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VOL. 131 | NO. 219 | Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Council Rejects 2 Car Lots, Amends DROP Freeze for C-Suite

By Bill Dries

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Starting a used car lot used to be a lot simpler. In fact it was considered a right – “development by right” until a change in recent years in the local Unified Development Code.

Now the car lots require a special use permit from the Memphis City Council. And it’s a hard sell.

Council members voted down two proposed car lots Tuesday, Nov. 1, on an agenda that included a total of three such proposals and the conversion of a fourth car lot to an insurance office.

Jay Shiek planned to put a car lot at 1720 E. Holmes Road where the Southern Security Credit Union is about to close.

And Shiek’s representative in the case, David Bray, said he understood the need for restrictions on car lots.

“The purpose of the special use permit should be for you guys to get to know the applicant and know what they are going to do with their particular business model,” he told the council Tuesday. “We believe this will be a good business for the community.”

But the proposal drew opposition from homeowners nearby as well as council member Patrice Robinson, whose district includes the area.

“We do not object to economic development in the Whitehaven area,” said homeowner Calvin Burton. “But how many car dealerships do we need?”

Robinson pointed to three other car dealerships in the immediate area.

Bray said the problems with unregulated car lots under “development by right” are solved by the special use permit process which can require specific landscaping as well as conditions that limit the display of cars and usually call for wrought iron fences instead of chain link fences topped by barbed wire.

Existing car lots pre-UDC are grandfathered in.

“You can’t make them change,” Bray said. “But new business breeds new business and helps turn the area around. A new car dealership with a quality product … is a much better choice than a vacant building.”

The proposal failed to get a single “yes” vote.

The council also voted down a car lot at Jones Road and Austin Peay Highway, although that proposal got three yes votes in the defeat.

The council approved the Chelsea Auto Mart at 2109 and 2119 Chelsea Ave. near Tunica Street in North Memphis by Tim McCaskill. The auto mart has a lot for the cars on one side of the intersection and a car sales office on another lot in a long-vacant building that was once a Harlem House restaurant.

Unlike the other two proposals, Chelsea Auto Mart had no neighborhood opposition and the council had approved an earlier special use permit for a car lot.

The council also approved the conversion of a used car lot at 4055 Summer Avenue into an insurance office by the wife of the car lot operator who wanted to make it Latinos 901 Auto Sales earlier this year.

The couple bought the property from Mostly Trucks, another used vehicle business. Mostly Trucks had a 2005 letter from the local Office of Construction Code Enforcement saying a used car lot was among the permissible uses for the land. But that wasn’t accurate.

When Latinos 901 bought the property, it assumed a car lot was a proper use and moved for permission from the Board of Adjustment in May when they discovered it was not. The Board of Adjustment refused to grant the variance prompting the proposal to use the site as an insurance office.

Council members also gave final approval Tuesday to a freeze of the city’s Deferred Retirement Option Program – or DROP – aimed at the “c-suite” level of top city division directors.

The vote on third and final reading comes a year and a month after the council approved a much broader DROP freeze intended to bolster police ranks in particular and keep the force from dropping below 2,000 officers.

The newly amended freeze is much more narrowly drawn starting with its time frame. It affects all of the chief level of administration officials who report directly to the mayor as well as the city council administrator when those in those jobs have an effective retirement date between January 1, 2017 and Dec. 31, 2018 and who made the decision to participate in DROP between Jan. 1, 2012 and June 30, 2016.

The change specifically allows Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings to remain past his scheduled retirement date in 2018. Rallings has said he intends to remain police director through Mayor Jim Strickland’s term of office which runs to the end of 2019.

“The original version was designed to retain about 90 public safety officers and other employees,” council attorney Allan Wade told the council Tuesday. “This is substantially narrower.”

Wade also said the amendment avoids concerns by leaders of the police and firefighters unions that a broader DROP freeze would create a “logjam” in promotions. The amendment has the “ability for middle managers to move up and create a lot more room at the bottom,” Wade said.

The council also approved $258,608 in funding for the installation of a sanitary sewer extension at the new TVA plant in southwest Memphis. But a move to immediately approve that portion of the minutes on the same night as the council vote was dropped by the council because of the controversy over TVA’s tentative plans to sink its own wells into the Memphis aquifer to supply water to cool the natural gas powered energy plant.

“We are spending $258,000,” council member Martavius Jones said as he called for the delay in same-night minutes. “Yet they do not want to buy water from us.”

TVA has said it is considering using some combination of water from Memphis Light Gas and Water Division and well water TVA would generate itself.

PROPERTY SALES 36 154 6,546
MORTGAGES 34 94 4,129
BUILDING PERMITS 201 554 15,915
BANKRUPTCIES 43 126 3,396