Pushing and Pulling 

Whitehaven residents duke it out with proposed salvage company.

The people at Pull-a-Part, a salvage yard chain attempting to open a location at the corner of Brooks Road and Graves, like to call their business the "un-junkyard." But a large group of Whitehaven residents aren't buying it.

Lifelong resident Lillian Gillis said the proposed business will cater to thieves and "undesirables." Former code-enforcement inspector Gabriel Pryor thought the salvage yard would leave environmental scars on the 27-acre site, and resident Peggy Baker said the site is too close to the homes located on nearby Graves Road.

Whitehaven residents packed the auditorium at Graves Elementary School last week for a town hall meeting that was touted as Pull-a-Part's last chance to make its case to residents. The issue will be voted on by the City Council on September 7th.

When Pull-a-Part co-founder Mark Cohen finished delivering a 10-minute speech on the benefits he believed his company could offer the area, several outraged citizens stood up and voiced their concerns. Some worried about the business bringing more rodents and snakes into the community, and others said the company would cause their property values to plummet. One woman demanded to know why the company hadn't chosen a site in Germantown or Collierville.

"It's not like putting an ice cream stand in the neighborhood," said Pryor. "You're talking about putting in something that has a potential to be dangerous. The site is located on a floodplain, and it's aligned with Nonconnah [Creek]. If the water run-off happens to get into the Nonconnah, there's no telling where it might travel."

Cohen contends that his company's environmentally sensitive business practices differ from other junkyards. He says all cars are drained of oil, gas, Freon, and other fluids before they're placed on the lot to limit the risk of polluting the soil. He also said the cars are arranged and organized by a computer numbering system to give the yard a neat appearance. An eight-foot-high metal fence will shield the salvage yard from the view of residents. The company, based in Atlanta, currently has locations in Birmingham, Nashville, Atlanta, and Charlotte, and Cohen said they've had no problems in those areas.

The site is currently zoned for light industrial, but it will have to be rezoned to heavy industrial in order for the company to open. Pull-a-Part is asking for a special-use permit to ensure the site cannot be used for other industrial purposes should the business ever leave the area. But several residents said changing the zoning could open doors for not so environmentally sensitive businesses. During the meeting, Pryor cited other businesses along Brooks that he believes are unregulated environmental hazards.

"There was some real confusion on the part of the residents," said Cohen. "They were concerned that other people in other industries have been bad corporate citizens and that's got nothing to with us. We handle no more hazardous waste than a gas station."

The meeting was cut short after a number of residents spoke out of turn during the question-and-answer period. Rather than directing questions to Cohen, many residents were demanding to know which way councilman Rickey Peete, who was facilitating the meeting, would vote. He eventually told the crowd that he would vote against the permit and asked the Pull-a-Part representatives to withdraw their application. They refused and the matter will now be decided by the council.

"I don't know where this is headed, but if this [location is not approved], we might not find another one," said Cohen. "We don't have another one in mind at this point. We searched all over Memphis, and it's been difficult to find at least 25 acres in an industrial area that has good access."

E-mail: bphillips@memphisflyer.com

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