A project at the Prairie Farms plant in Midtown has some neighbors and at least one developer hoping the milk plant will move, while the company’s owner said the project will clean up the site for its neighbors and keep and create skilled jobs in Memphis.
Neighbors of the Midtown production facility complained recently to city officials about the trucks parked in the vacant lot behind the milk plant. Jim Turner, owner of the land and the Prairie Farms milk plant, said he wasn’t aware zoning laws prevented him from parking trucks there.
His company, Turner Holdings LLC, is now asking city officials for a legal change to the vacant lot that would allow it to be used for “vehicle maintenance, repair, warehousing, and temporary parking of trucks and trailers,” according to the company’s city application.
The Land Use Control Board (LUCB) is slated to review the request during its next meeting on Thursday, Nov. 10 at 10 a.m. Turner has scheduled a public meeting on the zoning change for Monday, Oct. 31 at 4:30 p.m. at the Brooks Museum.
This move comes after the company was awarded a tax-break deal from the Memphis and Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) board in June. The seven-year deal is worth more than $1 million and covers what is now a $10 million project to add a new building to the milk plant, which fronts Madison. The project will bring about 50 jobs, Turner said.
Turner said before his company was awarded the payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) deal, he received maybe an average of two complaints a year form neighbors. That increased once the company’s name was in the news about the PILOT deal.
However, Turner said his company has a construction permit for the plant expansion in hand and is moving forward with the plans. That expansion will take place on the company's south lot, not on the vacant lot for which Turner is asking for the zoning change.
But neighbors plan to fight that zoning change. That fight includes a a larger question as to whether or not a factory belongs at all in Midtown, and especially as a close neighborhood to the burgeoning Overton Square.
“That’s just no place for an industrial site right in the middle of that neighborhood,” said Gordon Alexander, a member of the Midtown Action Coalition. “Not only has the dairy changed, but the neighborhood has changed.”
Alexander said neighbors complain that loud noises and lights emit from the dairy site as early as 4:30 a.m. The 18-wheelers that haul in and out of the site are loud, congest traffic, and pose threats to cyclists using the Madison bike lanes.
Turner said the company has operated in the area for more than 80 years. Alexander maintains, though, that in the company’s infancy here, it was a small, neighborhood dairy “that delivered glass bottle to people in Midtown.”
George Cates, founder of Mid-America Apartment Communities, agreed with Alexander’s assertion about the land’s use back in June (during the EDGE meeting that gave Prairie Farms the PILOT) but for a different reason.
He said told EDGE board member the “Turner site would be beneficial if it were used for purposes other than an industrial site, such as a hotel, retail, apartments, or for mixed use,” according to the minutes of that meeting.
“If the site was used for one of the suggested purposes, Mr. Cates stated they would generate more than 25 jobs and the taxes to the city and the county would be substantially greater,” read the minutes.
For some of this, Turner said he felt that some people see the recent controversy on the project as a “reason to kick us out of Midtown.” But he said he doesn’t agree with that. The company has “every right” to change the zoning for the vacant lot and it will “not cause any harm to the neighborhood.”
Turner admitted the exterior of the site looks a “little run down,” adding that the company has been focused on its expansion plan and put off exterior improvements. But a portion of the company’s plan will change that.
The company wants to build a fence around the lot (and the entirety of the facility’s northern and western borders) to help shield the site from neighbors, like The Blue Monkey restaurant and bar to the west and to homes and apartments to the west.
The eight-foot-tall fence would be made of pine wood and brick. Plants like knockout roses, magnolias, loblolly pines would be placed inside and outside of the perimeter of the fence.
Council member Worth Morgan urged everyone involved in the debate to “be as cordial and civil as possible.” He also said there may be a third way available on the issue soon was bound against giving any details.
“There are more options still being pursued right now that can be good for the neighborhood and be good for Turner,” Morgan said. “Right now, our efforts are focused on pursuing some of those options.”