Germantown neighbors put controversial development on hold after discovering 10-year-old covenant

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Neighbors in a Germantown community won a small battle in the war over controversial developments in Forest Hill Heights.

The Germantown Board of Mayor and Alderman was expected to give final approval for a subdivision that a developer wants to build on Forest Hill Irene Road near Poplar Pike, next door to a new school that’s currently under construction.

Hours before Monday night’s meeting, the item was removed from the agenda.

Patrick Lawton, Germantown’s City Administrator, sent board members a letter Monday afternoon, which said attorneys for the homeowners in Forest Hill Heights invited the developer to the table to find middle ground, and the developer agreed.

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“Late this Friday afternoon, the City received a letter from [the] attorney representing the Forest Hill Homeowners group, regarding the rezoning of the Reaves-Schaeffer property,” the letter stated. “[He] requested the matter be postponed to allow the parties on both sides to attempt to reach a resolution.”

The BMA was expected to vote for the third and final time to rezone the property to allow smaller lots, rather than the large, estate-sized lots neighbors hope to protect.

The developer “asked that the rezoning matter not go forward” until attorneys on both sides discuss the controversial development.

Several neighbors told FOX13 off camera that they discovered a covenant from 2005 that they believe prevents elected officials from rezoning the neighborhood.

FOX13 obtained a copy of the covenant Monday night. The covenant states that developers of the property “will not seek any further re-zoning of the residential and commercial portion of the property for a period of 20 years,” among other stipulations.

Alderman Dean Massey called for two previous votes approving the rezoning to be rescinded Monday night. He wants Germantown’s planning commission to reconsider the development, based on the newly-discovered covenant.

“I think we should start over,” Massey said. “I think with the failure to disclose the covenants, I’m curious to see if there are any other documents that weren’t disclosed that could be relevant to our zoning decisions.”

Massey described several public records he’s reviewing, describing concerns from neighbors that city officials aren’t being forthcoming with information relevant to their neighborhood.

“You have a real question of whether that should have been considered by the planning commission members and the Board of Mayor and Alderman before they voted on that issue,” Massey said.

Bella Taylor, a 7th grader at St. George’s Independent School in Germantown, came to Monday’s meeting to address the Board, hoping her young voice would get the attention of elected officials.

“I was told that being as young as I am, going up there to speak will hopefully have an impact,” Taylor said.

Like many other neighbors who have talked to FOX13, Taylor and her family oppose a developer who wants to put up to 117 homes on small lots across the street from her house on Forest Hill Irene.

“They’ll be bunched up against each other,” Taylor said. “There will be no land. I’d like for others to have a nice yard to play in – the fairytale life with the big yard, the dog, the cat, the kids.”