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."
There's no need to be alarmed.
City Council members in the public safety and homeland security committee discussed proposed changes to the city's alarm ordinance, including a measure that would require home security companies to submit a list of new alarm installations to the city.
"One of the things that's unclear in the current ordinance is if someone is operating an alarm without a permit," said council member Kemp Conrad. "Before, we would not necessarily have known if someone did that."
Home owners are required to pay a small fee and obtain a permit to operate an alarm system. Under the proposed ordinance, the alarm companies would give the homeowners all the forms needed to get the permit at the time of installation. If the resident didn't register the alarm in 30 days, they would be contacted by the Metro Alarm Office and could be indicated a lower priority call should their alarm go off.
Part of the reason for the amendment is to curb false alarm calls.
Not everyone was happy with the changes. Councilman Joe Brown said that he would file a lawsuit against the city if he was a citizen.
"We're constantly coming up with these fees and fines," he said. "Somewhere we have to draw the line."
Conrad noted that the amendment didn't change the current fee.
"We have a whole office dedicated to managing it. That why there is a fee," he said. "We're not increasing it because the office operates at a surplus."
Council member Barbara Swearengen Ware had a problem with something that would rank unregistered alarm or repeated false alarm calls a lower priority for first responders.
"I would rather see you fine them after a certain number of times. Putting people on a 'do not respond' list is a dangerous path to go down," she said. "We can't justify that."
City officials clarified that police would respond, but the timing would be dictated by call volume.
With Pinnacle board members meeting tonight and the next two days, mayor A C Wharton presented millions in incentives to the City Council's executive committee today to persuade the airline to stay in Memphis.
"There is nobody on this body who does not believe that we're not committed to keeping Pinnacle here in Memphis," said City Council chair Harold Collins. "You go to that meeting today at 5:15 and you assure them they have our support, whatever they need. ... We will work with them. That's our goal."
News recently came out that Mississippi was wooing Pinnacle, and members of the Center City Commission and the city administration began working to both keep the company in Memphis and lure them to downtown's One Commerce Square.
Though supportive, council members had some qualms. With $15 million of the $18 million in incentives coming from federal stimulus funds, councilman Jim Strickland asked for a complete list of where stimulus funds have been spent. The other $3 million would come from a city economic development fund.
Wharton said that though this came up at the last minute, he plans to look at what the city's competitors are doing and bring a proposal to the council during the next budget cycle.
"I do think we should put money in the bank, so we're not scrounging around when these opportunities arise," said Barbara Swearengen Ware.
Today, members of the council discussed a fatal pit bull attack near the Medical Center in mid-July. Two pit bulls attacked an elderly man and his daughter, then went after emergency personnel called to the scene. The woman who released the dogs was later charged with reckless homicide.
Though the police department cannot comment on a pending investigation, a representative from the police department said that officers assist animal-shelter employees with capturing stray dogs, if need be.
The department also recently revised its policy to include sending a K-9 unit to help because "a lot of our officers are not familiar with dogs," said deputy director Toney Armstrong.
Memphis City Council person Barbara Swearengen Ware said she had grave concerns about the incident. Regular readers to this blog probably know that Ware isn't much of an animal lover. But maybe she likes them more than we think.
"I hope an all-out alert has gone out to dog owners that they need to do something," she said. "If you love them, put them in your bosom and keep them away from other people."
Memphis City Council member Shea Flinn has proposed a 17-cent tax increase over a maximum of three year to cover the cost of a possible judgment against the city in the city schools/city education-funding court case.
That money would then go into a special account. If the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city of Memphis, the money would be returned to the tax payers.
"The current system of how we fund education is not workable," Flinn said. "If we're going to have a special school district, let's have a special school district and give them taxing authority. If we're not, they should be treated like any other school district in Tennessee and have the sole funder be the county."
Tonight's Memphis City Council meeting might provide some closure to the ongoing city school funding crisis.
Memphis mayor A C Wharton, Memphis City Schools (MCS) superintendent Kriner Cash, and City Council chair Harold Collins presented a proposal to the Council's education committee in which the city would pay $20 million to the school system by May 1st.
The city would then pay the district another $20 million by July 1st, to be followed by another $10 million payment October 1st. Under the agreement, voted unanimously by the education committee, the issues involved in litigation between the city and the city schools are still on the table.
The City Council's Public Services and Neighborhoods committee voted today to move forward on two initiatives to help make the city's car inspection process more convenient for citizens.
One removes funding for vehicle inspections from the city's 2011 operating budget and looks to privatization. The other removes mandatory inspections for vehicles four years or younger.
"We're in the ironic position of having people wait with their cars idling, which is harmful to the environment, in order to protect the environment," said council member Shea Flinn. "Newer cars have lower emissions. They should be exempt. The safety standards — it would be nice, but we're not required to do it. The county can do it through moving violations. So could we."
During the inspections, the city also looks at 12 safety checks — including windshield wipers, brake lights, and side mirrors — but none of those are required by law. There has been talk of omitting them entirely, but they only add about a minute to the overall inspection time, and city officials don't think removing them from the process will make much difference.
"We know we have to do emissions," said councilman Bill Morrison, who proposed the resolution along with Jim Strickland. "Ultimately, this is to reduce the wait for our citizens."
The inspection stations would ultimately have to remain open for cars built before 1996. But for cars newer than that, an onboard diagnostic check could be done by private entities.
"This sends a message to the administration that we want this to become a priority," Morrison said of the measure.
Both initiatives will go before full council in two weeks.
Since extending hours of operation at area motor-vehicle inspection stations last month, the average wait time at the Washington Avenue station is now down to 40 to 45 minutes.
"The White Station facility is about one hour. When the Washington station gets down to 15 minutes, if the line is backed up on Lamar or White Station, they alert citizens they can go to other inspection stations," said Janet Hooks, director of public services and neighborhoods.
Hooks blamed the (much reviled) city inspection stations' long wait times on capacity, and said the problem should be helped by a new inspection station that should come online within the next 6 months.
Memphis inspects 416,000 vehicles each year through the city's 10 inspection lanes. Chattanooga, which inspects more than 200,00 vehicles, has 22 lanes, and Nashville, which inspects 577,000 vehicles each year, has 17 lanes, each with the ability to be doubled.
The new Appling Road facility will have six lanes, four of which will be designated for passenger vehicles.