Nashville’s GBT Realty cleared two procedural hurdles Thursday, moving the developer much closer to construction of the new $20 million Johnson City Retail Center off North State of Franklin Road.
The City Commission’s first vote on a concept plan came after lengthy review of a comprehensive 429-page traffic study conducted by another Nasvhille-based company, Gresham Smith and Partners. The count: 4-1 with Vice Mayor Clayton Stout voting against the move. He did not comment.
The second vote proceeded without much conversation. This hurdle was a second reading of an ordinance to rezone the 29-acre parcel from MS-1 (Medical Services) to B-4 (Planned Arterial Business). Again, the count was 4-1 with Stout opposing the move.
Though he was silent on the matter, Stout has voiced his disappointment during this process that the property could not remain available for medical service-related research and development, as originally intended. He also has said the coming retail business would not offer East Tennessee State University graduates and others seeking desirable wages much more than jobs to “bag groceries or help people try on shoes.”
“I think there’s some valid interest in both accepting and denying this rezoning request,” said Commissioner Jeff Banyas. “But based on what I have seen and what I have heard, I see no reason to deny the request.”
The center, when fully built out, would have 705 parking spaces, accommodate about 82,000 square feet of retail space, 59,500 square feet of grocery store space, 7,000 square feet of bank space, 18,000 square feet of restaurant space and a fuel center associated with the grocery store.
Rumor has it Food City will move its smaller store to this location, but neither commissioners nor Jeff Pape, GBT Realty Corp.’s shopping center division senior vice president, have let the cat out of the bag. However, Banyas did let slip at one point Thursday that “we’re relocating a grocery store.”
Mike Flatt, with Gresham Smith and Partners, summarized the traffic study, saying “the development is not expected to significantly impact traffic at any of the studied intersections.” The recommended traffic improvements are comprised of three vital elements, all of which passed or soon will pass, muster.
First, GBT will pay for a full-access site drive on Sunset Drive about 550 feet northeast of the North State of Franklin intersection. Flatt said the existing island will be downsized and signaling will be coordinated with other nearby intersections to maximize efficient flow. This would be complimented with the addition of two left turn lanes into the site off State of Franklin just past Sunset.
“We’ll add left turns, modify the curbing and stop traffic that is moving off State of Franklin onto Sunset,” Flatt said. “Making a right turn onto Sunset is not the biggest problem; the through traffic on State of Franklin is.”
He also said adding a traffic signal on Sunset along the development site would not be a good idea in that it would only “cause bottle-necking and impact streets in that area.”
Second, the company has agreed to fund a right turn entrance into the site from State of Franklin nearer Skyline Drive. This road would cut through several planned outparcels that would line the frontage on State of Franklin.
The third project is on the city, or at least partially. Funding from a federal grant will help pay to align Indian Ridge Road with Skyline Drive. The resulting intersection will be wider, and new sidewalks and signalization will be installed. The city is in the process of obtaining needed right-of-way, and it is likely to bid the entire job out, primarily to keep construction moving and get as much done as possible before construction on the retail center begins.
The company also wants the city to pay for an access road into the development that enters from Skyline, and there was some debate about this request. When commissioners questioned whether the city or the developer should have to pay for this, Pape went to the podium.
“We have a main tenant interested in getting going on this first phase, which is more likely to come in 2016,” he said. “Our tenant has said they won’t open without the entrance off Skyline.”
After a bit more debate, City Manager Pete Peterson told commissioners that this particular road would have to come back to the City Commission for approval and naming. Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin and Commissioner David Tomita asked if the road was a necessity during the initial phase of construction, and Pape did not hesitate to answer in the affirmative.
Flatt said conclusions were based on an analysis of queue lengths (a line of vehicles awaiting their turn), and signal timing and intersection improvements. The study revealed when the development is fully built, more than 500 vehicles will move in and out of the site during morning peak hours and more than 1,000 would roll in and out during afternoon/evening peak hours. The numbers incorporate traffic going both in and out for a one-hour period.
Plans show a 15-foot landscaped buffer along the side of the property line adjoining existing commercial properties and increases to a 40-foot buffer that will adjoin the single-family residential properties in the Hunter’s Lake and Sherwood Forest subdivisions.
The developer has agreed to use “cut-off” lighting fixtures in both the parking lots and on the fixtures mounted to the rear of the building. GBT also has agreed to use lighting shields and other methods to keep lighting at the retail developed site from shining onto residences. The developer also has proposed placing two water retention ponds on the property to help catch and release excess water.
Mountain States Health Alliance owns the land, and it remains to be seen just how that entity will work with the developer and/or benefit from future revenues that come from the investment.