Updated at 5:14 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, to correct the name of Bert Kuyrkendall.
Despite pleas from a Chattanooga city councilman and former Hamilton County commissioner, a panel on Wednesday refused a developer's plan for a new Publix store off South Broad Street.
In a five to four vote, the city's Board of Zoning Appeals denied variances which would have allowed Alliance Realty Services to erect the Publix supermarket at South Broad and St. Elmo Avenue.
George Chase of Alliance Realty had no comment after the vote and it's unclear what may happen next. The developer's only appeal would be to Hamilton County Chancery Court.
For one member of the board, the proposed supermarket sitting in the rear of the 4-acre lot, rather than on South Broad, was a key shortcoming of the store plan under existing zoning.
Panel member Joe Manuel said that Uniform General Commercial zoning has "a clear philosophy — buildings built closer to the street." He said the developer didn't prove a hardship in order to receive the variances.
However, Jeff Brown, another panel member, said a decision was clear for the board.
"You either want a grocery store here or don't want a grocery store here," he said.
Under city regulations, the developer can't bring up the exact plan before the zoning panel for a year. But, the developer could alter the proposal or seek a change to the zoning ordinance, said City Attorney Phil Noblett.
Jim Johnson, who heads Chattanoogans for Responsible Development and who opposed the plan, said he preferred that the developer would have tried harder to meet with the community to come up with an acceptable proposal.
"None of us is against Publix," said Johnson, one of four people who spoke against the proposal. "With this vote, we hope the developers will engage more community members so that the development there will better meet the long-term needs of the community, provide additional tax revenue over time, and set the tone for more appropriate development along the South Broad corridor."
City Councilman Erskine Oglesby, whose district includes the proposed site, said during a two-hour meeting before the vote that about 15,000 people live in that area and there's only one grocery store serving them.
"We're starving for food entities. It doesn't make sense for us to lose this grocery store," said Oglesby, adding that the supermarket would provide more than 110 jobs with benefits. "I've talked with a number of people and they're excited."
Former County Commissioner Joe Graham, who has a business in the area, said South Broad Street "has been in trouble for a long time." He said his car wash has been burglarized 80 times in the last 36 months.
"We need this caliber of grocery store," Graham said.
Chase told the panel that his group has worked a year and half on the proposal, met with community groups, and created a plan that satisfied the intent of the zoning.
"It doesn't make sense to have the front door in the front [of the tract] and parking in the rear," he said. Chase and others said people would have to negotiate around delivery trucks and other back-store operations to enter the supermarket.
Panel Chairman Scott McColpin asked who in the packed meeting room supported the project, and roughly half of those in the room raised their hands.
Bert Kuyrkendall, who lives in St. Elmo, said at the meeting that the process put forward by the developer wasn't a transparent one and complained the company "wasn't open to new ideas."
He suggested what he termed a compromise that left the Publix in the back, but included a handful of standalone buildings along South Broad.
"What [the developer] is proposing is a massive, suburban-style parking lot," Kuyrkendall said.
Lindsey Willke, who also lives in St. Elmo, said problems identified by the developer with complying with zoning, such as dealing with the slope of the property, were inconveniences and not hardships as required by the code.
"It's a precedent- setting decision," she told panel members.
Ann Weeks, president-emeritus of the South Broad Redevelopment Group who has spoken in favor of the store, had sought to speak at the meeting but was denied.
"The neighborhood is South Broad," she said after the meeting.
In July, the proposed store cleared a hurdle as members of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission approved a zoning variance for the project.
Three more variances from the Zoning Appeals Board were sought:
-Front setback from the primary street (Broad Street) to be increased from some 15 feet to about 64 feet for the main building.
-Parking between the building and primary street.
-The percentage of doors and windows on the primary street facade of the main building to be reduced from the required 30 percent to a minimum of about 7.8 percent.
Contact Mike Pare at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.