Traffic concerns idle $20M development at Sunset/State of Franklin

Gary B. Gray • Aug 2, 2013 at 5:19 PM

Traffic, and all the potential problems linked with high vehicles counts and crowded streets, became the main focus at Thursday’s City Commission meeting when a second reading to rezone a 29-acre parcel off North State of Franklin Road to accommodate a $20 million retail development was deferred pending the outcome of a comprehensive traffic study.

The meeting followed a nearly two-hour workshop at which Nashville’s Jeff Pape, GBT Realty Corp.’s shopping center division senior vice president, answered questions obligingly and agreed to adhere to the results of the study, which GBT will pay for.

The developer wants to rezone property located at 920 N. State of Franklin Road from MS-1 (Medical Services) to B-4 (Planned Arterial Business). Mountain States Health Alliance owns the land. GBT has dubbed the massive undertaking Franklin Commons, and preliminary plans show two phases of construction.

Drawings show two “anchors” planned at the location; one a grocery store, the other a large retail space. The parcel also would include two smaller shops and six retail parcels that would line North State of Franklin. A 425-space parking lot would be placed in the center of these structures.

Commissioners voted 4-1 to defer the rezoning for about one month when the study should be available. And should that study reveal the development is not feasible, Pape said he “would not be able to pull permits.”

While sympathetic to economic development, Vice Mayor Clayton Stout voted against deferring the rezoning and against the concept plan, which passed in a 4-1 vote.

“Time is money,” he said. “Either you want to develop or you don’t. I also think we will regret this by not keeping it zoned medical. We don’t want to send our kids to ETSU so they can come out and bag groceries or help people try on shoes.”

About 50 people who live near the proposed development applauded Pape for his conscientiousness and said he already had made changes that would ensure that lighting would not affect the neighborhoods, that he would construct a combination of two on-site detention ponds to handle a 100-year storm and that the development would come with twice the buffering requirements.

In the end, however, traffic was the stickler.

The development, which Pape hoped could open in 2015, is positioned along North State of Franklin and Sunset Drive. The biggest concerns from residents, and from Public Works Director Phil Pindzola, rested in the fact that GBT wants to place the entry and exit on Sunset, between North State of Franklin and Waters Edge Drive.

Pindzola has suggested two new left turn lanes on the southbound portion of North State of Franklin at that intersection. He also suggested that GBT and the city work together to find a way to reconfigure the right turn lane onto Sunset by either adding new stop lights or reshaping the road.

Skyline Drive, just south of the proposed development, already is set for improvements by the city, but residents expressed some heavy-duty concerns about what will happen to that road once the development goes in.

“Right off the bat, I say I don’t like it,” said Victor Feathers, who lives off Skyline. “And, I’ve talked to about 40 or 50 people, and they don’t like it. If you look at a 2.5-mile radius around this thing you’ll already see many stores. This will just take away from other businesses. You’ve already got burdened traffic signals in that area. Skyline already is used as a shortcut from State of Franklin to Knob Creek.”

Feathers later drew applause from audience members when, with a great deal of emotion, he asked commissioners how they will feel when a person is killed in traffic because of the additional volume at this development.

“We don’t disagree that traffic concerns need to be looked at,” Pape said. “It’s not necessarily a done deal.”

On July 18 — though some commissioners asked to defer a vote on the first reading until a specific traffic study could be conducted and reviewed — the measure passed in a 3-2 squeaker.

After about five minutes of debate concerning traffic flow and possible congestion created by the development, Commissioner Jenny Brock, made a motion to go forward with the first reading. Brock, Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin and Commissioner Jeff Banyas voted to move forward. Stout and Commissioner David Tomita wanted to defer the move and voted against the rezoning.

“Quite frankly, I’m not sure this area can handle more traffic,” Banyas said Thursday night. “I just don’t see how we can move forward without a traffic study. And I’m not sure that’s really going to tell us what we need to hear.”

The majority of commissioners appear to favor the development itself. But again, traffic fixes are holding it back.

“I’m sorry our infrastructure is not in place for you,” Tomita told Pape. “You’re the kind of developer we’re looking for. I don’t want you to think we’re obstructing this development.”

For now, the developer, commissioners, residents, and job seekers will have to sit tight.

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