The Memphis City Council will discuss Mayor Jim Strickland’s plan for Overton Park Tuesday but the council may not cast the final vote on the matter as many expect.
Strickland’s plan ends overflow parking on the Greensward by creating new parking spaces in the Memphis Zoo’s existing lots and along North Parkway. New spaces would be built, too, on a new lot on the northern edge of the Greensward. Also, the plan would create a new surface lot on the south east corner of the park, now inhabited by the city General Services division. Shuttles would run from that lot along city streets to a new zoo entrance on North Parkway.
Council chairman Kemp Conrad said some council members may want to tweak Strickland’s plan. Those tweaks may go into a resolution Tuesday, which may get a council vote that day. That resolution would then be fine tuned over the next two weeks and plugged into an ordinance the council has ready on the shelf.
The prepared ordinance has been updated since it originally passed in resolution form back on March 1. The proprietary boundaries still exist on that ordinance, including the line that gives control of the Greensward to the zoo. Those lines have been formally surveyed and detailed legally, even though they may go away or change with the next council vote.
Here’s what Conrad had to say Saturday about the vote, the process, and the Greensward issue in general.
How is the council preparing for Tuesday’s vote? Are you building consensus around the issue?
Well, I don’t how I’d be building consensus when you can’t really talk to other council members because of the Sunshine Law. So, no, I’m not doing that.
It looks like there are some council members that did not like all aspects of [Mayor Strickland’s] plan that was announced. Also, it appears maybe there are some additional conversations underway right now.
I’m still hopeful that in two weeks we will have plan that the [Memphis Zoo] and the [Overton Park Conservancy] both can agree with, as well as the mayor. That would definitely make it a whole lot easier at council.
If we have a plan but those two major stakeholders aren’t on board, it could make for some messy sausage-making possibly at the next council meeting.
I’m encouraged that the talks are still continuing. By the mayor putting that plan out there it probably helped start those next rounds of talks that needed to happen to get that consensus.
The ordinance the council has readied - is that blank piece of paper? Will it be replaced with whatever new proposal is agreed upon?
Yes, I think what might be the best thing is — if there is consensus by the next meeting — is to vote on a resolution. Then, over the next two weeks or so, we draft an ordinance that is just right with the legal descriptions because ordinances are, obviously, stronger than resolutions.
They’re the laws that go on the books but they’re also more detailed. Resolutions are usually much higher level, aspirational. So, that’s what I’m thinking is the best way to go about it: to vote on the resolution and then, based on that, we can spend our time and draft an ordinance and make sure it’s absolutely right and accurate.
The ordinance now has boundary lines. But the new ordinance might say, for example, that the line across the Greensward would be erased?
The old ordinance was really kind of a placeholder, so we would be ready when the mediation was done and not wait another six weeks or three meetings [to put a law into place]. The intent has always been to update that ordinance with — what I’ve always hoped and I still believe will be — an agreed-upon solution by the parties.
Some people felt the March 1 resolution was too hastily done and done without giving citizens many details. Can you understand the mistrust people may have in the council on this issue?
Yes, I understand that. I also think because of the [March 1 resolution] we’re where we are now and we’re going to have a solution where I think it would have just drug on.
Are you feeling Greensward fatigue at this point?
It’s definitely taken up a lot of oxygen.
This is problem that’s good to have. It’s a good problem to solve. I’m not saying it’s a good problem to have and that we shouldn’t do anything about it. I’m saying it’s a good thing that we’ve got such a popular zoo and we’ve got this great park in the middle of the city.
But, frankly, I think because of actions on both sides… I think it’s disappointing that there’s so much animosity that’s developed over the issue, especially the things that people say and do over social media.
It’s just disappointing, really. I’ve just been surprised by it. People should be able to disagree without being disagreeable, without making everything personal. It’s really been disappointing.
Will you be happy to get a solution on this issue behind you?
Definelty. We’ve got very, very big challenges and opportunities we want to harness and challenges to solve.
I’m really thankful that Richard Smith has been so engaged. We need to put him on the field some other, bigger issues, too.
It’s been great to see guys like him sot get involved and roll their sleeves up and be a part of a solution. He doesn’t have to do this. He could be doing a lot of other things. But the fact that he’s in there grinding away is one of the best things to come out of this, I think. I look froward to him engaging on other meaningful things in the community.