Hoping to make progress and help produce a good plan, Oak Ridge officials will meet in November to discuss the second phase of Main Street Oak Ridge.
Oak Ridge officials have had concerns about proposed revisions to the master plan for Main Street as the developer, RealtyLink, prepares to welcome a second wave of tenants. The Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission postponed a vote on the revised master plan during a meeting on Thursday, October 18.
The November 8 joint work session will include the Planning Commission and the Oak Ridge City Council. The special meeting was requested last Thursday when the Planning Commission postponed its decision on the revised master plan.
Some officials have raised concerns about the proposed revisions to the master plan, including the possible closure of the road connecting Rutgers Avenue to the roundabout at Main Street, and they have emphasized their interest in having a mixed-use city center with pedestrian connections, green space or a central gathering spot in its interior, and restaurants and residential units.
Officials have said the revised master plan would be a significant change from earlier plans. RealtyLink has taken a plan first proposed by Crosland Southeast, the original developer, and adopted and revised it.
The proposed revisions presented to the Planning Commission last week showed the closure of the road between the roundabout and Rutgers Avenue and four new retailers in that area along a sidewalk that would connect PetSmart, a new store, to JCPenney, one of the two remaining anchor stores from the former Oak Ridge Mall. The revised plan also showed there could be two retail shops near Belk and Cinemark Tinseltown, a self-storage business along Rutgers Avenue behind the four new retailers, and a park area on Rutgers behind Walmart and Burke’s, which is now under construction next to Electronic Express. Mixed-use (restaurants, retailers, and residential units) would be designated as part of future development areas along Wilson Street. The 230 multi-family units included in the current plan from 2015 would not be included in the revised master plan, the city staff said.
“This is a significant change from what we’ve seen in the past,” Planning Commission Chair Stephen Whitson said last week.
Announcing the November 8 special meeting during a Thursday work session, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson told planning commissioners that they shouldn’t go “back to square one and redesign the whole thing.” He asked commissioners to come up with their top three concerns.
They did. Planning Commissioner Todd Wilson, who made the motion to postpone last week, cited three:
- connectivity, which includes the roundabout and sidewalks (the city staff recommended providing a connection for vehicles, pedestrians, and bicycles through the development between the Woodland neighborhood and Alvin K. Bissell Park and municipal buildings);
- restaurants, which were shown in previous drawings for the planned unit development, or PUD; and
- green space inside the development.
Mixed-use has to be included, Wilson said. (The city staff recommended a balanced mixture of retail, restaurant, office, and residential uses, and public open spaces, among other things.)
Those don’t deviate much from the original plan, Wilson said.
Other planning commissioners cited similar concerns. Commissioner Charlie Hensley, a former City Council member, listed mixed-use, connectivity, and a city center. Commissioner Jim Dodson, a current City Council member, cited the potential closure of the road connecting Rutgers Avenue to the roundabout as his number one issue. Once you close that road, you’re closing access to a whole neighborhood (Woodland), Dodson said.
In the business meeting last week, Neil Wilson of RealtyLink said Main Street Oak Ridge, an unorthodox development that replaces the former mall, has 11 access points. Rutgers Avenue has the least traffic, and South Illinois Avenue and Oak Ridge Turnpike have the main intersections, Wilson said.
But planning commissioners have pointed out the recent renovations and developments along Rutgers Avenue, including at Food City, ORNL Federal Credit Union, Countryside Tire and Auto, and TownePlace Suites, and they have suggested future development is possible.
An Oak Ridge City Council member also raised concerns about the proposed road closure and other potential changes last week. Addressing the Planning Commission individually, Chuck Hope said the community wanted more than a shopping center; residents wanted a mixed-use city center. But under the proposed revised master plan, Hope said, some non-retail components of the plan would be “pushed off” to another day and another time.
Neil Wilson told planning commissioners last week that the proposed changes to the plan are tenant-driven, and RealtyLink has limited control over the site plans. Five national tenants are “at the table,” Wilson said. He said a postponement could be “very detrimental,” and he asked for a vote during last week’s meeting in order to deliver the new stores to tenants by the fall of 2019. Amendments to these types of plans are common, Wilson said.
It’s not clear yet if there could be changes to the proposed master plan revisions between now and November 8 that would satisfy RealtyLink and its tenants, and Oak Ridge City Council and the Planning Commission.
Officials have said they would like to “get it right.” Emphasizing the long-term importance of the design, planning commissioners said they want the project to succeed, but they also want to make sure Main Street Oak Ridge reflects the desires of the community.
No action will be taken at the November 8 meeting, but moving the project to City Council is important, Watson said Thursday.
It’s not clear how soon the Planning Commission and City Council might vote on the revised master plan. Planning commissioners questioned whether there would be sufficient time between the November 8 special meeting and the November 12 City Council meeting to adequately study the issues before a vote.
Todd Wilson said planning commissioners don’t want to be viewed as slowing things down and have generally had unanimous votes on the project, but it’s not wrong to ask for what was originally expected.
The city staff said the 2015 plan showed 440,000 square feet of retail, the hotel (TownePlace Suites), and the 230 multifamily units that could be eliminated. Phase one has been mostly completed, the city staff said, including the hotel and about 330,000 square feet of retail space, including the space occupied by the recently relocated American Museum of Science and Energy.
Wilson, of RealtyLink, said the first phase of Main Street Oak Ridge has exceeded expectations. He said RealtyLink has invested between $60 million and $70 million in the project, and the company could invest more than $100 million, including the redevelopment of the former AMSE property on the other side of South Tulane Avenue.
He said there are residential units proposed along Wilson Street, where buildings could have residential units on the second floor and retail on the first. And part of a 10-acre parcel at the former AMSE property is under contract for a multi-family residential development, Wilson said.
Although it wouldn’t be in the interior of Main Street Oak Ridge, Wilson said there is a restaurant tenant looking at the corner lot next to Tire Discounters, which is under construction, at South Tulane Avenue and South Illinois Avenue. And one restaurant, Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers, has opened across South Tulane Avenue next to Taco Bell as part of Main Street Oak Ridge.
The November 8 joint meeting between Planning Commission and City Council is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom at 200 South Tulane Avenue. The meeting was scheduled to occur after the November 6 election.
Learn more about the proposed revisions to the master plan in this Planning Commission agenda from Thursday, October 18.
See more Main Street Oak Ridge stories here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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