Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Possible updates to the Memphis UDC

Memphis and Shelby County are considering amendments to the Unified Development Code which was passed about a year and a half ago. The amendments, submitted by Josh Whitehead, Planning Director for Memphis and Shelby County, are designed to make development within the jurisdiction a little easier.

"We all agree we need a code that does two things: Discourages suburban sprawl ... and at the same time promotes reinvestment in the existing part of the city," Whitehead said. "The way the UDC is written now, it sets the bar to the level that it really does, in my opinion, make reinvestment in this area very difficult. And if the code discourages developers from building inside the city, he said, "that does promote sprawl."

But there is significant opposition. A number of professionals, including planners, architects, attorneys and others, have lined up in opposition to the amendments suggested by Whitehead. One of the planners, Louise Mercuro, criticized one aspect of the amendments:
The planned development process has been obliterated retreating to the Gold rush days.  Virtually no public notice will be given on PDs [planned developments] and they will exist forever within City limits.  Developers will not have to show an actual plan for their development, only an outline of their property and a potential list of uses.  Once a PD is approved it can NEVER be changed by the legislative body only by the developer or property owner.  In other progressive cities the PD process is an exception allow innovative developments;  in Memphis it is the rule to get around traditional zoning and subdivision rules and regulations.  Cheaper, faster, no notice to citizens of any consequence and cursory review. 
Her comments are in a blog which you can find here.

Here is a website with links to the amendments themselves and also to letters of support and opposition.

The city Council has postponed third and final reading until July 17 to give the opponents additional time to review and comment. It will be interesting to see how the vote goes. Certainly, these types of adjustments are not unusual after the adoption of a new zoning or development code. Often, within the first year or two, practical experience with the code shows that there are changes that are needed to make it more effective and work as was originally anticipated. It is certainly not uncommon for amendments to be discussed, debated, considered by the local legislative body after that practical experience has been gained.

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