Updated at 12:15 a.m. on Tuesday, July 10, 2018.
A developer of a proposed Publix store off South Broad Street is expected to seek several variances from the Chattanooga Board of Zoning Appeals.
The newest proposal for a Publix supermarket off South Broad Street cleared a key hurdle Monday as members of a Chattanooga planning panel split their vote to approve the project.
Supporters and opponents of the proposed store on the site of the former Mount Vernon restaurant at South Broad and St. Elmo Avenue made their cases before a meeting of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission.
After nearly an hour of discussion, the panel voted in favor of a zoning variance for the 32,000-square-foot store along with some small shop space, turning back a recommendation by planning staffers who had urged denying the latest proposal.
Mike Price of MAP Engineers, who represented the developer, said plans are to work with the neighborhood on the design of the future store, which he indicated would be "an old style industrial-type building."
"I'm not sure everyone will be happy," he said, adding that work on the store could start next spring and open in 2020 if it receives still another needed OK from the city.
Price said the developer is required to gain approval of several other variances from the Chattanooga Board of Zoning Appeals. But city council endorsement isn't required, officials said.
Lauren Dunn, a St. Elmo resident who spoke against the proposal, said the planning commission's vote was disappointing.
She said the latest plan for the Publix was not a compromise. She said a multi-story, denser project would generate more tax revenue for the city.
However, Ann Weeks, long active in the South Broad Redevelopment Group, said the new version of the store plan was a compromise.
She said the site will remain under the Urban General Commercial zone, which Weeks said was "a framework to work with and not to drive away opportunities like this one."
Last month, the planning panel and neighbors pressed the developer for a more urban look and feel to the supermarket, with some calling for the store to go up against South Broad Street rather than sit at the back of the site. The planning commission gave Alliance Realty Services up to 60 days to come back with changes for the proposed store.
The developer added retail shops along the road between the main entrance from South Broad and West 35th Street. That idea was offered by St. Elmo area residents earlier as similar to the North Shore Publix.
Price said there were negotiations with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to buy property for the shop space. He said other changes were made to accommodate the UGC zoning and neighbor complaints, such as installing screening and making the site pedestrian friendly.
He said the developer tried "to bend as much as possible."
City Councilman Darrin Ledford, a planning panel member, said the new site plan for the project resembled one put forward by some opponents earlier. He offered several "desires" that he would like to see take place on the site while motioning for the plan's approval. Among those was including the neighborhood in helping design the facility.
But Blythe Bailey, another panel member, said he couldn't support the plan, adding the proposal doesn't meet the intent of the UGC zone.
Commissioner Thomas Palmer said the proposal "doesn't have enough to get that urban edge."
"I feel like there's a lot of work to be done," he said.
Jim Johnson of Chattanoogans for Responsible Development said there was a Facebook page that emerged put up by "an unknown entity" that supported the project.
"It's very odd," he said.
Johnson said opponents were not against Publix.
"We want it to be there," he said, though he called the current plan "a sub-optimal development."
But panel member Jason Farmer said the Messinger family, which owns the 4-acre site, has listened to the community in respect to the zoning and "done a great job to try to compromise."
Publix operates five other supermarkets in metro Chattanooga, including a new 45,000-square-foot store that opened in March at the Waterside development north of Hamilton Place mall.
The Mount Vernon had operated at the foot of Lookout Mountain for 63 years before it closed its doors around Christmas of last year.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.