The Land Use Control Board in Memphis has scheduled a hearing on Thursday that could determine the immediate fate of a huge tract of undeveloped land in this city’s eastern suburbs.

Two local developers, Terry Edwards and Clair Vanderschaff, in conjunction with First Capital Bank, have proposed a mixed-use development for 253.03 acres of property known as Gray’s Creek/Roland Road. If realized, their plan, as described in documents filed last month, would be an intriguing expression of aging-in-place living: it calls for 94 single-family lots on 37 acres, 56 areas for multifamily housing, 89 acres for age-restricted housing, 38 acres for a nursing home, and 18 acres for an office complex.

The project’s price tag has not been disclosed publicly, and BUILDER was unable to reach the developers or Kent Davis, the bank’s president. Calls to Brenda Solomito, a local land planner who is the developer’s representative for this proposal, also were not returned.

But the developers have their work cut out for them just to push their plan forward. The Board’s planning staff has recommended that the Board reject the proposal in its current form. And local citizen and neighborhood groups have either voiced their objections to certain aspects or the plan, or want more time to evaluate it.

Brian Stevens, who represents the Gray’s Creek Neighborhood Association and the Cordova Leadership Council, says his organizations only started looking seriously at the plan within the past 30 days. “We haven’t told anyone yet whether we’re for or against it, and we’ve been working with the developers” to resolve their differences over issues such as density and placement.

This vacant property, says Stevens, is “a weird section of land” that’s set back to the south of Route 64, sandwiched between a levee and a road in Cordova, Tenn., a suburb east of Memphis. Donald Jones, the principal planner on the Board’s staff, says development of this property has been discussed, on and off, since the mid 1990s. Past impediments have included the availability of sewer systems, which didn’t exist until 2000.

The current proposal has several obstacles it must overcome, says Jones. One of them is transportation access: the Board’s planning staff wants the developers to upgrade two roads, neither of which is on the immediate property. Both Stevens and Jones also want to hear how the developers would address that part of their project that falls within the area’s floodplain. (Only two years ago, the Memphis Area HBA had to talk the County Commissioners out of imposing a construction moratorium at Gray’s Creek because of floodplain issues, recalls Don Glays, the association’s executive director.)

Jones notes that the city’s schools have told the Board they don’t have the capacity to accommodate the number of children that a development of this size is likely to generate. He said it would be unusual—although not unheard of—for the Board to ask the developers set aside land for schools or even contribute to school construction. It’s more likely, however, that the developers might agree to put on hold some of their residential plans until municipal funding for more classroom space is forthcoming.

Postponing the single-family component of this development might be wise anyway, says Jones, because “there’s a lot of [unsold] inventory out there right now.” He points to an adjoining property, Franklin Farms, where lots have been platted but not built on yet.

Memphis issued 205 residential permits through August of this year, which compares to 842 for all of 2008 and 4,730 in 2005. Housing starts through August stood at 393, versus 1,430 in all of 2008 and 4,264 in 2005, according to the HBA’s estimates. Glays says that Memphis’s metropolitan statistical area has more than 2,000 completed and unoccupied homes, and something like 17,000 lots that have either been developed or approved. He also notes that Memphis, with 300,000 homes, needs 3,000 starts per year just to replenish its aging standing inventory. But Glays doesn't see much turnaround until the fourth quarter of 2010, and maybe later if the federal tax credit for first-time buyers isn't extended into next year.

But with the prospect of recovery for Memphis’s housing sector looking farther and farther off, the reasons for the Gray’s Creek/Roland Road development could get harder to justify. Jones says the developers have the right to present their proposal to the Memphis City Council even if the Board rejects it or requests a continuance. “But that would be a pretty big strike against it.”

 John Caulfield is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Memphis, TN.