Wal-Mart awaits final approval from planning commission

By Thomas Wilson

   The final subdivision plat approval for the proposed Wal-Mart supercenter development will come before the Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission on Tuesday night.
   The commission voted 5-2 at its February meeting to approve the site plan, which limited the retail giant to one access point off West Elk Avenue at Hudson Drive. Both alternative plans passed by the commission set only the existing curb cut at the West Elk Avenue/Hudson Street intersection that leads into the North American Corporation campus. The commission adopted the revised site plan after city and county public safety officials expressed their reservations about allowing curb cuts in such close proximity to each other.
   City director of planning and development, David Ornduff, said an additional curb cut requested in the site plan submitted by Wal-Mart initially conflicted with the city's Major Thoroughfare Plan and presented a potential public safety concern for the city. He presented an alternative plan featuring access to the Wal-Mart site via a street system connecting the property with Wallace Avenue and running parallel with West Elk Avenue. The planned access road system provides Wal-Mart the secondary access point to West Elk the company desired with the curb cut.
   A Knoxville-based development firm originally submitted a site plan to develop the 22.69-acre tract where the North American Corporation building presently stands. The Wal-Mart site plan submitted to the city plans for a building covering 205,000 square feet. The building will include more than 3,000 square feet for a vision and eyeglass center, a photography studio, and bank branch.
   Property developers said in February that Wal-Mart planned a building investment of $15 million to construct the supercenter. The supercenter is expected to employ upward of 500 people. A representative of the property management firm said that the area surrounding the supercenter could give rise to up to 500,000 square feet of additional development.
   Planning Commissioners Jack Cole and Victor Deloach voted against the alternative proposal for Wal-Mart. Cole said he did not favor allowing only one access point for Wal-Mart while Deloach said he opposed the Wal-Mart development altogether.
   The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation's (TDEC) Division of Solid Waste Management accepted a 25-acre portion of the NAC property into the Brownfield Program in March to facilitate redevelopment of the site by Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust. A 30-day public comment period was held March 30 to April 29 to allow input from citizens about the site's development.
   The Brownfield Agreement between Wal-Mart and the division includes liability protections for Wal-Mart and related parties, including protection against contribution claims regarding matters addressed in the Brownfield Agreement.
   The Brownfield Agreement effectively limits the liability Wal-Mart would imbue on past industrial practices at the site including the discovery of any contamination that may be identified in the construction phase, according to TDEC officials. However, Wal-Mart would be responsible for characterizing the waste and properly managing it, according to TDEC.
   The portion of the North American facility to be included under the Brownfield Agreement includes the existing warehouse, a former cafeteria, and a former guard hut.
   Although the site was primarily used for warehousing finished product, manufacturing operations occurred on the rear portion of the site.