In Our Third Century, A Plan That Builds Up On Neighborhood Strengths

Public Draft of Memphis 3.0 Comprehensive Plan Released

After two years, nearly 200 public meetings and events, and engagement of over 15,000 residents, the City of Memphis has released a public draft of the Memphis 3.0 comprehensive plan.

The public draft is the first look at the City’s first comprehensive plan for land use and growth since 1981. That plan, known as Memphis 2000, recommended continuation of a decades-long practice of growth by physical expansion and annexation. Since 1970, the City’s land area has grown by 55%, while its population has only grown 4%.

Memphis 3.0 Vision Statement:
“In our third century, Memphis will build up, not out. Memphis will be a city that anchors on growth on strengths of the core and neighborhoods; a city of greater connectivity and access; a city of opportunity for all”

The vision articulated in the Memphis 3.0 comprehensive plan is a clear departure from the growth policy of old that resulted in suburban sprawl and urban disinvestment. The vision of the Memphis 3.0 comprehensive plan calls for the city to “Build Up, Not Out” by focusing resources, investment, and policy in growth of the core city and neighborhood centers to create more dense, mixed-use, mixed-income, walkable, transit-served communities.

A Plan for Memphis

The City worked with community organizations, artists, and church and school groups, among others, to generate interest and input in the plan. As a result, Memphians came out in historically high numbers to participate in the Memphis 3.0 comprehensive planning process. Nearly 200 public meetings and events, along with surveys and focus groups, were conducted by Office of Comprehensive Planning and nonprofit and community-based plan partners. In all, over 15,000 residents participated in the planning process and thousands more were touched by plan outreach materials.

After an initial series of public engagement in 2017 that framed high-level growth trends and identified community values, the planning team led by the City’s Office of Comprehensive Planning, developed three future growth scenarios to think about how the City’s growth policy could be different. Over 2,000 participants weighed in during that phase to signal a strong preference for focusing growth in the core city and in neighborhoods, and no longer following policy supporting sprawl.

The community was clear in their support of a new plan for growth, one that focused more attention inside the city and within neighborhoods. The plan seeks to address questions of where and how to focus new growth and density, weighing a strategic approach that balances market potential and community priority.

Understanding Anchors

“…the health of a community’s center and surroundings can impact the neighborhood as a whole”

The strategy articulated in the Memphis 3.0 comprehensive plan focuses on places identified as “anchors,” or centers of activity on a citywide scale, such as Downtown, or a community scale, such as a key neighborhood intersection. The theory of focusing on anchors holds that the health of a community’s center and surroundings can impact the neighborhood as a whole. Anchors form the basis of how the comprehensive plan recommends targeting new growth, investment, transportation connections, and redevelopment policy. Anchors are defined by their respective degree of change over time: Nurture, characterized by areas of low market potential requiring incremental improvements; Accelerate, places of moderate to high market activity and high potential for new density and growth; and Sustain, areas where the City can rely on the market to maintain current density while making necessary improvements.

In late 2017, the Office of Comprehensive Planning took the plan process to the district scale, beginning in North Memphis and working throughout the City through Cordova, to identify community anchors and priority actions for each area of the City. Residents participating in the planning process were quick to grasp the concept of anchors and helped to drive recommendations on where and how they saw change most benefiting their neighborhoods.

The Framework for Growth chapter of the comprehensive plan outlines this focus on anchors and its relationship to other major elements of the plan, including the land use plan and the transit vision. The first of its kind for Memphis, the land use plan in Memphis 3.0 lays out recommended future land use for the entire city. Given finite resources, the purpose of anchors provides strategic priorities for where and how to invest City resources while providing a clear vision on where growth and investment is encouraged throughout Memphis.

“…the future land use map provides a guide for where and how change can and should occur, but does not replace zoning or the Unified Development Code”

Essential to reading the land use map is an understanding of what it is and what it is not. As the plan states, all anchors are walkable, mixed-use places, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all the same. And change in anchors is context-sensitive, not all or nothing. The focus on anchors aims to illustrate a focus on key areas of the city where growth, development, and change occur and surrounding it where greater density can be built to support anchors through a mix of housing types.

In that way, the future land use map provides a guide for where and how change can and should occur, but the land use map does not replace zoning or the zoning map in the Unified Development Code.

Memphis 3.0 Draft release December 2018

Find an anchor you find interesting to you on the land use map. Perhaps it’s near where you live or work. The color-coding for that anchor designates a land use type and with it certain characteristics of intent, applicability, development objectives, and form and location. The draft plan has a page for each one of these land use types, describing it in more detail. You may notice that surrounding that anchor is a one-quarter-mile buffer and perhaps a one-half-mile buffer, or the surrounding anchor neighborhood. The theory of the focus on anchors is the anchor can influence surrounding neighborhoods, but likewise, the anchor depends on the surrounding neighborhoods for its support as a walkable, mixed-use, transit-served place. Areas closer to the anchor are recommended to achieve greater densities; areas in the anchor neighborhood edge (one-half-mile) are the further extent of an anchor’s influence and may experience some change, as well, that supports the anchor. These changes are intended to be a matter of adding incremental density to build around anchors and neighborhood centers to support vitality and walkability.

So how does that impact zoning? The anchor neighborhood you selected may recommend a mix of housing types, whether duplex, fourplex, or garden apartments, for example. But suppose that is a single-family zone or in a historic zoning overlay. Those zoning rules still apply. And someone who wanted to build a duplex, fourplex, or garden apartments would need to file for a variance to allow the use, or would need to get approval from the Landmarks Commission.

“…a much-needed tool to elevate design citywide”

The development and adoption of the comprehensive plan and land use plan give the city a much greater position to elevate design in development. Recently, the Office of Planning and Development (OPD) hired Brett Ragsdale, formerly of brg3s architects, to fill the position of Deputy Administrator. Mr. Ragsdale brings a background and new focus of design to the department in time for the application of the comprehensive plan to development review. As projects are submitted for planned developments, variances, or other zoning entitlements, the plan gives OPD a much-needed tool to elevate design citywide. Through subsequent small area plans, led by Office of Comprehensive Planning and supported by OPD, incremental changes to the UDC including elevating design can be made.

Connecting Communities

Along with guiding future land use, the comprehensive plan also includes guidance for other city systems, beginning with the city’s streets. As a companion to the land use plan, the Memphis 3.0 comprehensive plan includes new recommendations for street design to align with surrounding land use. The guidance for street design will soon frame the replacement of the City’s decades-old Major Roads Plan incorporating the Complete Streets Project Delivery Manual and street typology recommendations based on surrounding land use in order to create more walkable, transit-served neighborhoods.

The plan also includes the Memphis 3.0 Transit Vision, an effort led by Innovate Memphis and Memphis Area Transit Authority, in partnership with the Division of Planning and Development. The Transit Vision plan recommends both short- and long-term maps that focus resources on greater frequency in the transit system to maximize ridership and improvement in commute times. Public transit was a frequent high priority articulated by residents in the planning process. But as the Transit Vision appendix of the plan notes, principles of good transit design include frequency and directness.

The recommended transit network design achieves directness through its linking of recommended plan anchors, primarily along key corridors. The goal of frequency is achieved through improving service levels along key routes, primarily those that connect to and among the core of the network, but greater density is essential to sustaining a high frequency network. If implemented today, the recommended short-term network brings an additional 79,000 people and 103,000 jobs within one-half mile of frequent transit (service every 15 minutes).

Reading the Plan

Many of the plan’s recommendations come in the form of policies and potential investments, organized in the plan elements of Land, Connectivity, and Opportunity. Within the plan elements are eight goals addressing communities and development, civic spaces, sustainability, infrastructure, transportation, economic development, housing, and community engagement. Not all recommendations will be implemented immediately, but vary among short-term, medium-term, and long-term in nature.

Finally, the comprehensive plan contains district character plans for each planning district area of the city. Within these, residents can find recommendations on anchors, land use, transportation, and key actions for each district. Many of the plan’s policy and investment recommendations are citywide in scale, but some actions were priorities specific to each district or even by anchor area. The District Priorities chapter describes those actions in written and illustrated form.

Public Comment Period

The release of the Memphis 3.0 comprehensive plan public draft starts the clock a public comment period ending February 8, 2019. Residents are asked to review the plan and provide comment by visiting www.memphis3point0.com. Public comments will be reviewed by the Office of Comprehensive Planning and incorporated into the final draft as appropriate. Responses to comments will be assembled in a brief to the Memphis and Shelby County Land Use Control Board, who will consider adoption of the plan during its February 14, 2019 regular meeting. If approved, plan adoption will advance to City Council for adoption by ordinance.

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About John Zeanah 1 Article
John Zeanah, AICP, has served as the Director of the Memphis and Shelby County Division of Planning and Development since January 2018 after two years in the role of Deputy Division Director. Mr. Zeanah has led the Memphis 3.0 comprehensive plan, the first city plan for Memphis since 1981, a development process improvement initiative involving city and county agencies, and the Mid-South Regional Greenprint and Sustainability Plan.

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