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VOL. 130 | NO. 221 | Thursday, November 12, 2015

LUCB Rejects Belz Application, Puts Midtown Mixed-Use Project in Jeopardy

By Madeline Faber

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Balancing competing businesses, city engineering code and neighborhood input came to a head at a Thursday, Nov. 12, Office of Planning and Development meeting when the Land Use Control Board decided to reject a traffic-blocking gate across the south side of Idlewild Street in Midtown Memphis.

The gate is a standoff between two grocery entities. To the west is the soon-to-be revamped 54,000-square-foot Kroger, which reaches to Lemaster Street. On the east side of the gate is Belz Enterprises’ proposed mixed-use development between Idlewild and McLean Boulevard, which would be anchored by a grocery store.

Proposed view at Union and McLean

(Looney Ricks Kiss)

In its application, Belz said that the gate is needed to protect the street and the single-family homes of Central Gardens to the south.

The $43 million project, which already has been granted $10.5 million in tax breaks, will not go forward without the gate, according to Nathan Bicks, a Burch, Porter & Johnson attorney representing Belz.

Belz owns property on both sides of the gate: A commercial building that houses the Methodist Diagnostic Center, at 1801 Union Ave., and a house on Idlewild behind the medical building. The street is publicly owned and maintained.

Protecting the family home would make or break the development, Ron Belz said, adding: “I don’t have to do the Union and McLean project.”

"I understand that neighborhood and obviously from my background, I understand development," Belz said. "My principle is that I will not do harm to that neighborhood."

Midtown bears some of the city’s densest and most varied zoning patterns, as well as steadily increasing development interest, according to the LUCB staff report. The planning staff called the gate “a dangerous precedent” that could “negatively impact the connectivity of neighborhoods throughout the city.”

When the application was first submitted, the city engineer came down hard against the proposed gate, saying it was strictly against city of Memphis code. At the LUCB meeting, the staff presented the engineer’s revised comments, dated Monday, Nov. 9, stating that the gate was acceptable and would accommodate pedestrian traffic as well as emergency vehicles.

The change in opinion was based on Belz’s recently submitted and revised plan for the gate, LUCB staff reported. The new plan was not made public. 

Several neighbors spoke in favor of and in opposition to the gate.

Mike Rosier, real estate specialist with Kroger, called Belz’s ultimatum, “complete posturing and an empty threat.” 

One property owner with houses on Lemaster and Eastmoreland Avenue said that a blocked Idlewild would just burden Linden Avenue, Eastmoreland and Lemaster with additional traffic.

Others held that Idlewild needs to protect against encroaching commercial interests.

SR Consulting is currently conducting a traffic study on the activity with and without a gate and will submit its findings to the Memphis City Council. 

The project still must go before the city council for a vote.

PROPERTY SALES 83 405 4,276
MORTGAGES 104 424 4,814
BUILDING PERMITS 148 883 10,151
BANKRUPTCIES 53 264 3,149