Memphis City Council delayed the hearing of McDonald’s opposed development on the
corner of Southern and Highland to Dec. 17.
“We are looking at an alternate plan and we would like to look into it a little bit more accurately and closely and maybe work with the University District and hopefully come to some kind of a compromise,” said Cindy Reeves, McDonald’s representative, to city council members on Tuesday, Oct. 15.
Attorney David Wade, who represents the neighbors opposing the development, immediately objected. He said that he’d met with the developer and was shown the proposed changes.
“The design that is going to come before you on Dec. 17 will still incorporate the basic objection that all these people are here today to oppose. So we do oppose it because it will be fruitless,” he said.
Wade told city council members the hearing was postponed two weeks the first time, and people who prepared to attend the hearing were called off on a short notice.
“A lot of people have taken the time off to come down here today, and we would respectfully urge the city council to move forward with the application today,” he said.
“You say you have seen something. I’m not sure what that is because we haven’t seen anything,” he said. “I’m just a little perplexed as to why you don’t want that seen if it would potentially meet with the confounds of the overlay.”
Wade told the council there is one basic premise in the design: a loop drive thru around the building, which affects setbacks, transparency and other major parts of the overlay.
He said he met with Reeves less than a week before the hearing, and she told him that any proposed plan will still incorporate the loop drive.
“At the end of the day, if I’m told that the plan that’s going to come forward is going to have the same problems with it, there is no avenue to be able to reach an agreement,” Wade said.
Halbert insisted council members need to see the proposed plan to make a judgment.
Councilman Bill Morrison then asked Reeves to reply to Wade’s claim about the lack of significant changes in the upcoming plan.
“We feel like there is a lot of change. We like their idea of putting the building diagonal to so Southern and Highland, but it takes time to put the plan together,” Reeves said.
Wade shook his head in disapproval.
Reeves said the plan will still incorporate the loop drive, but it will push the building closer to the corner of Southern and Highland.
Councilman Brown then asked Brian Bacchus, a member of the office of planning and development, whether any development in the district has been approved without some sort of variance to the overlay. His answer was no.
Brown did not inquire about the significance of the variances that were allowed in such developments, but asked Josh Whitehead, the Director of the Office of Planning and Development (OPD), about a development that was approved before the overlay became official.
“Does the Highland Row meet the overlay?” he asked.
“It predated the overlay, but had it come in after the overlay, it would have required a number of variances” Whitehead answered.
“Is McDonalds respectfully asking for the same variances as those permitted at Highland Row?” Brown asked.
Whitehead did not correct Brown’s question; there were no variances permitted at the Highland Row because the Highland Row predated the overlay— he said the variances are “essentially the same.”
Brown’s last question was whether the University of Memphis is exempt from the overlay. Whitehead said state agencies are exempt from OPD regulations.
Councilman Jim Strickland asked community members who oppose the delay to raise their hands. Many of those present had come to the meeting to oppose the development; they all raised their hands.
“If after five months they (McDonalds) couldn’t settle it, and they’re not going to budge on a very important issue, it’s not going to be settled, so I think we ought to vote on this tonight and ask you to vote no on the delay,” Strickland told council members.
Councilman Shea Flinn told community members who oppose the delay to “be careful what you wish for.” He said neighbors who opposed the CVS on Cooper and Union rushed for a resolution and cut negotiations short. The result was that they didn’t get the best compromise they could have gotten.
Councilman Collins said he shared Flinn’s sentiments.
Council members Strickland, Boyd, Halbert and Conrad voted against the delay while the other nine members voted for it.
After the meeting, Strickland and Conrad said they voted against the delay because they felt there was no need for it and said they were ready to vote against the development.
Halbert said she insisted on the delay at first because she felt it may result in bringing McDonalds closer to conforming to the overlay. She said she also wasn’t sure what the community really wanted.
“To me there are two issues here; [the community] either want the overlay, or they just don’t want the business to move. One of those things is happening, and I can’t speculate which one it is,” she said. “Let’s say that they come and they are meeting the overlay, now what?”
She said she decided to vote against the delay because she wanted to support the community’s will.
“I support the community’s right to design their neighborhood how they want it, and there was an overwhelming support against the delay,” she added.