Several Hamilton County judges are opposing Unum's proposed closing of Walnut Street between Fifth and Sixth streets, citing concerns over possible traffic congestion and the general dangers they say it could present to citizens, jail personnel and county employees.
"If the proposed street closure is granted," stated a letter sent Friday to the Hamilton County Planning Commission, "traffic coming east on 4th Street would have to turn south on Cherry and go down to 6th and Cherry and then turn back east again and then back south on Walnut to get in front of the old Hamilton County courthouse or the Hamilton County Jail."
"This is impractical," stated the letter, which was signed by city judges Russell Bean and Sherry Paty, general sessions judges Bob Moon, Clarence Shattuck, David Bales, Christie Sell and Ron Durby, and criminal judge Don Poole.
The odds already may be stacked against them, though.
Citing the fact that Unum's proposal to close the street already was approved by the City Council in 2000, Barry Bennett, executive director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency, said the planning commission likely will approve the request at its meeting Monday, as long as some new conditions are met.
One new condition is that Unum must allow regular pedestrians to walk through the space that will be created once the area is closed to traffic.
"The (Regional Planning Agency) staff is generally not in favor of closing any downtown street," Mr. Bennett said. "Our recommendation to the commission, with reservation, is to approve the request primarily because it's already been approved before."
Unum spokesman Jim Sabourin said the company wants to close the street to improve employee safety. The plan would allow Unum to consolidate all of its parking into two adjacent parking garages, thereby eliminating the need for employees to cross major downtown streets to get to work, he said.
A new parking garage would be built at Walnut and Fifth streets, Mr. Sabourin said, and the end result would be a "campus environment" with a downtown greenspace that would benefit everyone.