Shelby County drops sewer plan, affecting development in outlying areas

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Starting Wednesday, if you want to develop or live in unincorporated Shelby County, you will have to figure out sewage treatment on your own.

County Mayor Lee Harris is going back on a plan announced earlier this year by his predecessor Mark Luttrell, scrapping a $30 million plan to build a treatment facility in a decision that impacts everywhere from the city to the suburbs.

He says it will encourage people to focus development on areas that need it most.

"We've got municipalities that would love to have growth,” Harris said. “That’s consistent with over-arching desire among a lot of key stakeholders we should promote density and growth in our municipalities”

He wants developers to focus on building in the city of Memphis, and others like Arlington and Bartlett, rather than unincorporated Shelby County.

"For too long our community has been shrinking. This is one way to say let’s grow our municipalities," Harris said. "Let’s focus on sewer assets where they sit right now and discourage what we've done in the past — spread ourselves thin, encourage sprawl.”

Tonia Howell with the Arlington Chamber of Commerce says when it comes to economic development, everyone wants to share the wealth.

"I think it’s a good, solid decision for everybody involved,” Howell said. "Keeping that economic engine revving is important for all of the suburban areas, and that in turn then, helps all of Shelby County.”

But in this case like in many others, the city of Memphis will still have to shoulder a bigger burden because there are a few dozen development projects already in the works planned for unincorporated Shelby County.

Memphis has promised to fill that gap with its sewage treatment plant.

All of this fits in with initiatives from Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland to do the same thing: build up the city’s core to make public services more efficient.

"Mayor Harris made a good decision," Strickland said in a statement. "It goes along with my vision of building up our city core and reducing sprawl. If you’re a person who wants city services you need to live in a city."


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