Brian Stepehns, CEO of Caissa Public Strategies, explains Turner Holdings' proposal Tuesday.
They don’t want to shut down Turner Dairy in Midtown or to stop its just-begun expansion project but they said they don’t want to allow another project there that would bring in more trucks, more truck noise, more truck fumes, and, possibly, lower property values.
Community members, especially neighbors of the dairy distribution center, gathered Tuesday evening at Hatiloo Theatre to discuss the project, which is slated for a Memphis City Council vote Tuesday, Jan. 17.
The dairy bottling and distribution center wants to transform a nearly three-acre lot behind its facility into a development that would allow the lot to be used for “vehicle maintenance, repair, warehousing, and temporary parking of trucks and trailers.”
Trucks are now prohibited from parking on the lot, according to city code. Though, Turner is getting a pass on that infraction while the council vote is scheduled.
Sam Goff, president of the Midtown Memphis Development Corp. (MMDC), said if the council votes to approve the lot for industrial use next Tuesday, it’ll be something that “our community is stuck with for a long, long time.”
The stakes are so high, in fact, that Goff and other Mditowners hired communications firm Caissa Public Strategy to lead and focus the effort.
Brian Stephens, Caissa CEO, told the crowd gathered that the fight was only about the project for the three-acre lot and the council’s upcoming vote.
“Some want the dairy to go away and some want to protect the dairy,” Stephens said. “That’s not what tonight’s about.”
He explained it was about whether or not an industrial project, like the one Turner wants for that three-acre lot, is compatible with a residential neighborhood close to Overton Square.
“The danger is, if they add this three acres and its zoned for industrial use, where does it stop?” Stephens said. “What’s the next industry that wants to go in? Property values for residences will go down.”
Council member Worth Morgan said he will vote against the re-zoning of the lot, which would allow Turner to pursue its project. But he noted that while the Memphis and Shelby County Land Use Control Board voted against the project in November, the council votes aren’t in the bag.
“The Turner Dairy folks are good people and they’re well represented and they don’t have a bad argument on the nuts and bolts [of their proposed project],” Morgan said.
Some in the crowd grumbled about the numerous trucks that file in and out of the Turner site, something some said happened nearly around the clock now. Other complained of the fumes from the trucks. Still others complained about the tough traffic conditions the trucks created around the site, so close to their homes and Overton Square.
But Pam Routh, who said she’d lived in the neighborhood for “30-something” years, defended the dairy and said the effort against them was too adversarial. She suggested working with the dairy to find other solutions. She pointed to another Memphis business that makes a lot of noise and pollution.
“If you take FedEx out of the sky, though, we’ll all have to find another place to live,” Houth said.
Another idea raised during the hour-long meeting was that the energy against Turner now was only to run them out of Midtown so developer Bob Loeb could buy the property and redevelop it. Loeb told the crowd that the project in the back lot is an “incompatible use” in the area and that the neighbors have the right for their voices to be heard.
Bob Loeb, president of Loeb Properties (right), makes his case to the crowd on Tuesday evening as Brian Stephens of Caissa Public Strategies (center), and Memphis City Council member Worth Morgan (right) look on.
Also, he noted that Turner has “on multiple occasions, asked me to make them an offer” on the dairy site. When ask directly if he wanted the property, Loeb said his company would “love to see it redeveloped for a compatible use and we would be glad to dive in full speed and do it.”
“Turner Holdings, it’s their property and if they choose to sell it, I’m sure they’d sell it to us for one reason and that’s because we’d offer more than anybody else,” Loeb said.
Caissa has established a website for the issue. At bettermemphistogether.org
, visitors can get more information on the issue and, with one click, email every single Memphis City Council member with their opinion.