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Photo by Dave Flessner / Planning commission sign shows site of the Sav A lot shopping center the city is being asked to rezone to a C-3 commercial neighborhood zone to allow townhomes along with commercial development on the site.

The Red Bank Planning Commission has recommended rezoning one of the city's biggest shopping centers to allow for part of the 7.1-acre strip center on Dayton Boulevard to be converted into a mixed-use development with townhomes, offices and storefronts.

By a 3-2 vote Thursday night, the advisory board endorsed a request by the Chattanooga development firm Rise Partners to rezone land next to the Sav A Lot grocery store at 2101 Dayton Boulevard from a C-1 commercial district to a C-3 neighborhood commercial zone to allow for townhomes to on part of the largely vacant shopping center.

The rezoning must still be approved by the Red Bank City Council and developers will have to submit a final site plan for city approval. But a conceptual site plan prepared by the Buckel Design Group LLC calls for the existing 26,000-square-foot Sav A Lot store to be converted to offices, stores and other commercial development and for the construction of 38 townhomes on the rest of the property. The O'Reilly's auto parts store also on the property will remain.

The Sav A Lot grocery in Red Bank is in the process of closing after operating for more than two decades in the site of what was originally a Kroger supermarket and later operated as a Red Food Store.

Save A Lot, one of the nation's largest discount grocery chains, is converting to a wholesale grocery supplier after selling nearly 300 corporate-operated locations last year. The Sav A Lot store closing on Dayton Boulevard will leave Red Bank with only one full-service grocery store in the city.

Sav A Lot also closed a store on Lee Highway last year.

Geoff Smith, a principal in Rise Partners, said his company's proposed redevelopment of the 47-year-old shopping center will bring new businesses, residents and investment Red Bank. He said the mixed-use development reflects the changing market in the south end of Red Bank.

"Our group has worked in the past of billions of dollars of development across the Southeast, but what excites me the most is to be able to do a project in our community that we can take pride in and help redevelop this site," Smith told the planning commission Thursday night.

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Photo by Dave Flessner / The Save A Lot store at 2101 Dayton Boulevard is being closed. Rise Partners is buying the shopping center and wants to rezone the site for townhomes along with other commercial development.

Smith cited the redevelopment of the former Greenlife Grocery store on Hixson Pike in Riverview into the Il Primo restaurant and a number of boutique shops as an example of what could be done with the Sav A Lot building. But he conceded filling up the former Sav A Lot store, which is nearly twice as big as the former Greenlife Grocery store, will be more difficult and will likely require a mix of restaurants, stores and offices.

"We 're pushing the limits to try to re-purpose a facility of that size," Smith said.

The rest of the shopping center is better suited for townhomes, he said. Developers hope the addition of townhomes also will create more business and investment in the area.

The preliminary plan calls for the construction of 28 2-story townhomes and another 10 3-story townhomes, but those plans could change once a final site design is submitted for city approval.

But during a public hearing Thursday night, several Red Bank residents urged the city to keep the site in a C-1 commercial zone to avoid turning part of Dayton Boulevard into a residential strip that breaks up the commercial corridor.

"Everyone agrees that this property is an eyesore and something needs to be done, but it seems that the development in Red Bank right now has one tool in the tool box and that is housing," Red Bank resident Don McKenzie told the planning commission. "My main concern is that I feel like the city is being rushed into making a decision on what is potentially the biggest prime commercial development in the city before the city moves ahead develops its new strategic plan for the future."

Two of the Red Bank planning commissioners — Nigel Luther and Kate Skonberg — voted against the rezoning without a limit on residential development along Dayton Boulevard. The two wanted a condition on the zoning change to include a requirement that only nonresidential development would be allowed fronting on Dayton Boulevard. An amendment for such a condition was voted down by the planning board, however.

"I feel like we are sealing ourselves short by limiting ourselves to residential development," Luther said. "If you look at the trend in our community, you are seeing higher end commercial growth in this part of town and that has continued even during the pandemic. That tells me there is need for commercial space along Dayton Boulevard."

For the two existing tenants still operating in the shopping center — Green's Design Supply and My Liquor Tobacco and Beer — Smith pledged to help them find them space in the renovated complex or adequate time to relocate their businesses.

The planning commission is recommending a number of conditions for the zoning change, including a ban on single-family homes on the property and requirement that the developer fund a traffic study to determine if a traffic light is needed at the site.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340

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