Thursday, April 01, 2004

New, revised plans awaiting Mud Island property

Memphis Daily News [link]
by Andrew Bell

On an August morning a little less than two years ago, a surprise mudslide sidetracked a developers plan that would have added single-family homes and multifamily units to the south end of Mud Island.

Now, developer Kevin Hyneman is preparing to present new plans for the 21-acre tract to the Riverfront Development Corp. He said the plans will be finalized within 90 days.

Land stable. Hyneman said a series of geotechnical studies conducted on the property following the mudslide are nearing completion. So far, the studies indicate that at least part of the land can sustain construction.

"The stability is fine," Hyneman said. Obviously, the mudslide area will never be able to be built on, but there was just no sense making any plans until we determined that we had a site we could actually build on."

Steeped in controversy. From the beginning, any talk of residential development on the property south of the Auction Avenue bridge has stirred up debate, starting with the clearing of trees.

Hyneman acknowledged the controversial nature of the property.

The site is within the scope of a 50-year Riverfront Master Plan created by New York-based Cooper, Robertson & Partners for the RDC, a nonprofit, public-private partnership formed to oversee improvements to the citys stretch of Downtown riverfront.

According to a special warranty deed filed in the Shelby County Register's Office, Kevin Hyneman Cos. bought land from Echelon Residential LLC for $2.5 million in 2001. Plans subsequently surfaced for Hyneman to sell the land to a joint venture that included Henry Turley, Jack Belz and the RDC who, in turn, announced plans to build an $18 million, 349-unit development on the property on a scale resembling the Mud Island homes north of Auction in Harbor Town.

New negotiations. The mudslide halted those arrangements, forcing Hyneman to consider new options.

"We have not talked in about three months," said RDC president Benny Lendermon of the organizations communication with Hyneman. There are still issues to be worked out.

Laura Morgan, Center City Commission director of planning and development, said the CCC also has not entertained discussion about the property's future in recent months.

Lendermon said the RDC's view for the south end of the island would target the center portion for development, reserving the propertys Mississippi River and Wolf River shorelines for park space.

"(Hyneman's) property is on the harbor side of the road," Lendermon said. The public property is on the western side of the road. Our idea was to swap properties and end up with park space on either side next to the water, and shift the development to the center and make it bigger and more significant.

"We feel like that's a better fit with what were hoping to accomplish."

Working out a compromise. Lendermon said the RDC and Hyneman were in serious discussions before the mudslide and for a period of time immediately following it.

He said although Hyneman can freely pursue any development granted approval by the city-county Office of Planning and Development, any project deemed risky by the RDC could prevent the organization from recommending the project for a potential Center City Revenue Finance Corp. tax freeze.

"The financial parts of it didnt make sense to us how he was trying to pursue it," Lendermon said. "We were trying to figure out some way to be the vehicle enabling the development to be built on the center of the island with green space on either side. We still think thats best way.

"We are out to ensure that the financial deal makes sense for the public entity to be involved, and at its last point, we didn't think it did."

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