Note: This story was updated at 10:45 a.m. Aug. 12.
A rezoning being considered by Oak Ridge municipal officials could allow commercial development on property that is now mostly a grass field south of the American Museum of Science and Energy. The 7.44-acre site could be used by retailers, restaurants, or groceries, or for office space or multi-family developments, according to a zoning change request filed by the owner.
The Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission will consider the rezoning request on Thursday. The request was filed by TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC of Greenville, South Carolina. That company was set up by RealtyLink, the developer of Main Street Oak Ridge at the former Oak Ridge Mall.
The property includes a grass field along South Illinois Avenue between South Tulane Avenue and Badger Avenue. The northern portion of the property includes part of the AMSE parking lot.
The parcel, appraised at $908,300, is located within the city’s central commercial core, the Oak Ridge city staff said in a review of the rezoning request. There are commercial properties on the opposite side of South Tulane Avenue, including the Main Street Oak Ridge redevelopment, the staff said. There is also commercial development on the other side of South Illinois Avenue.
“The property is located within the primary commercial core of the city, in which activity has increased in the last several years,” the municipal staff said. “Up until this year, the subject property had been a part of the AMSE site and unavailable for development. With the transfer of the property to private ownership, transition to a commercial use is expected and appropriate.”
In a zoning change request filed August 4, TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC and Arnold Consulting Engineering Services Inc. of Bowling Green, Kentucky, said commercial zoning is the highest and best value for the 7.44-acre parcel.
The property is currently zoned RG-1 and O-2. (See the current zoning map below.)
The part of the property that is RG-1 is the portion between South Illinois Avenue and the road that crosses the vacant grass field. RG-1 is residential, open space, and reserved district zoning. It’s established for large lot, low-density residential development “characterized by an open appearance,” and it can include community facilities, public utilities and open uses.
The rest of the property is O-2. That’s for office districts.
The owner has asked to rezone the property to UB-2. That’s a unified general business district. It would allow retail businesses, office buildings, restaurants, hotels, and service establishments such as barber and beauty shops, among other permitted uses.
The city staff said multi-family apartments are only allowed in the UB-2 zoning district when they are part of a planned unit development, or PUD. The use of a PUD would provide greater flexibility for developing the property in a unified way, rather than lot by lot, the staff said. Also, a PUD would provide greater flexibility for parking and the design of vehicle access.
The property was transferred to TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC this year as part of an agreement that had been approved by federal officials, unanimously approved by the Oak Ridge City Council, and then signed in late December by the U.S. Department of Energy and City of Oak Ridge.
Under that agreement, the 17-acre AMSE site was transferred from the U.S. Department of Energy to the City of Oak Ridge. The city is transferring the property in two phases to TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC, which can then use the AMSE site for economic development. The 7.44-acre southern part of the AMSE site was transferred first from the city to TN Oak Ridge Illinois LLC. The northern portion doesn’t appear to have been transferred yet, according to state property assessment records.
The 7.44 acre parcel equates to about 323,000 square feet of property, according to a rezoning exhibit prepared by Arnold Consulting Engineering Services. The southern portion of the AMSE property along South Tulane and South Illinois avenues, on two busy streets in central Oak Ridge, has been considered prime commercial real estate, and there have been previous development proposals. The property is flat and highly visible, and utilities are available. One development proposal about a decade ago involved a Target and Lowe’s development split between the southern portion of the AMSE property and the Big Lots shopping center on the other side of South Illinois Avenue.
As part of the agreement signed by the city and DOE in December, DOE public outreach and education missions that are now conducted at AMSE and focused on Oak Ridge history, science, and national security will be relocated to renovated space in a two-story building that once housed a Sears store next to JCPenney at what is now Main Street Oak Ridge.
The current AMSE building, home to the museum for about four decades, could eventually be demolished to allow for new construction. At last check, DOE was supposed to be out of the 54,000-square-foot AMSE building by the end of December.
Before the transfer, RealtyLink had said it was concerned that any development of the museum property that competed with Main Street Oak Ridge could jeopardize its 58-acre open-air mixed-use town center at the former mall site. Seven new stores have opened at Main Street Oak Ridge since mid-June. They are Dick’s Sporting Goods, maurices, PetSmart, Rack Room Shoes, rue21, T.J.Maxx, and Ulta. At least one more store, Electronic Express, is under construction.
DOE has said AMSE is “over-sized” and “operationally challenged,” and the AMSE property transfer will save more than $2 million in deferred maintenance costs at the museum and greatly reduce operating expenses.
The Planning Commission meeting on Thursday starts at 5:30 p.m. in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Court Room at 200 South Tulane Avenue. You can see the agenda here.
You can see our story on the December 2016 AMSE agreement here.
You can learn more about the 7.44-acre parcel here. The page includes a link to ownership and assessment information.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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