Making West Memphis ‘shovel ready’

Making West Memphis ‘shovel ready’

Planning Commission approves unique businessfriendly zoning change for super- site

The city Panning Commission made West Memphis a little more proactive in attracting industrial and commercial growth. A public hearing last Wednesday brought in concerned property owners and neighbors for input before authorizing an all-new type of manufacturing zone for the city’s western super-site.

The city made purchase options on an 1,800-acre site north of Interstate 40 along the east side of Highway 147. After hearing from farm owners, the city re-zoned the acreage to I-1M. The new zone will offer more attractive features to incentivize prospects for big manufacturing on a scale auto makers and other large manufacturers would notice.

City Planner Paul Luker provided the rationale to commissioners for the new designation for the property.

“For more than a decade, we’ve had several opportunities to possibly attract an auto manufacturing facility to this community,” said Luker. “They continually look in this area, but the area is not currently zoned to permit an auto manufacturing facility. That would be a game-changing industry if it were to come to our community. So the state, to put us into better standing, wants sites that are shovel ready.”

Luker listed tasks for planning and economic development to address in making sure sites looked shovel ready to industrial prospects.

Environmental reviews completed, land purchase options secured, and proper zoning designations were listed as the three touchstones for state economic development to begin touting the site as shovel ready.

Last month city council commissioned geo-technical surveys of the site. The city also ceded electrical service rights to Entergy because the power needs for an auto plant exceeded the capacity of the entire city utility company. Having Entergy in place moved the land onto its select site list and improved exposure to prospective industries.

The same site also fell into the ADEC recommendation for the U.S. Treasury Departments consideration as an opportunity zone. Passing the beefed up zone designation represented another puzzle piece for the city to put in place to make the location ready for shovel ready certification in the eyes of the ADEC. Luker reviewed established industrial zoning districts and explained to commissioners the need for a new type of zone.

“We have two industrial zoning districts,” said Luker. “I-1 is general industrial

which does not permit

manufacturing. It permits warehousing and other industrial uses. Then, I-2 permits heavy industrial along with manufacturing and other uses that are less attractive to they eye, like salvage yards. We looked at accommodating manufacturing uses but not go whole I-2. Because Interstate 40 is our front door.

So the I-1-M is a hybrid of the two that allows these manufacturing uses.”

The commissioner reviewed those written changes and approved the text in an amendment. The new zone designation impacted the city comprehensive development plan too.

“Our comprehensive plan shows this area as residential and commercial so it needs to reflect this change as well,” said Luker.

Economic Development Executive Director Phillip Sorrell wanted the measures in place to improve the opportunity to sell the site.

“If we are ever going to be successful in marketing some of the priorities for large manufacturing we know there are certain things we have to have in place,” said Sorrell. “One of the most critical things now is having the site certified by a third party as being shovel ready. That means we have environmental clearances out of the way, and geo-technical work and infrastructure plans in place. The zoning is one of those things from the city’s perspective to work on to get the site to that point.”

Sorrell recapped the history of the site.

“We have eighteen hundred acres currently under option in the area the last time an auto manufacturer was looking,” said Sorrell.

“But we didn’t have all these due diligence items taken care of, so now we are trying to get there and the zoning is a piece of that puzzle to put together.”

Commissioner Eddie Brawley, who also serves on the West Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization, marked the new zoning category as progress and expressed optimism about getting the super-site shovel ready.

“It’s not all the way there yet, but its closer than we were before,” said Brawley. “There is still a long road ahead.”

By John Rech