Building Blocks 

Land Use Control Board unanimously passes the new Unified Development Code.

Though the Land Use Control Board recently approved the proposed Memphis and Shelby County Unified Development Code, at least one city division doesn't approve: Memphis Light, Gas & Water.

The proposed development code updates the almost 30-year-old zoning ordinance and incorporates all the amendments since then in one central document. It also includes some substantial changes, such as allowing for a greater variety of housing, in part to stimulate redevelopment in the city's urban core.

"It's all an academic exercise if it didn't do anything to help urban revitalization," project manager Don Jones said at a meeting in April. "We have been on a cycle of sprawl since the current ordinance was adopted, if not before. We need to encourage development inside the beltway because that's where the infrastructure is."

General standards for different zones dictate lot sizes, how far houses or buildings are set back from the street, the width of streets, and other measures. According to Jones, the greatest change to the code replaces many of the suburban standards of the current document with more urban standards, including more flexibility for pedestrian-friendly and mixed-use developments.

"Developments that are more urban in nature are more focused on the pedestrian, and those that are suburban require a car to get around and are much less walkable," said assistant city attorney Tommy Pacello. "In the 1980s, we were operating under a much more suburban mindset."

The new unified code would also remove some of the barriers to infill development.

Not everyone is happy with the changes, however. At last week's Land Use Control Board meeting, Alonzo Weaver, vice president of engineering and operations at MLGW, voiced the utility's concerns about the proposal.

"The current draft does not address our needs," Weaver said. "Although the unified development code mandates underground utilities, it does not provide an easement for them. Because we are not provided designated technical space in the street design, parts of citizens' front yards will now become utility easements."

The Office of Planning and Development is scheduled to meet with MLGW officials before the proposal goes to the City Council and the County Commission.

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