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VOL. 130 | NO. 233 | Tuesday, December 1, 2015

City Council to Vote on Idlewild Gate, Water Rate Hike

By Bill Dries

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A gate across Idlewild Street between two competing supermarket projects in Midtown tops the Memphis City Council’s next-to-last meeting of the year.

Memphis City Council members have a busy agenda Tuesday, Dec. 1, for the their next to last meeting of the year and the six new incoming council members begin learning the ropes at City Hall.

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

The council is to vote Tuesday, Dec. 1, on a resolution that would close Idlewild south of Union Avenue to vehicular traffic and install a gate. The reason, according to the resolution, is to prevent motorists coming from Union Avenue and the two developments from cutting through the residential area.

However, there is plenty of debate about whether the gate is part of the competition between developers of the projects on either side of the 29 1/2-foot roadway.

West of the road is Kroger, which remains open while a new, 54,000-square-foot store is being built on the western edge of the site bordering Lemaster Street.

East of Idlewild is the site of Belz Investco GP’s proposed $43 million Midtown Market, a mixed-use development at the corner of Union and McLean Boulevard that would have a “national gourmet grocery” as an anchor tenant, according to its developers.

Belz Investco proposed the gate across Idlewild, which was rejected by the Land Use Control Board on Nov. 12.

The LUCB staff said the gate would set a “dangerous precedent” that could “negatively impact the connectivity of neighborhoods throughout the city.”

But Belz executives say that without a gate, they won’t go through with the Midtown Market development.

“I don’t have to do the Union and McLean project,” Ron Belz, vice president of Belz Enterprises, said after the LUCB decision.

In addition to owning the land for the development, Belz Enterprises owns property in the residential area. And Ron says he wants the gate to protect the residential area.

“My principle is that I will not do harm to that neighborhood,” he said.

Among the other items on Tuesday’s council agenda is a $240 million contract with Elster Solutions LLC for Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division to buy more Smart Meters over several years.

The council also has a vote scheduled on MLGW’s request for a 22 percent water rate hike.

In a Nov. 25 letter to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson raised the possibility of state oversight of the utility’s water division if there is no action through a rate hike or reducing expenses to the tune of $2 million.

Wilson, in the letter made public Monday by council chairman Myron Lowery, said he is concerned that with no action by the council, MLGW will have year-end financial statements that “reflect a significant monetary deficiency also known as a negative change in net position in the approximate amount of $2 million.”

The $2 million figure is the amount of revenue MLGW lost when the water division’s largest customer, Cargill Inc., closed its Memphis corn mill operation at the end of 2014.

MLGW is seeking a larger water rate increase to make up for the Cargill loss as well as legal fees in an ongoing court case over water rights with the state of Mississippi. The utility also cites a “continued overall decline in water sales,” according to the minutes of the October MLGW board meeting where the rate hike was approved by the utility board.

And the council votes Tuesday on the Memphis Area Transit Authority contract with the private developers of Central Station.

The agreement includes $600,000 in city funding to match federal funds for public improvements on the property.

A Nov. 17 council vote on the matter was delayed after it became apparent Mayor A C Wharton’s administration had not reviewed the contract. With council approval, developers say they are ready to begin work immediately on two parts of the project – the five-screen Malco movie theater and new apartments.

The council meets at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St.

Follow the meeting at @tdnpols, twitter.com/tdnpols, with live updates earlier in the day from council committee sessions.

Also on Tuesday’s agenda is the first of three readings of an ordinance that would extend the hours for paid on-street metered parking.

Currently, paid on-street parking hours run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. The City Engineer’s office is proposing to extend that to 8 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday in the entertainment district Downtown and other “high-demand areas.”

The new provisions also would give the City Engineer the authority to change the paid on-street parking hours in certain zones based on parking demand and occupancy.

The goal, as stated in the proposal, is “to improve the opportunity for finding available short-term, on-street parking after 6 p.m. and on the weekend.”

The required three votes on the ordinance would take the final vote on the measure into January and the first meeting of the new council elected this year.

The council day at City Hall Tuesday begins with a morning orientation session for the six newly elected council members who take office in January, along with the seven re-elected council members and mayor-elect Jim Strickland.

The new council members also have a daylong session with the outgoing and incoming administrations on Dec. 9.

In planning and development items, the council votes Tuesday on a retail strip at Summer Avenue and Graham Street that they voted down in August. The new retail center, which would be built where an apartment building now stands, would not include the laundromat that prompted opposition earlier this year from neighbors.

The council also votes on a planned development on the southwest corner of Broad Avenue and Tillman Street anchored by an animal hospital.

PROPERTY SALES 57 280 1,209
MORTGAGES 55 244 916
BUILDING PERMITS 158 699 2,751