With several amendments from member Reid Hedgepeth, the Memphis City Council unanimously passed the Midtown District Overlay Tuesday afternoon.
"I think some things in this are unbelievable. I think it will make development in this area a lot nicer," Hedgepeth said, "but I think there are also a lot of flaws in this."
In particular, Hedgepeth felt the overlay would be easy for developers to circumvent with a planned use development, or pud, designation, often used now to skirt zoning regulations. Instead, one of his amendments gave more power to the Office of Planning and Development (OPD) and the Land Use Control Board to approve variances.
Another amendment asked that the overlay district not include a design review committee. The university district has a design review committee that looks at development designs, but recommendations for approval come from OPD.
"We don't want to see a three- or four-member group that sways the decisions of OPD," Hedgepeth said.
Council member Jim Strickland said he had no problem with there not being an official Midtown review committee.
"It's meaningless. We can't stop neighbors from getting together and calling themselves the Midtown Design Review Committee," he said. "There's no way to stop neighbors from calling council members [and] talking to OPD. We can't prohibit people from exercising their rights to free speech."
The Midtown District Overlay, sponsored by council member Shea Flinn, was the result of a controversy over design standards at a proposed grocery store in Overton Square.
Flinn said he hoped it would "create a more walkable, vibrant" Midtown. The overlay is also said to give neighbors and developers standards and a sense of predictability when it comes to new developments.
"The current zoning requirements took a one-size-fits-all approach and were geared more to suburban development," said OPD's Don Jones. "It made it very difficult to develop inside the loop."