Milking Midtown 

Some hope to convert a zoning controversy to the complete removal of Prairie Farms.

Controversy over a new project at the Prairie Farms facility in Midtown has some locals hoping the milk plant will move, but the company's owner said some are just looking for a "reason to kick us out of Midtown."

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 until recently that zoning laws prevented him from parking trucks there.

His company, Turner Holdings LLC, is now asking city officials for a zoning change that would allow the lot 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. 10th at 10 a.m. A public meeting on the zoning change was slated for Monday at the Brooks Museum.

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Neighbors plan to fight that zoning change. That fight includes a larger question as to whether or not a factory belongs at all in Midtown, and especially as a close neighbor to the burgeoning Overton Square entertainment district.

"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.

George Cates, founder of Mid-America Apartment Communities, has said the site would be better used as a "hotel, retail, apartments, or for mixed use," according to the minutes of a meeting of the Memphis and Shelby County Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) board in June. Cates said the other uses would create more jobs and more tax revenue.

This, Turner said, is a move "to kick us out of Midtown." He said an expansion project there will bring about 50 jobs and will clean up the site to better fit in with the neighborhood.

The company wants to build an eight-foot-tall fence and install extensive landscaping 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 and homes and apartments.

Council member Worth Morgan urged everyone involved in the debate to "be as cordial and civil as possible," and said there may be a third option available soon but was bound against giving any details.

"There are more options still being pursued right now," Morgan said. "Right now, our efforts are focused on pursuing some of those options."

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