Germantown seeks legal advice on delaying projects on Poplar gateway by Jane Roberts

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Robert Fogelman has watched with great interest as Germantown has signed off, piece by piece, on development of its western threshold at Poplar Avenue, where his family is one of the largest landowners.

It's no secret that he's not happy with where the city has agreed to place a traffic light to serve TraVure, the controversial hotel and office complex east of Kirby Parkway awaiting final approval from the Germantown Board of Mayor and Aldermen in early February.

Without final results of future traffic patterns in the 58-acre swath of Germantown called the Western Gateway, Fogelman wants the city to stop development, including TraVure, until the information is available

The city ordered the sewer capacity analysis late last fall, and aldermen approved a $70,000 traffic study of the Western Gateway Monday night.

"I am not quite sure why the traffic and infrastructure studies were not completed before, or as part of, the Western Gateway planning process," Fogelman said Wednesday. "The important issue is that these studies have not been completed, and to proceed with development without an understanding of the impacts on traffic, sewer and other integral issues of this nature would be putting the cart before the horse."

The city is seeking counsel from its attorney, Debra Wiles, on whether it can cease development, including on projects it has already approved.

"We are seeking guidance and an opinion from legal counsel on this subject and other interpretations regarding BMA voting responsibilities in development applications, contract approvals, etc.," Mayor Mike Palazzolo said Wednesday.

Ray Gill, who is developing TraVure, calls Fogelman's argument "weak to nonexistent," noting that he has complied with every city order and is requesting no "warrants" or exemptions from code. He also says Fogelman's effort to delay TraVure "is an attempt to delay the inevitable."

But Fogelman points out the Germantown is doing traffic and sewer studies at Forest Hill Heights ahead of when that "small-area plan" will be presented to the BMA for approval.

It approved the Western Gateway plan in 2014. Soon after, Gill presented his plans

While Fogelman doesn't use the word moratorium, he does say the city should have "adequate" time to study the impact of the possible future development, including what turn lanes, signals and other road improvements will be needed to accommodate more dense development, which could include four- and five-story office buildings.

Patrick Lawton, city administrator in Germantown, says the issue was simply a matter of timing.

"The traffic analysis issue surfaced a year ago as a capital improvement project, but it was not in the city budget," he said. "The budget was adopted June 30.

"The timing does seem odd, but you can't stop development; you can't say to developers, 'You can't develop until we are ready.'" But he admits that by the time the city wrote the request for vendor proposals for the traffic study and determined the selection process, "a lot had happened."

TraVure is the only development off the drawing board in the Western Gateway. But it's been contentious, filling up council chambers night after night as it wound through the approval process last fall. It won approval from the planning commission in a session in December that lasted until nearly until 10 p.m. Residents packed the hall, some with lawyers.

While it has been given a green light, it has one more approval before the BMA, scheduled for Feb. 8. Gill says it's a matter of "housekeeping."

Alderman Forrest Owens isn't so sure."Common sense would dictate rejection is a possibility because of the simple fact that it is before us for approval."

Given a clean slate, it's unlikely, Owens said, that traffic experts would place a stoplight on Poplar Avenue at what will become TraVure Parkway, about 750 feet east of Kirby Parkway.

Fogelman agrees, arguing that a stoplight that will affect the whole area should be at the eastern edge of Westminster Townhomes, his property, creating a four-way, signalized intersection with the Atrium/Forum office buildings on Poplar. The traffic adviser he hired to look at the issue in November concluded the scenario needed more study.

"This is what we are asking the city to undertake," Fogelman said in an email, noting that the light would be no closer to Kirby Parkway than the distance between lights at the Crescent Center and Ridgeway/Shady Grove in East Memphis. He also said all stop lights in this "very urban and dense area of Poplar" are synchronized and timed to work together.

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