Thursday, January 28, 2010

Getting A Quorum

Posted By on Thu, Jan 28, 2010 at 12:21 PM

This year, I've decided to turn some of my focus to MATA and public transportation. (You may have noticed.)

For the last few months, I've been going to their meetings and I *assumed* the MATA board had five members.

Because that is how many board members I've seen at the meetings.

But I recently ran across some information on the city's boards and it turns out MATA has a nine-member board.

According to that information, MATA has three vacancies on its board, along with members Karl Birkholz, M.P. Carter, Fred Johnson, Dale McClendon, Cliffie Pugh, and John Vergos.

One of those board members I've never seen. Two of them have terms that expired two years ago. Two of them have been on the board for more than 15 years.

Maybe no one wants to be on the MATA board, but if someone out there does, there seem to be plenty of openings. And I would daresay they need the people.

Right now, they barely have enough board members to get a quorum. Compare that to Memphis City Beautiful, which has a 35 member board and two vacancies.

UPDATE: I just talked to the vice chair of Memphis City Beautiful and apparently, they have seven vacancies instead of two. He said they were looking for more good people, so if you're interested in that board, they are interested in you.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

City Council to Discuss Midtown Overlay at Next Meeting

Posted By on Tue, Jan 26, 2010 at 2:13 PM

The Memphis City Council's planning and zoning committee moved forward today on a plan for a Midtown Overlay District.

The council directed the Office of Planning and Development to work with the Memphis Regional Design Center and the Midtown Development Corporation to develop the overlay, a way of setting design and development guidelines for an area.

"This was an outgrowth of the Overton Square controversy and the recognition that there are several more of these coming down the pipe for the Midtown area," said councilman Shea Flinn, the resolution's sponsor. "Midtown is not anti-development, but we want to be smart about it, and this allows us to do that."

At least one of the council members, however, had concerns about the overlay.

"I'm not sure that's always the answer: to redo a whole area because of one project," said councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware. "The feedback I'm getting from some people in Midtown is that they want to see development. They're tired of buildings sitting there closed."

Flinn said he had discussion with the owner of the Overton Square property and he was in favor of an overlay.

"He thinks this would be helpful on the front end. It lets the property owner know what residents want," Flinn said. "It's not anti-development; it's smart development. Everyone wants development in the Midtown area, but they don't want to destroy the Midtown character."

The resolution is scheduled to go before the full council for discussion at its next meeting, Tuesday, February 6th.

Money Concerns at MATA

Posted By on Tue, Jan 26, 2010 at 12:08 PM

Yesterday, at its regular January meeting, the MATA board talked about its upcoming budget, including possible cuts from city hall and the need for a new headquarters.

The transit authority's current headquarters on Levee Road in North Memphis were built on a landfill.

"We've incurred quite a bit of costs we didn't budget for: breaking of pipes, the building settling," said MATA general manager Will Hudson. "We're trying to maintain budget."

MATA officials hope to one day relocate to the Army Depot.


There was also concern that the city, in the midst of a financial crisis, would cut MATA's funding. The city of Memphis is MATA's only local funding body. In response to a recent court ruling, the city has been trying to cut $10 million from the current year budget.

"It the city reduces our budget, the state will reduce it as well, because of an agreement between the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the city," Hudson said. "If we have to reduce service any more, it's going to be devastating to MATA and its customers."

MATA cut routes last year, and Hudson says the transit authority had twice the number of buses in 1980 than they have right now. He also explained low ridership as a function of having fewer buses.

They are also looking at other ways, including online, to purchase the new FastPass.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tennessee Unemployment Fund in Danger

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2010 at 2:58 PM

A friend of mine sent me this link today: estimates of where state unemployment benefit funds will be in six months.

The verdict for Tennessee's system? Insolvent.

Here's ProPublica's graph of Tennessee data: an unemployment rate of 10.5 percent in November 2009, with 36 percent of unemployed receiving benefits.

ProPublica says:

Low taxes and benefits kept Tennessee's unemployment fund afloat before the recession — albeit with just six months' worth of reserves. We project that Tennessee's fund will be insolvent within six months. To slow the depletion, the state has imposed a business tax increase from $197 to $293 per employee, on average, for 2010.

The good news is, I suppose, that 25 states have already had to start borrowing money from the federal government or cutting benefits and Tennessee isn't among them.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Volunteers Needed to Survey Homeless Population

Posted By on Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 8:45 AM

Next week, the city of Memphis will be doing a count of the area homeless population. But this year, they're doing things a little differently.

First, the count will happen during the day in an effort to survey more of the homeless.


It also will include a small survey to learn demographic data about the population so that "services can be better tailored and coordinated to fit the greatest need areas and better address gaps in services," according to the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center's Brad Watkins.

And, finally, it will not include members of the police department.

But that means they need volunteers to help in the process.

Continue reading »

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Proposed Bill Would Create Old Forest State Natural Area

Posted By on Tue, Jan 19, 2010 at 2:38 PM

Good news ... This comes to you from another guest blogger, our new intern Natalie. And, yes, I'm totally loving this out-sourcing thing.

Naomi Van Tol’s goal is straightforward: To save the Old Forest section of Overton Park.

As president of the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park (CPOP), Van Tol feels obligated to protect the beloved forest she remembers as a child. The natural arboretum, home to a plethora bird and plant species and trees older than Memphis itself, has already been decreased to fewer than 150 acres today.

State Senator Beverly Marrero and Representative Jeanne Richardson — the two Tennessee state legislators whose districts cover Overton Park — recently filed a bill to create an Old Forest State Natural Area in the park.


In the last few years, CPOP has been concerned about the Memphis Zoo's expansion plans, specifically its plans for a Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit. If the bill passes, the forest would be protected by the state from inappropriate development.

The next stop will be for Van Tol and CPOP to make their case in Nashville.

Meetings Talks Midtown Zoning Overlay

Posted By on Tue, Jan 19, 2010 at 12:48 PM

For the first time ever, we have a guest blogger: VWDan. Thanks, Dan! I owe ya.

Last Saturday's meeting at the Memphis College of Art — initially to cover Sooner Investment's plan to redevelop Overton Square — evolved into a chance to discuss Midtown zoning, as well as allow citizens and interested parties a chance to voice their opinion about the hotly debated, controversial plan to raze Overton Square and replace it with a grocery store and strip development.

The meeting began with Charles "Chooch" Pickard of the Memphis Regional Design Center explaining the purpose of creating a zoning overlay plan for Midtown to the 200+ audience.

A zoning overlay is a designation to a specific area that lies atop and supercedes any one individual lot's zoning. Both the medical center and the University of Memphis area have found success with creating zoning overlays to protect their neighborhoods’ character and promote consistency in development within their boundaries. The development in these areas are bound by more strict guidelines involving how the land can be used, the number of parking spaces, the materials used to construct the buildings, what uses are deemed "offensive" to the community (such as industrial space), as well as how far away the buildings are from the curb.


Mary Baker, deputy director of the Office of Planning and Development, said the medical center’s overlay dictated the way Le Bonheur’s new facility on Poplar Avenue relates to the neighborhood via its wide sidewalks and landscaping.

But most people in attendance wanted to discuss the status of Sooner’s project in Overton Square. Baker said she received a call from Sooner on January 8th to request a hold to the application. While the application is on hold, however, it has not been formally withdrawn and could still move forward in the future.

Continue reading »

Recycling WARNING!

Posted By on Tue, Jan 19, 2010 at 8:30 AM

The other day I noticed the sign below V when I went to drop off some recycling.


Am I the only one that thinks this sign maybe doesn't strike exactly the right tone?

I mean, it doesn't quite say Thanks for recycling. You obviously don't have recycling pick-up at home and are talking time out of your busy day to do the right thing, and we appreciate it. And please keep it neat.

No, I read it more like: Recycling is a privilege, not a right. If you don't keep this area clean and tidy, the city of Memphis will punish you by taking these recycling bins away. And then what will you do with all your garbage? You'll have to throw it all away! Bwahaha!

Okay, that may be something of an exaggeration, but really — "WARNING"?

My colleague Bianca Phillips said that people probably leave stuff on the ground on the time, and I guess my question is why? If you go to the trouble of driving your recycling somewhere, why would you then throw it on the ground? And if the answer is because the bins are full, well, then maybe there need to be more city collection days ...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Skatepark Location in Question

Posted By on Fri, Jan 15, 2010 at 10:55 AM

If memory serves, the City Council appropriated $440,000 for a skatepark last year. (Or it might have been the year before?)


At any rate, last August, the city selected Glenview Park as the site for its first skatepark.

"We were trying to find a central location," Mike Flowers with park services said at the time. "Overton Park is full. We just can't cram any more in there. It would have been a great location, but it's full."

But it appears that some council members are wary of putting a skatepark in Glenview.

Continue reading »

Art Works

Posted By on Fri, Jan 15, 2010 at 10:22 AM

National Endowment for the Arts chairman Rocco Landesman will be in Memphis today as part of the last stop on the "Art Works" tour across America.

As well as meeting with representatives from ArtsMemphis, the Hyde Family Foundation, and Playhouse on the Square, and taking tours of Beale Street, the National Civil Rights Museum, and Stax, Landesman will also take part in a roundtable discussion re: music as an economic engine for cities.

In addition, he'll also be part of a discussion about the Memphis Music Magnet Project, a U of M initiative I've written about here that seeks to encourage musicians to live in the Stax neighborhood.

The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Arts Endowment also is the largest annual national funder of the arts.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

MATA's Chicken/Egg Problem

Posted By on Thu, Jan 14, 2010 at 11:46 AM

This week in our print edition, I wrote about MATA.

The public transportation authority is looking at several changes, including new "Smart Bus" technology, a study of the routes and service areas, and a new FastPass program, which lets people pay for a daily, weekly, or monthly pass.

All things I think they should be doing and congratulate them for taking on.

But in a world where public transportation makes good economic sense for both localities and their citizens, not to mention the health and environmental benefits, I urged MATA to try to make riding the bus more convenient and more efficient.

For the record, I like MATA general manager Will Hudson. He’s a nice guy; he’s been inducted into some state transportation hall of fame, and his story — working his way from bus driver to MATA head — is very impressive.

And I think the MATA staff work very hard to try and provide the best service they can to the customers they already have.

But I think they could help themselves — and the county — by growing a larger ridership base.

Continue reading »

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Spare Tires = Spare Change

Posted By on Tue, Jan 12, 2010 at 3:10 PM

If you consider $57,162 spare change, that is.

Council chair Harold Collins reported today that last month's Tire Redemption Program collected more than 57,000 tires, or 675 tons, from area citizens. The city and county paid citizens $1 per tire, many of them from vacant lots and so-called illegal "tire dumps."

"The citizens in this community did an outstanding job," Collins said. "We saved the city and county tens of thousands of dollars."

Both the county and the city allocated $50,000 for the program, but almost half of the funding went to company contracted to dispose of the tires.

The county has already allocated another $50,000 to do a second round of the tire redemption program, and the City Council's executive committee today voted to do likewise.

"We don't know how many tires are out there in this county, causing environmental hazards," Collins said. "Heaven forbid if one of these tire dumps catches fire."

My Humps

Posted By on Tue, Jan 12, 2010 at 2:02 PM

Memphis City Council members are preparing a resolution to let citizens pay for speed humps on residential streets.

Speed hump locations will still need to meet certain city requirements, and the city will still handle the installation, inspection, and maintenance, but residents will be allowed to pay for speed humps if they so desire.


According to Wain Gaskins, director of engineering for the city, doing so will allow neighborhoods to get their speed humps "a paving season sooner than they would otherwise."

Nationally, speed humps have been shown to reduce speed and cut-through traffic. According to Gaskins, they typically reduce drivers' speed from 3 to 7 miles per hour in Memphis but don't have much effect on cut-through traffic.

Council members don't think there is a huge market of Memphians ready and willing to pay for speed humps, but they wanted to give those that are the opportunity.

"This might be used one or two times, but if that lets us address the citizens' needs, I think that's good," said council member Shea Flinn.

The change to the policy is actually administrative, but historically, the council has approved any amendments to it as a show of support.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Interstate Debate

Posted By on Mon, Jan 11, 2010 at 3:02 PM

Smart City Memphis had a great post yesterday about I-269 and the reasons why we shouldn't give into the asphalt lobby.

Here is my favorite (so to speak) part:

It’s the sort of mentality that blandly accepts as reasonable that our roads and highways should be built as if it is always 8 a.m. or 5 p.m. It’s the sort of philosophy that answers every question about better transportation with more roads. God knows that there is always an engineering study to justify more and more roads.

MATA offers third-world public transit. So what do we do? Build more highways.

Neighborhoods are begging for bike lanes. So what do we do? Build more highways.

Yes, people want “complete streets” that offer transportation alternatives. So what do we do? Build more highways.

If you need some background, and because I don't mind plugging myself, here is a story I did about I-269 a few months ago.

Overton Square Proposal Postponed; Meeting Still On

Posted By on Mon, Jan 11, 2010 at 11:19 AM

Though a proposed development for Overton Square has been postponed indefinitely, a meeting this week to talk about the site is still on.

Sort of.

The Memphis Regional Design Center, along with Memphis Heritage and the Memphis Shelby County division of Planning and Development, had scheduled a meeting Saturday, January 16th, to talk with developers and the local stakeholders about the proposed plan for the square.

The developers wanted to build a high-end grocery store on the site, but have decided to delay the project.

Chooch Pickard, head of the regional design center, says Saturday's meeting will still happen, but the focus will probably be larger than the original site.

Recently, the design center and the Midtown Development Corporation have been discussing doing an overall Midtown development plan similar to the Medical Center District. Pickard says he doesn't know exactly what will be talked about at the meeting — the office of planning and development is currently compiling an agenda — but it will have something to do with a Midtown plan.

The meeting is Saturday, Jan. 16, at MCA's Callicott Auditorium from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

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