, the plan will give developers some predictability, increasing the vitality and economic stability of the area.

The MOD, assuming it is eventually adopted and signed into law by the City Council, will provide additional zoning restrictions, including design guidelines for streetscapes, building setbacks, height restrictions and off-street parking.  Also proposed are provisions to limit offensive uses, inappropriate building materials and fences. All proposed development projects within the overlay boundary will require plans review by the Office of Planning and Development, which will be responsible for notifying the public and soliciting input from all concerned parties. The ordinance will not, however, prevent property owners from demolishing structures at their discretion.

Existing zoning requirements have been described by Chooch Pickard of MRDC as “loose as they can get.”  For example, the bulk of Union and Cooper are currently zoned “Commercial Highway,” which allows for essentially unrestricted development. Pickard explained that the MOD would “set the ground rules for future developments and provide the community a voice.” With functioning overlay district guidelines in place, controversies such as those currently surrounding the Overton Square and CVS Pharmacy developments would hopefully be avoided, or at least minimized, in the future.

As an architect I wholeheartedly embrace the evolution of our built environments when handled properly. I would much rather see Memphis focus on infill than recklessly continue her century old tradition of white flight and suburban sprawl. I applaud the efforts of the MRDC, and encourage everyone to add their voices, concerns and energies to this tremendous undertaking. We have all seen the devastation caused by thoughtless out-of-town or corporate developers when left to their own devices. (Walgreen’s, in particular, comes to mind.) While nothing can replace what has already been lost, this ordinance is a tremendous step forward in protecting and enhancing the integrity of what remains.

For more information, visit the MRDC website at: mrdcinfo.org

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