By Kristen Schebler
On Monday, October 5th, residents near the old railroad right-of-way off Cox were angered by representatives from the Palladio Group (Art Works, Water Works, etc.) as they cut down trees and cleared away brush from the right-of-way. These residents shared their concern via Nextdoor and soon attracted attention from other residents. The situation escalated on Tuesday, October 6th, when a group of residents from throughout the neighborhood gathered to protest the Palladio Group workers. Residents continued to share information via Nextdoor; they also contacted the Memphis Police Department, the City of Division of Parks & Neighborhoods, the Union Pacific Railroad, and news organizations. Representatives from the Union Pacific Railroad (the landowner) insisted that all use of the site cease immediately until they have decided what to do with the land. On October 7th, the Palladio Group stopped efforts to impact the site; some debris from tree cutting and material intended to smooth out the ground has been left at the site but may be removed as allowed by Union Pacific.
This site is owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. Although the county assessor’s page does not list an owner for the area, this is a part of the same land holding that used to include the Trestle Art on Cooper. Roberts is currently in the process of obtaining copies of the paperwork from Union Pacific that demonstrates their ownership of the site.
Despite this ownership, Union Pacific has not been involved in any way in recent maintenance of the site. In the late 1990s and early 2000s the area was an overgrown mess of plants and dumped trash; several homeless people used the site as a camp, and the overgrowth harbored large numbers of rats and other pests. Many nearby homes and businesses were subject to frequent break-ins and other criminal activity (drug use and similar) was known to happen near the site.
In 2002, Roberts purchased the buildings and land on the western side of Cox (see Appendix 4 for images of the site before and after rebuilding). At this time, he decided to clean up the overgrown patch of land at his own expense. He did not receive assistance from the city or from any other businesses or nearby residents. This clean-up included clearing away overgrown vegetation in such a way as to open the area as a pedestrian thruway to the Spanish American War Memorial Park as well as the disposal of dumped tires, large appliances, and other debris. He has continued to maintain the area for the past 13 years.
In recent years, new residents have taken issue with Roberts’ methods of maintaining the land. About five years ago, Eliza Warren moved into one of the properties abutting the site and almost immediately disagreed with Roberts when he cut too many of the bushes providing privacy on the backside of her fence. When she spoke with him at the time, Roberts agreed not to trim those particular bushes. Later, Warren stopped Roberts from moving dirt around the site in the late evening. She again asked them to stop, and they did. Shortly after this she also saw piles of bricks, burlap sacks, and other materials in the cleared land near Cox; at that time she called the railroad (although she cannot remember if it was Union Pacific or not) and asked them to speak to Roberts. It is unclear what came of this discussion, but Warren seemed to be happy with the direct results. Warren and other nearby residents have also seen cars regularly parked in the area and believe that Roberts encourages employees and attendees of special events to use the area as a parking lot. They have also noticed an increasing issue with water drainage, which they believe to be due to dirt Roberts has used to smooth the surface of the area.
The site is currently used by Roberts as a parking area and by residents as a pathway to the nearby park. Roberts did not mention parking for special events, but he did mention that employees will park in the space regularly. The City also uses the site as an entrance for maintenance vehicles used to keep up the park at the corner of East Parkway and Central. Many residents prize the site as a pleasant green space and those with houses next to it find this particularly valuable in enjoying their backyards. At this writing, the site was filled with debris from recent events.
After much discussion, the CYCA has voted in favor of asking the city neighborhoods and parks department to lease or otherwise acquire this land from Union Pacific in order to add it to the nearby Spanish War Memorial Park. We are also in favor of encouraging area residents, particularly those closest to the site, to remain involved in watching over this piece of land. Though there is some question about what exactly the land should be used for, all parties are interested in seeing this area remain natural enough for our shared enjoyment and maintained enough to avoid overgrowth and return to past problems. This is an ongoing issue and we will share updates as soon as we are able.