A planning board voted 4-1 on Thursday to tentatively approve a single-story, 230-parking space Publix on Chattanooga's North Shore.
Overwhelming community demand for the 46,000-square-foot grocery store was enough to convince committee members to allow the large parking lot along North Market Street. The approval came despite the objections of sole holdout Brandi Hill, who said the store design was "not consistent with the rest of the district."
"We've got one block of building and one block of parking lot," Hill said.
But given the choice between allowing the suburban design or chasing off a much-desired grocery occupant, pragmatism won the day.
"There are some compromises here, but I don't think we've violated any principles," said Chattanooga Mayor and former planner Ron Littlefield. "The longer we delay, the greater the likelihood that this particular project could come unraveled."
The brick structure will combine the two blocks north and south of E. Manning Street into one large block, with the square grocery store itself on the south side and the parking lot taking up the north portion. Crews will install a stoplight at the Manning Street entrance, with a smaller entrance about 100 yards to the north.
The current plan includes a small amount of retail facing North Market street.
Work will begin with the demolition of a handful of buildings that were built from 1920 up through the 1980s, though they have little historic significance, said historic preservation planner Sarah Kurtz.
The vote to approve came on the heels of a failed vote to delay the project for a month. Board member Brooke King initially proposed the delay to give developers time to redesign their plan in response to more than an hour of grilling from members of the North Shore Design Review Committee.
The panel instead voted to greenlight the grocer, subject to a number of caveats such as additional windows, additional screening, and approval of lighting, traffic and landscaping.
Though developer George Chase as much as revealed that the tenant was Publix, he declined to specifically name the store until "things are farther along."
Supporters and committee members instead referred to the tenant as "the P-Store," the "P-Word" or the "P-People."
"I'm absolutely thrilled with the P-Word," said resident Tucker McClellan. "When I first got the word, I wanted to write the P-People and canvass the neighborhood for signatures to say how happy we are."
Others urged the committee to follow the C-7 guidelines.
"If we wanted the status quo then the city wouldn't have adopted into law the North Shore Plan, let alone the North Shore Guidelines," said resident Jenny Shugart.
Mary Eastman, the planning board member who made the motion to approve the plan, specifically greenlit the large parking lot that will front North Market street. The building will face inward toward the parking lot instead of toward the street.
The guidelines for urban zoning generally urge developers to put parking in the rear with the buildings facing the street to encourage walking. But grocery stores are different, Eastman said.
"I don't know about the rest of the people in this audience, but I will tell you there are very few women who go grocery shopping on foot," Eastman said. "They are typically going to drive a car."
Architect Phil Whitfield offered a modified plan and added faux windows to the brick box store in an attempt to create a friendlier design. But he said that Publix isn't interested in changing the building orientation to face the street.
"The building orientation is going to have to stay like it is," he said.