Smart Growth? 

A new residential development has some Cooper-Young residents up in arms.

Marc Long, president of the Cooper-Young Community Association (CYCA), is not amused. Neither are residents of two adjacent neighborhoods in the heart of an area known for its attractive architecture, diversity, and wealth of shade trees. They are upset about a planned high-density development on Evelyn Avenue that is just a stone's throw away from a nearly complete -- and equally controversial -- high-density development on Velma Street. They say the new developments, which are touted as "smart growth" by proponents, are anything but.

"We were lied to," says Long, referring to the Velma Street development. There is a sense of deja vu in the air now that another development is planned for just across the railroad tracks on Evelyn. The CYCA found out about the Barksdale Planned Development just two months ago. And, Long says with a sigh, "They come to us when everything is agreed upon already."

The four-acre lot along the western edge of the Christie Cut Stone Works is slated for 36 "dwelling units" built two-and-a-half feet apart. "That's pretty tight," says Bond Christie of the Barksdale Planned Development adjacent to his 100-year-old family business.

According to a report from Memphis' Office of Planning and Development, the Barksdale Planned Development has density problems, including a predicted "268 vehicle trips per day" through the now unused alley. "The developers could make this a better in-fill project by reducing the number of dwelling units planned," reads the staff report. However, Mary Baker, director of the OPD, contradicts her own office's recommendation, saying, "We do not agree with [OPD's] Regional Services that the number of units is too high."

Baker also sees the Christie Cut Stone property as a future connector between the Barksdale Planned Development and Elzey Avenue to the east (now a dead end). However, Christie says he's not planning to sell -- "unless they try to use eminent domain to take my property away." He notes that the $200,000-plus, two-story homes planned for the Barksdale development will be nothing like the modest cottages on eastern Elzey.

Similarities between the developments include density (Velma: five units on one-half acre; Barksdale: 36 units on four acres) to drainage (both neighborhoods have recurring problems with runoff) to traffic: Velma is a narrow dead-end street, and access to the Barksdale development would be via a dead-end alley. The main difference between the two developments seems to be that, while Velma is a done deal, there is yet hope for compromise on the Barksdale Planned Development. Or is there?

Several home owners on Evelyn are afraid it is a done deal. They wonder why no sign announcing the development (a requirement) was posted until after the OPD was contacted by the Flyer. Four Evelyn home owners also signed a letter composed and mailed by neighbor Landrel Warren to the City Council and the OPD. OPD spokesman David Adams told Warren that the letter never arrived, that is, not until after the OPD was contacted by the Flyer. "It's amazing what you find when you clean off your desk," Adams says with a chuckle. He also refers to the wetlands permit described in the staff report as "a formality."

"I don't mind building a privacy fence," stresses Warren, describing a meeting between developer Bernard Cowles and the neighborhood during which residents were told to "just build a fence" if they were bothered by construction and, later, traffic along the alleyway. (Cowles maintains that since the alley is city property, it's not his problem to fix.) "We're concerned about the loss of greenspace and our tree-line buffer zone, plus the ongoing drainage problems," Warren explains.

"If it's an alley, treat it like an alley," neighbor Karen Capps says. "If it's a street, do the required drainage, gutters, etc., for it to be a street." But Long says Sovereign Builders, the developers on Velma Street, agreed to address drainage and environmental concerns and then broke their word. "Trees have been cut, drainage not addressed, cheap building materials used," he says.

City councilman Rickey Peete, who's in charge of setting the council's agenda, offered hope for reworking the Barksdale development into something less dense: "It is possible for a councilman to make a motion during the second reading to table the proposal and send it back for further study," Peete says. The next council meeting is Tuesday, November 4th.

Residents say they aren't against new housing in the area. They just can't see the Barksdale Planned Development as "smart growth" -- no matter how much Memphis' Office of Planning and Development insists that 36 addresses on four acres flush up against a train track is just that.

E-mail: dpark@memphisflyer.com

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