Pull-a-Part, a regional chain of auto salvage yards, is having a hard time convincing Memphians that they're not your average junkyard. At a public meeting in South Memphis recently, residents let the company know they don't approve of Pull-a-Part's plan to open a facility on Belz Road behind the Southgate Shopping Center.
Pull-a-Part wanted to open a salvage yard in Whitehaven last fall, but opposition forced them to abandon the idea.
The company calls itself the "un-junkyard" due to its environmentally sensitive business practices. According to co-founder Mark Cohen, all cars are drained of oil, gas, Freon, and other contaminants before they're placed on the lot. Vehicles are also organized by a computer numbering system to give the yard a neat appearance. But many Memphis residents aren't buying it.
"I can sell you a house, and you can tell me on the front end that you're going to take care of the property and plant flowers every spring, but I don't have any control over what you do once you move in," said Rita Harris, environmental-justice coordinator for the Sierra Club. "We're looking further down the road."
Harris says South Memphis residents oppose Pull-a-Part on Belz Road because they fear it will lower property values and increase crime.
The proposed property is currently zoned for light industrial, but the "un-junkyard" is considered heavy industrial. According to Don Jones at the Memphis & Shelby County Division of Planning and Development, the company has applied for "planned-development" status, which means they would be able to locate there without a zoning change or a special use permit, but if they ever left, other heavy industrial businesses would still have to reapply for approval.
Planned-development status also must be voted on by the Land Use Control Board and the City Council, but neither body has heard the issue yet. Last week, a Pull-a-Part representative told Jones they'd like the item postponed.
Cohen would not say if the company is considering withdrawing its application after the public meeting. He did say they are still actively looking at other locations.
"We're looking for a welcoming community, and we've had them in other cities," said Cohen. "If people would listen and accept us, I think they'd be very happy with us." •