Infill Frenzy 

Cooper-Young, Speedway Terrace seek historic protections.

Two of the city's oldest neighborhoods are seeking protection from infill developers.

Neighbors in Cooper-Young have said that, if left unchecked, developers could destroy the very thing that made the neighborhoods special in the first place. In Speedway Terrace, they want to "protect homeowners and their investments."

So, both are working to be deemed a Historic Overlay District, which would give developers a list of dos and don'ts when building there.

The residential real estate market in and around the city's inner core is white hot. Josh Whitehead, planning director with the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Planning and Development, has said market interest there "has been the most sustained and intense since the founding of the city."

New trends suggest empty-nesters, young families, millennials, and more want walkable, authentic places to live, very much like Midtown and downtown Memphis. But in their houses, they want suburban amenities like open kitchens, large master bedrooms, walk-in closets, and street-facing garages, very unlike Midtown and downtown Memphis.

Recent moves show developers want to bridge the gap. They'll find an old, available home, demolish it, and build something new in its place, something that doesn't always look like the homes that surround it.

Such was the case when JBJ Properties demolished an old home next to Patrick Durkin's in Cooper-Young last year. In its place, the company is building four tall-skinnies, long, two-story homes with front-facing garages and modern architecture.

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"Without landmarks protection in Cooper-Young, there is no way to stop this," said Durkin, who, thanks to his experience, started the Preserve Cooper-Young Facebook group.

With landmarks protection, any new construction would have to look like the rest of Cooper-Young. If a developer wanted to demolish a home, they'd have to prove beforehand that it had a certain degree of structural damage (not just a financial advantage).

Cooper-Young's historic status has been approved by the Memphis Landmarks Commission and the Land Use Control Board. The city council is expected to begin votes on the issue later this month.

Speedway Terrace lies close to downtown and just north of Crosstown Concourse, which makes it doubly ripe for development. Cheryl Hazelton, with the Crosstown Memphis Community Development Corp., told Landmarks Commission members last month that historic status would "protect homeowners and their investments."

But one man, who did not give his name for the record of the meeting, told commissioners, simply, "this is not okay.

"This overlay is nothing but taking property owners' rights away," he said during the meeting last month. "It's not constitutional, and I'm not sure how — in our society — government can do this."

Speedway Terrace's proposal would — much like Cooper-Young's — give guidelines on new construction, exterior alterations, demolitions, and more.

If approved, Cooper-Young and Speedway Terrace would join 14 other Memphis neighborhoods deemed Historic Overlay Districts. Others include South Main, Cotton Row, Central Gardens, Glenview, and Maxwelton.

Cooper-Young and Speedway Terrace are among 46 neighborhoods listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, that federal designation comes with little oversight or protection.

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