Zoning Appeals Board Votes 5-4 To Deny Variances For St. Elmo Publix

Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Opponents to variances address Zoning Board
Opponents to variances address Zoning Board

The city Board of Zoning Appeals on Wednesday voted 5-4 to deny variances for a Publix grocery at St. Elmo. 

The vote came despite an appeal from City Councilman Erskine Oglesby to approve the project, saying it would bring over 110 jobs and spark similar economic growth on the south end of Broad Street. 

Opponents of the project said it did not meet the requirements of the UGC zoning, which calls for buildings to be up close to the street. 

Most of those in the large audience said they were in favor of moving ahead with the project. Many are from Lookout Mountain. 

The project had been planned at the four-acre site of the former Mt. Vernon restaurant and Pizza Hut. The land is owned by Jeff and Cindy Messinger, who long operated Mt. Vernon but closed the venerable restaurant at the first of the year.

Voting against granting the variances were Joe Manuel, Jackie Thomas, Alan Richelson, Robert Parks and Debbie Sue Przybysz. Ms. Przybysz, who said she is a member of the St. Elmo neighborhood group, made the motion to deny.

That came after over two hours of discussion about the 32,000-square-foot grocery with 166 parking spots. 

Ms. Thomas said she felt the developer satisfied two of the variances, but not one dealing with a lack of windows on the front of the grocery. Mr. Manuel said he was not convinced that all the requested hardships were valid.

He said developers who take on projects needing several variances should realize "some severe financial consequences may be involved."

Mr. Richelson recommended taking 30 days for the developer to try to reach compromise with opponents. However, George Chase said there had been numerous meetings already and some alterations made, including adding two out parcel buildings.

He said it was not feasible to put the grocery along the street, saying it would mean shoppers would have to walk around the building. At the back, he said they would come in contact with trucks at the loading dock.

Peter Hiscutt, architect from Alpharetta, Ga., said the variance on the windows was needed for privacy and security reasons. He also said natural light would cause produce to more quickly spoil.

Councilman Oglesby had also said, "I'm excited about what this can do to the district as a whole. It doesn't make sense for us to lose this grocery store."

Former County Commissioner Joe Graham said Lookout Valley and Lookout Mountain residents were anxious to get the Publix at the foot of the mountain. He said the valley has two closed groceries.

He said the new development should help curb crime in the area, saying a car wash he owns near Food City has been burglarized 80 times.

"We need this caliber of grocery," he said.

Lindsey Willke said the project was not in line with the Broad Street Plan, but was traditional grocery store development.

She said it had been proven that having daylight was beneficial to employees.

Bert Kuyrkendall presented a layout that included additional small stores all along Broad Street. He said there were still enough parking spaces. He said the development group "has not been open to ideas."

He said the proposal was "a massive, suburban-style parking lot.

Chris Torrence, an official of the Community Association of St. Elmo, said the project "does not fit in with the new vision of St. Elmo."

Jim Johnson, a North Chattanooga resident with Chattanoogans for Responsible Design, also spoke against the request. He said afterward, "None of us is against Publix. With this vote, we hope the developers will engage more community members so that the development there will better meet the long-term needs of the community, provide additional jobs and tax revenue over time, and set the tone for more appropriate urban, pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly development along the South Broad corridor. We would like nothing better than support a responsible Publix development plan, but the developer needs to be transparent and open."

The same plan could not be brought up again for a year, but the developer could offer a changed plan.

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