published Friday, October 19th, 2012

Publix's undeserved deal

Many people on the North Shore think they want a new supermarket in the neighborhood so much that they aren't watching what Publix has in mind for the heart of their neighborhood. They had best open their eyes before it's too late.

Chattanooga's North Shore has led downtown's revival by preserving and restoring the character, architecture and zoning standards that protect and enhance the ambiance of an appealing, pedestrian-oriented, old-fashioned neighborhood.

Developers have embraced that vision. Working within the North Shore's unique C-7 zoning laws, they have propelled North Chattanooga's renaissance by building an appealing mix of sidewalk-oriented retail stores and restaurants with plenty of inviting street-level windows, and apartments above. The surrounding neighborhood rounds out the mix with restored Craftsman bungalows and new homes that largely blend in with them.

What Publix demands and would impose -- if Mayor Littlefield continues to allow it to run over sensible C-7 zoning laws -- is mind-boggling: A 40,000 square-foot, inward-looking, suburban-style big-box supermarket that opens onto an asphalt parking plain for 260 cars. It's all squeezed into an inappropriately sized section of the North Chattanooga neighborhood under the brow of Stringer's Ridge on one side, and the green, densely built, hilly neighborhood on the other.

The entire project over two urban blocks will set a bad precedent of allowing a rich national grocery chain to trample the C-7 zoning laws that far smaller developers have respected -- the sort of laws that, ironically, Publix has respected in a few other cities. Yet here, its new store will be totally out of character for the North Shore, and as well, out of compliance with the zoning standards that homeowners across the North Shore rely on to secure their quality of life and property values.

Worse, the North Market plan would introduce a traffic nightmare in the city's most revitalized neighborhood. 18-wheeler supply trucks for the store would daily intrude outsize behemoths not just on North Market Street, but also into the more narrow, congested heart of Frazier Avenue, and then onto the tiny, bungalow-bedecked Woodland Avenue. This little street -- a mini-block away from the congested Market Street bridge intersection -- runs north from Frazier on the east side of Walgreens pharmacy into the residential section behind it.

These outsize trucks would threaten pedestrians and take both lanes -- if not the sidewalk -- of the tight, two-lane corner onto Woodland from Frazier. Then they would trudge down Woodland beyond the back of the Post Office on North Market, and take anther tight left onto Kent Street going towards Market Street. They would pull down Kent, and back into the high backside of the store to unload.

Residents in the restored bungalows the next two blocks along Woodland and Hamilton avenues would stare at the tall bare side of the big-box store, or beyond Manning, onto the huge asphalt parking plain, which runs the length of more than two football fields from the closed portion of Manning Street to Bush Street.

Trucks leaving Kent would have to turn left on North Market without a traffic light: That would be installed at the entrance of the parking lot where Manning Street (to be closed for Publix) now crosses.

This traffic plan has yet to be formally approved by the city, and it's amazing that it could be. Yet approval appears to be on a greased track, given Mayor Littlefield's push to protrude Publix into an ill-suited site.

Beyond this onrushing trainwreck is the more immense cost of lost opportunities. With mixed-use development of these blocks, Chattanooga could reap a large multiple of the tax revenue income that a Publix supermarket, and its outsized parking lot, would generate. It could get far more jobs per acre, more residents per acre, and more tax revenue per acre.

Instead of searching for more dense, more productive and more appropriate development, however, it is trammeling the design laws that call for sidewalk windows and frontage, and enhanced pedestrian entrances that create activity along the street; behind-store parking; screening of service structures, and landscaping. The laws also encourage pervious parking surfaces, and limit parking spaces to four per thousand square feet of store space.

Publix's plans clearly work against the North Shore's guidelines, to such a degree that the chain should be seeking a more appropriate site. Given political pressure, however, violations of the C-7 design laws have been tentatively approved, on a 4-1 vote, by the North Shore Design Committee's appointed board. The board will meet again next Thursday at 5:30 p.m, at the city's Development Resource Center in the 1200 block of South Market Street, to consider the pending issues. North Shore residents should use this opportunity to voice their concerns over traffic and design problems before the Publix deal slides through.

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nucanuck said...

Building liveable neighborhoods should be the city's first priority. The Mayor and the Counsel are so anxious to land a big fish that they are willing to sacrifice the standards that are responsible for encouraging families to move back to the city.

Weak leadership is about to cause injury through poor understanding of what makes a great liveable city. They should at least seek the advice of a strong urban consultant before causing harm while trying to do good.

October 19, 2012 at 2:35 a.m.
aae1049 said...

"will set a bad precedent of allowing a rich national grocery chain to trample the C-7 zoning laws that far smaller developers have respected"

That is how it's done. Big and Rich are developer key words, add connected to local Big and Rich contractor, and what we have here is a forget the rules situation.

The A list in this town is exempt from RPA rules, and the planning agency board, well, Mr. Editor, look at the makeup of the board, no explanation required with Littlefield's campaign manager and the crew. It is like driving into the mountain banjo playing town in a certain movie on these deals, their all a little too close. wink wink ;-)

October 19, 2012 at 7:54 a.m.
moon4kat said...

Thank you for bringing this issue into the light. Livable cities have good master plans that are respected by all developers. Publix's development will ruin a charming part of Chattanooga. Those responsible will go down in infamy. And, Publix stores will lose my business if they pursue this development the way it is currently conceived. They can do better, and we must insist they do.

October 19, 2012 at 9:22 a.m.
Walden said...

I don't understand why Publix doesn't just build a store in the old Food Lion spot at the foot of Signal. Much better demographics, and the North Shore folks would certainly take that several mile drive to shop there.

October 19, 2012 at 10:57 a.m.

Um, hello? Since when did N. Market Street ever feel like a part of the North Chattanooga safe and friendly neighborhod. I've lived in N Chatt for almost 8 years and I wouldn't like to walk down N. Market after dark. So would you rather strip mall style commercial properties come in? Or would you want a grocery store, that will be cheaper than Greenlife, err Whole Foods, that people can easily walk/ride/drive to? It would make other commercial property values increase, hopefully leading to more revenue and jobs in N. Chatt...

I think there needs to be a Publix there...

However, I do think people should recommend that they use brick rather than cinder blocks and that plenty of trees are planted along N. Market and the new parking lot contains storm-water runoff mediations.

October 19, 2012 at 12:52 p.m.
evwat said...

I am curious. Has Trader Joe's ever been an option? They are more affordable than green life and it would seem a better fit to me.

October 19, 2012 at 1:26 p.m.

I heard that Trader Joe's won't come to Chattanooga because they aren't allowed to sell wine in grocery stores here. I'm pretty sure Greenlife had to "work around" a few codes to include their "separate" liquor store (that shares their entrance). But yeah, if you're super rich you can do anything you want in this town apparently.

October 19, 2012 at 4:09 p.m.
jesse said...

Well Jon,i guess that gives them license to build an eyesore!

Either that or$$$ under the table!

October 20, 2012 at 10:30 a.m.
MasterChefLen said...

As long as the Independent Wine and Liquor store mafia lobby control the TN legislature, good luck in getting a Trader Joe's to come to Chattanooga. Between them and the bible thumpers, a vote on modern TN alcohol reform laws has always been killed in subcommittees. They need to get a state wide vote and let the people decide yeah or nay on modern state alcohol laws. In the Chattanooga, TN area, north Georgia is benefiting from the alcohol revenue, mainly Costco.

October 20, 2012 at 5:10 p.m.
Mensign said...

I moved to Chattanooga from Connecticut where wine can not be sold in grocery stores either. I moved there in 1999 and discovered Trader Joe's. Dispite the wine law there were 4 stores within 25 miles of my house.

October 22, 2012 at 3:53 p.m.
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