Lea’s Woods’ residents stuggle against development highlights landmarks issues

By Vaughan Dewar

About 7 acres of land at the eastern corners of Sam Cooper Boulevard and East Parkway were purchased in late 2015 by Makowsky, Ringel and Greenberg, LLC (MRG).  Originally, this property had residential homes that were demolished during the state’s initiative to run I-40 through the heart of Midtown.  The I-40 highway project was overruled on March 2, 1971, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a final decision on Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe.

In 2003, Lea’s Woods neighbors, comprising about 150 homes obtained approval from City Council to become the Landmark’s Commission’s 12 Historic Conversation District!  Our area of concern is directly across from Overton Park, where the beautiful bicycle arch is located, and it’s considered as a major gateway to Memphis (Rhodes is on one side and Overton Square on other, etc).

Lea’s Woods Historical standards state on p. 6, under NEW CONSTRUCTION and ADDITIONS:

“New construction should be consistent with the architecture and period-styling of the existing buildings along a street in terms of height, scale, setback and rhythm”.

MRG had several meetings with our neighborhood residents and seem to only be focused on how to maximize their profit.  This is exhibited by them pushing to build as many apartments as possible, within a limited space.  Many Lea’s Woods homeowners expressed the desire to restore the neighborhood to the prior state, which was primarily residential.  Unfortunately, our Historic District standards don’t mandate that.  Although MRG purchased the property knowing it was zoned residential, they applied to the Land Use Control Board to change the zoning to allow building apartment complexes.

Many residential home-owners would agree, apartment complexes too often become degraded (short-term profit mentality) and lower our property values.  An April 2nd Commercial Appeal commentary stated: “Investors see enormous profits are possible because our city does not require them to have a stake in the community”.  “They hide behind their LLC status and say catch me if you can”. (Courtesy of Lynda Whalen, Chairwomen of Southeast Memphis Neighborhood Partnership, representing 31 Neighborhood Associations.)

Problem Statements:   

MRG’s application to the Land Use Control board is in direct conflict with Lea’s Woods Historic Conservation Standards, because they intend to build 3, 4 and 5 story buildings.  There are no apartment complexes or other buildings with a height over 2 stories within the area, or nearby.

The increased volume of traffic that will be added within residential neighborhoods presents safety concerns.  The number of cars that will parking on residential streets due to MRG’s insistence of providing about 1 parking space per apartment, will likely wreak havoc on nearby residential home-owners.

Critical Impact to All Memphis Historic District Standards

If MRG is allowed, to override Lea’s Woods Historic district standards (not being consistent with height), this will set a horrible precedent.  It would potentially mean that ALL Historic District Standards, are worthless and can no longer be relied upon to ensure our neighborhoods maintain, the value and integrity we all work hard to keep and cherish so much.

What can you do?    

Cooper Young board members have been exceptionally supportive of assisting our little old Lea’s Woods neighborhood core group.  THANK YOU!

Please!!  Send in comments, thoughts and/or opposition letters by May 30th to the staff planner, Brian.Bacchus@memphistn.gov and Keva.Jackson@memphistn.gov so your voice will be included in the staff report.  You may refer to Lea’s Woods apartments applications:  PD 17-07 (SE corner development) and PD 17-08 (NE corner).

Assuming this challenge will be decided at a subsequent City Council meeting, that date is TBD.  In the meantime, Lea’s Woods neighborhood core team will be:

Generating a petition to gather signatures to preserve Historic District standards

Gathering support from other Memphis neighborhood community organizations (similar to Cooper Young)

Soliciting advice and recommendations, including legal counsel

Lobbying City Council to support preserving Historic District standards (i.e. phone calls, letter writing, etc)

Get Involved à  Info, Advice or Status Updates:  tele:  901 737 2595 or…

Contact Lea’s Woods neighborhood core group on Nextdoor.com (search: the Midtown East Corridor Redevelopment Action Group) or Facebook ( search for: Leas-woods development information page).

Author: LampLighter

The voice of Cooper-Young, a vibrant, diverse neighborhood to live, work and play, in the heart of Midtown Memphis, Tennessee.

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