Lowe's on track, Connector facing delay

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   A privately owned right-of-way located in close proximity to an access road to be built in conjunction with the new Lowe's store poses no threat to delaying the retail development, according to the city of Elizabethton's Planning Department.
   "Nothing is going to delay it or slow it down," City Director of Planning and Development David Ornduff said Friday of Lowe's store.
   The Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse development includes an access road extending parallel to West Elk Avenue from the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter behind the U.S. Post Office to Tony Fuller Drive at the present Wal-Mart store. A right-of-way permitting access from Tony Fuller Drive to the Bemberg Industrial Center extends between the existing Wal-Mart store and property where the Lowe's store will be located. Charles VonCannon, owner of the Bemberg Industrial Center, has made clear to city officials he owns the right of way lying in close proximity to the access road and the Lowe's development. VonCannon purchased the property in 1987.
   Ornduff said at last week's Elizabethton Planning Commission meeting the road could be constructed without foreseeable delay. The access road proposed as part of the Lowe's development has what visually appears to be 20 to 25 feet of leeway between the Post Office property and the right-of-way.
   The Planning Commission approved preliminary subdivision and site plan designs for Lowe's submitted by the Site, Inc. firm in February. The city will not construct the access road. The access road will be constructed with private funds as part of the property's development, according to the site plan.
   The Elizabethton Lowe's store represents a $16.5 million investment and up to 175 jobs, according to the company.
   While the city is moving forward with Lowe's, construction on the $28 million Northern Connector highway project is now facing a delay of at least one year. State Rep. Jerome Cochran said he had been informed by Tennessee Department of Transportation officials that the discovery of American Indian artifacts on the Connector's proposed path had halted the project temporarily.
   "I think one year is the worst-case scenario," Cochran, R-Elizabethton, said last week. "I can't guarantee that but that is what Sen. (Rusty) Crowe and I are working toward."
   Cochran said the discovery of artifacts would also involve federal officials, most like the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to determine the scope of the archaeological discovery. According to the most recent TDOT timetable, the actual right-of-way property acquisitions along the connector's corridor will not begin until 2005 with actual construction of the road beginning sometime in 2007.
   The 3.9-mile connector begins at State Route 67 (Elk Avenue) west of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 2166, moves north across the Watauga River then runs east, linking up with the U.S. Highway 19-E and Highway 91 interchange. The section will include four traffic lanes and continuous center lane.
   The highway project also includes replacement of the Bristol Bridge at Lynn Avenue. City officials have lobbied the state since the project's inception to construct a new bridge from the Connector to the Cherokee Industrial Park.