The Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission voted 7-1 on Thursday to recommend a revised plan for Main Street Oak Ridge to the Oak Ridge City Council.
Among the requested changes are building four stores along a sidewalk between PetSmart and JCPenney, removing the access road from Rutgers Avenue to the roundabout at Main Street Oak Ridge to allow those four stores to be built, removing the multi-family residential units that had been proposed in the area between Walmart and JCPenney, and including mixed-use development areas along Wilson Street as part of the third phase of the project.
Voting to recommend the revised plan were Planning Commission Chair Stephen Whitson and planning commissioners Jim Dodson, Charlie Hensley, Sharon Kohler, Claudia Lever, Roger Petrie, and Todd Wilson. Planning Commissioner Jane Shelton cast the only “no” vote.
Planning Commission approved the revised plan for Main Street Oak Ridge during a roughly 1.5-hour discussion on Thursday. The meeting included discussions of sidewalks, parking lot configurations, pedestrian connections, and a possible traffic study.
Comments by the Oak Ridge municipal staff, primarily engineering items, were included as a condition of approval.
Brett Rogers, construction director for RealtyLink, the developer, said he had no major problem with the conditions. He discussed a possible sidewalk between Belk and PetSmart, and benches and a picnic area near the American Museum of Science and Energy. Some sidewalks that have been agreed to will be installed to the extent possible and when they can be made compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Rogers said. The engineering work hasn’t been done yet, and he cited as an example the difficulties of building one sidewalk at a loading dock, where the slope could exceed 2 percent.
The revised plan is being considered as RealtyLink prepares to welcome a second wave of tenants to the site as part of the second phase of the project. A third phase is also planned; it would include the mixed-use areas along Wilson Street.
There are still concerns with some aspects of the revised plan, including a proposal to build a self storage facility along Rutgers Avenue—one resident spoke in opposition to that on Thursday—and the need to close the access road from Rutgers Avenue to the roundabout.
Whitson, the Planning Commission chair, continued to express concern about closing that access road to Rutgers Avenue because, he said, it would eliminate access to and from the Woodland neighborhood, which could be a large customer base.
Those who have supported keeping that road open have pointed out recent developments along Rutgers Avenue, including the renovated Food City, the new Countryside Tire and Auto, and the new ORNL Federal Credit Union branch office, among other projects.
But developers have pointed out that Main Street Oak Ridge is an unorthodox development that already has about a dozen entrances, including a few others off Rutgers Avenue.
This re-submittal of the revised plan seems to be meeting with less resistance than it did the first time, as reported by Oak Ridge Today starting in October. In previous meetings, those who had challenged the revised plan had emphasized the importance of mixed-use development, advocated for keeping the access road open, and requested a “city center” and more restaurants and open space. For the most part, there were no similar discussions on Thursday. It seems to have helped, at least so far, that a RealtyLink representative has been at the recent Planning Commission meetings to discuss the revised plan.
The first submittal of the revised plan was unanimously approved with conditions by City Council in December before being rejected in a 3-4 vote on second and final reading in January. Before that denial, the Planning Commission had attached 10 conditions when recommending a revised master plan in a 5-4 vote during a special meeting on December 5.
It’s not clear how Council might vote this time. But one Council member who voted “no” in January, Derrick Hammond, said he had voted to seek other alternatives. He has suggested that those who voted “no” need to help develop an alternative plan. If he can’t, he can’t say “no” again, Hammond said in January.
So far, no alternative plan has emerged, suggesting that there could be, if nothing else has changed, at least four “yes” votes on City Council, which would be a majority.
It’s not clear when the revised plan might be considered by City Council.
RealtyLink has said the proposed changes being considered now are tenant-driven, and the company has limited control over the site plans. RealtyLink has taken a plan first proposed by Crosland Southeast, the original developer, and adopted and revised it.
Before the Planning Commission vote on Thursday, Rogers said RealtyLink is negotiating leases with three national tenants who could locate in the four new stores between PetSmart and JCPenney.
Oak Ridge economic development consultant Ray Evans has calculated that four new stores at Main Street Oak Ridge could create 150 jobs and generate more than $600,000 in sales and property tax revenues for Oak Ridge and Anderson County.
Also Thursday, Rogers told the Planning Commission that RealtyLink has an “immediate opportunity” to self-develop the climate-controlled self storage facility at Main Street Oak Ridge, which could be along Rutgers Avenue. That indoor facility could be three stories and about 100,000 square feet, with roughly the same footprint as Dick’s Sporting Goods.
See the Planning Commission agenda here.
See previous story here.
See more Main Street Oak Ridge stories here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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