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Staff photo by Mike Pare / Nikki's Drive-Inn on Cherokee Boulevard sits at the entrance of the Stringer's Ridge Tunnel overlooking downtown Chattanooga.

This story was updated at 5:34 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019 with more information.

A Chattanooga developer on Tuesday won approval of nine of 10 zoning changes related to building a proposed condominium complex on a tract that currently holds Nikki's Drive Inn.

Fletcher Bright Co. won the zoning variances for a four-level building with about 52 units that it wants to put up at Cherokee Boulevard and West Bell Avenue, just before the Stringer's Ridge Tunnel.

Cardon Smith, a Fletcher Bright Co. vice president, said the lone variance denial by the city's Form-Based Code Committee is an issue the developer can work around and won't hinder the project.

He said construction could begin next year on the condos.

"We're still evaluating the deal and trying to push it forward and make it a reality," Smith said. "We've been waiting on this approval."

Smith said earlier that the company has been working with Nikki's owner James E. Jones on the potential project. He said Fletcher Bright Co. has a contract to buy the Nikki's property.

Jones could not be reached for comment Tuesday, with a restaurant employee saying he was out of the city.

some text Rendering by Hefferlin + Kronenberg Architects / A condominium complex is proposed for Cherokee Boulevard and West Bell Avenue on the site of existing Nikki's Drive-Inn.

It's unclear whether the popular restaurant, which is a 79-year-old fixture on Chattanooga's North Shore known for its jumbo fried shrimp and onion rings, will relocate to another site or close.

Nikki's was passed down to Jones from his parents, Charlie and June Jones.

June Jones said in a Chattanooga Times interview in 1991 that the business is almost entirely comprised of regular customers who are used to the food, the prices and the staff.

"We have more of a personal touch, where we have closer contact to a customer," she said. "I believe people appreciate that."

No one showed up at the zoning meeting in opposition to the proposed condo project on the Nikki's site. One email from a Hill City resident read at the meeting expressed a concern, saying that a large condo project was out of character with the neighborhood.

But Jason Havron, who heads the Form-Based Code Committee, said the developer earlier had a meeting with the nearby Hill City Neighborhood Association and there were no objections from that group to the project.

"Everyone thought it would be good for the neighborhood," he said.

Havron added that the height of the building wouldn't obstruct views from residences on Stringer's Ridge.

Among key variances granted to the project were increasing the height from three to four levels and from 40 to 45 feet.

Chattanooga architect Craig Kronenberg, a partner at Hefferlin + Kronenberg Architects, said the entrance to parking for the project will be from West Bell Avenue. He said there would be parking under three levels of condominiums.

Smith said he didn't have a price tag on the development, though the 1-acre site has challenges.

"It's going to be a costly site job, no question," he said.

Smith said he also didn't have price points for the condos, which would be a mix of one- and two-bedroom units.

Not far away, just off Cherokee Boulevard, the company has started work on another project to build 26 condos called The Fairpoint. That three-level complex is selling units from the high $200,000 to mid-$400,000 range at 411 Fair Point St. That project has a $7.5 million price tag.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

(Previous coverage: Nikki's restaurant site could hold new condo project in North Shore)

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