Memphis Demolition Moratorium Delayed

By Bill Dries

A plan by some on the Memphis City Council to declare a four-month moratorium on all demolitions of Memphis properties on the National Register of Historic Places was put off this week after questions about the legality of the moratorium.

Nineteenth Century Club

The moratorium would have applied to the Nineteenth Century Club in Midtown, whose demolition by the new owners of the Union Avenue property is on hold via a restraining order.

Council member Janis Fullilove delayed a council vote Tuesday, Aug. 6, on the measure after several council members said the issue is being addressed in Shelby County Chancery Court and questioned why the new property owner hadn’t been notified of the proposal.

Fullilove said the effort was aimed at the 19th century mansion but would also apply to all Memphis landmarks on the register, which protects structures from demolition when federal funding is involved. But it does not offer such protection when a site is to be demolished using private funds.

Fullilove proposed a study of demolition procedures during the moratorium.

Union Group LLC bought the property for $550,000 from the nonprofit women’s organization in January. A company working for Union Group took out a demolition permit for the property at the end of July, felling a large tree on the back of the property.

That work was stopped by a Chancery Court order issued Aug. 1 by Chancellor Walter Evans. He acted after two current and former members of the club filed suit over the sale of the property. They claim the entire membership of the club and not just its board of directors had to agree to the sale.

Evans issued the order pending a hearing and decision on the claim.

“The builder side of me doesn’t want to purposefully stop the free market,” said council member Reid Hedgepeth, who said the moratorium would change rules on the property owner in the middle of the process.

Council attorney Allan Wade also expressed some concerns, citing past court actions on such moratoriums that did not go the council’s way once a judge ruled.

“I cannot definitively tell you that the moratorium is worth the paper it’s written on,” he told the council Tuesday.

“The opponents have a remedy in Chancery Court.”

Some changes in the wording of the moratorium eased some of Wade’s concerns. But by then other council members wanted to know why the property owner, who has plans to build a retail building on the site, hadn’t been notified.

“We would simply be sneaking up on someone who bought the property,” council member Bill Morrison said. “Let the courts do their business.”