City Council gives final OK to South Cordova de-annexation

By Updated: February 20, 2019 6:44 AM CT | Published: February 19, 2019 8:38 PM CT

Memphis’ de-annexation of South Cordova becomes official in 2021 following City Council approval of the move Tuesday.

It marks the last of five de-annexations the city voluntarily undertook to stave off a move by Tennessee lawmakers that would have allowed de-annexations by referendum.

The council approved the ordinance on third and final reading with a 10-1 vote. Councilman Martavius Jones cast the only no vote. Council chairman Kemp Conrad recused himself.

Although Jones was the only no vote, other council members had voted no on earlier readings of the ordinance.

South Cordova homeowners who pushed for the state legislation and then for de-annexation under the city’s terms came to City Hall for the council decision, many dressed in red, and spoke to the council before the vote.

Doyle Silliman, among the leaders of the movement, led with being a lifelong Memphian.

“Memphis needs to work on its inner core,” he told the council. “I love the city of Memphis.”

Other homeowners were courteous and even deferential to the council, although insistent their property had lost value since they were annexed.

“It doesn’t cost the city anything,” Ken Weatherford said. “It washes out in the end.”

Council members were conflicted.

Some saw the statements as support for Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s turn from rallying to fight the de-annexation bill in a form that could have applied the referendums to any city annexation since 1998 to making it a cornerstone of his growth policy.

As state legislators delayed the bill and talked of exempting some cities if they voluntarily de-annexed areas, Strickland began talking about “rightsizing” the city to make it denser. He also began to talk of the city “growing up, not out.”

“I believe that we need to shrink our geographic footprint,” Councilman Ford Canale said. “I don’t believe the urban sprawl is good unless you can take the density with you.”

Canale argued de-annexation helps improve the delivery of city services and, in turn, encourage population growth in a city that has seen its population shift but not grow for years.

BILL DRIES: South Cordova de-annexation milestones

Councilman Sherman Greer didn’t like much of what he heard from the South Cordova homeowners.

“You profit or benefit by the city of Memphis,” he said, interpreting what he heard from the homeowners as an “us versus them” mentality.

“This is a tough decision and you all made it a lot tougher for me,” Greer said before his vote in favor of the de-annexation.

Councilman Berlin Boyd said the city wasn’t smart in what he termed a “land grab” to make up for the lack of population growth and the resulting impact on city revenues and need to extend sewer services.

“I will support this de-annexation simply because I believe in Memphis. I believe that we have always been that phoenix rising from the ashes. … Without Memphis there would not be a Germantown. There would not be a north Mississippi. There wouldn’t be an eastern Arkansas,” Boyd said. “Let’s prove them wrong.”

Councilman Frank Colvett told the homeowners, “We came up short by you” in providing city services.

“I’ve heard you, and I think the council has heard you,” he said. “It makes me sad when Memphis has not lived up to what it could be. Colleagues, this is about Memphis. This is about where we are going.”

Residents who want to stay in the city have 75 days to mount a petition drive. If 10 percent of residents in the de-annexation area sign a petition with that sentiment, the matter would go on the ballot as a referendum.

South Cordova homeowners will continue to pay city property taxes until the de-annexation goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021. After that, homeowners will pay county property taxes and receive a supplemental tax bill from the city to pay their share of tax-funded debt on infrastructure that was built while the area was part of Memphis, as well as a portion of the pension liability for employees who provide city services.

City chief operating officer Doug McGowen has said the formula for South Cordovans works out to a supplemental bill of $2,700 on a $150,000 house. The supplemental tax bills would be paid for approximately 2 1/2 years, with the amount fully paid in 2024.

South Cordova was the last annexation by the city in 2012 before the Tennessee Legislature approved a state law requiring any annexation to win the approval of those being annexed in a referendum.

The de-annexation decision by the council was by far the most discussed and most controversial in the set of five. The other areas the city has approved for de-annexation are the part of Eads within the Memphis city limits; unoccupied land in a flood plain in southwest Memphis; the Southwind/Windyke area; and Rocky Point.

Other City Council action

  • In other action Tuesday, the council approved on a 7-5 vote an appeal by Saia Motor Freight LLC that puts its 200-door cross dock on Raines Road west of Tchulahoma Road back on track. The Land Use Control Board rejected the project last year, prompting Saia to appeal the decision to the council. The appeal drew a group of homeowners in the Christine Gardens subdivision next to the site of the Saia terminal.
  • The council also approved some procedural changes that make the rules for filling council vacancies more specific. It comes after council members were stalemated from late last year into January in filling three open seats – the most vacancies at one time in the 51-year history of the mayor-council form of government. In the process of approving the rule changes, the council took back an idea proposed by Conrad to create a second vice chair position. Conrad withdrew it, citing ongoing debate among council members.
  • Council members delayed for two weeks consideration of a resolution by Jones expressing support for all of the bills pending in the Tennessee Legislature regarding the medical use of marijuana and decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot.
  • The council approved what amounts to a $15.2 million advance from the city’s sewer fund to relocate a 48-inch sewer line off the campus of St. Jude Children Research Hospital, to be paid back with state funds. The relocation of the public infrastructure is part of the redevelopment of the nine-block area between the existing St. Jude campus and the Pyramid.


South Cordova De-Annexation Memphis City Council
Bill Dries

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.

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