A resolution that would end parking on the Greensward moved out of a Memphis City Council committee Monday afternoon but it did so with some questions, two amendments, and some tough words for the Overton Park Conservancy (OPC).
The resolution sponsored by council member Bill Morrison is an amended version of the plan introduced by Mayor Jim Strickland two weeks ago. The resolution will get a final vote by the council during it’s full meeting at 3:30 p.m. at Memphis City Hall.
Morrison said the proposal was a compromise between the Memphis Zoo and the Overton Park Conservancy and it all came down to a number — 415. That’s the amount of parking spaces the zoo said it needed to make the plan work. OPC said the figure worked because it left the Greensward largely whole.
Morrison said the final resolution adds the spaces on the zoo’s existing lots and a new, smaller lot that would be built on the north end of the Greensward, though it would protect “as many trees [there] as possible.” It eliminates trams through the Old Forest, he said, creates a new entrance on North Parkway, and brings about the “eventual end of parking on the Greensward.”
The agreement would allow the zoo to use the Greensward for overflow parking until January 2019. Though, Morrison noted the date is a rough estimate.
The resolution would put the final cost of implementing the plan to OPC and the zoo. Zoo president Chuck Brady told council members the plan will cost $3 million, split evenly between OPC and the zoo.
Morrison worked behind the scene with OPC and the zoo and the mayor’s office in the two weeks following the council’s delay on the final vote.
“Not everyone’s happy,” Morrison said, “which means we probably did pretty good job.”
Council member Reid Hedgepeth added two amendments, which would make the zoo’s parking spots bigger and would make some park roads smaller.
“I don’t want this to be about how many space we can cram in to get 415 spaces and then you can’t get in and out of them,” Hedgepeth said.
He suggested making the spaces 10 feet wide and 20 feet long, just like the spaces at Tiger Lane. Morrison agreed to that.
Hedgepeth also wanted the road leading to the zoo to be 22 feet wide. They are now 24 feet wide. Morrison agreed. This would help make room for the 415 spaces, they said.
Hedgepeth offered the amendments, he said, because he remembered the complaints the council got about the small size of the seats at the Pyramid.
Most council members seemed happy to finally bring a suitable solution to the intractable Greensward situation. However, council member Patrice Robinson wanted the issue wrapped up sooner.
The resolution does not include the final boundary marks to note what Overton Park entity controls what slice of land there. The March 1 resolution passed by the council did exactly that (and gave two-thirds of the Greensward to the zoo). Since then, surveyors have completed their work to give legal definitions to those loose boundaries set forth in that resolution.
Morrison said those final boundaries will come but not until the zoo and OPC can get the final details of how the new parking configuration would affect the zoo’s parking lot and the Greensward.
“I want to end this today,” Robinson said. “We don’t need to come back and talk about how much land and how many trees. We should be able to do this today. It’s not that hard.”
She questioned how it was known that 415 spaces would solve the issue. (She was told that’s the figure the zoo came up with.) She wanted to know a timeline but hans’t happy with the loose parameters of the January 2019 date. Robinson was also not happy with the fact that the resolution before the council Monday would rescind the resolution it passed in March.
Council member Berlin Boyd has long been critical of the Greensward issue, believing that it has taken energy away from some of the city’s larger problems like crime and poverty. He repeated that criticism Tuesday calling the issue a “thorn in our side ever since it started.”
“I will say this, that the thing that frustrates me the most, when we’re dealing with the issues we’re dealing with facing the city of Memphis and to have taxpayers being burdened with frivolous lawsuits against [the council] that the taxpayers are paying over an agreement about who parks where,” Boyd said. "My pet peeve is that you put an entity like OPC in place to relieve some of the pressures and taking some strain off of this body to make our lives somewhat easier. At the end of the day, it’s made our lives somewhat more convoluted.”
Boyd was referring to the lawsuit filed by OPC over control of the Greensward. That suit was filed in response to a suit filed by the zoo against the city over control of the Greensward. He said OPC’s “type of behavior by adults absurd and to be sued by an organization that we put in place…that right there is the straw that broke my back, not the camel.”