The Memphis and Shelby County Code Enforcement office will at least temporarily hold off on any enforcement of code violations on “Save the Greensward” banners.
Large, green banners with the “Save the Greensward” message began popping up throughout Memphis over the past few weeks. The banners are in response to the Memphis Zoo's continued use of the Greensward in Overton Park for overflow parking.
Residents and business owners who have hung those banners recently began to get citations from the code enforcement office. Many said they felt that the citations were, in some way, a calculated move from government leaders to silence political speech.
But Allen Medlock, administrator of the code enforcement office, said that was not the case. Citations were issued based on complaints he received at his office.
“When we get zoning complaints, we have to respond,” Medlock said. “So, that’s what got it all started but it’s kind of mushroomed.”
Medlock said there will be no enforcement of any citations issued so far. Also, his office won’t issue any new citations on Greensward banners. But he did say the suspension of enforcement was “for the time being.”
“We’re just pouring gas on the fire, so to speak,” Medlock said. “Everybody’s getting upset with it.”
The citations that were issued, were courtesy citations, Medlock said. None of them came with a summons to court and the citations were issued just to let property owners know there was a code violation and to give them time to correct it.
Robbie Weinberg, owner of Eclectic Eye, received a citation a little more than a week ago after hanging a large, green “Save the Greensward” sign on the front of the shop on Cooper. But something didn’t sit right with her about it.
The store has hung about 80 banners on the shop since it opened in 2002, Weinberg said. She’s never received a code violation citation for any of them.
“The timing is certainly interesting to me,” Weinberg said. “That there’s suddenly a code enforcement officer here telling me I can’t hang this banner and that I have to get a permit. He said clearly that [a permit] would not be granted because this was a political message.”
When she told the code enforcement officer that she’d never received a code violation for any of the other banners, he told Weinberg that no one had ever complained about the others.
Weinberg made it plain that she and Eclectic Eye “love the zoo” but doesn’t believe they are being a good park neighbor. Protecting the park, she said, “is the highest priority here.” The issue is sensitive and Weinberg said issuing this citations made it worse.
“There’s no question in my mind there’s an agenda here being pushed,” Weinberg said. “I feel like we’re kind of being strong-armed about our message.
“This is a small business that has made quite an investment in this particular corner of our Midtown world for the last 15 years. It’s pretty insulting.”