Curb cut incites debate between attorney, city planner

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Elizabethton Board of Zoning Appeals set a precedent Tuesday night.
   The Board voted 4-1 to approve a variance allowing a street access "curb cut" under the BZA's new authority to hear appeals by property owners despite strong opposition to the variance from several Burgie Street residents.
   John Clark, of Burgie Street, presented the commission with a petition signed by more than 20 Burgie St. residents opposing the variance. "Burgie Street is awful as it is," Clark said. "This is an accident waiting to happen."
   Sandra Grindstaff, also a Burgie St. resident, said traffic coupled with the street's steep decline already created problems that could be exacerbated by the new curb cut. "We have a lot of traffic, and fast traffic," she told the board. The variance in question was first initiated 18 months ago and nearly incited a lawsuit against the city because an appeals process did not exist.
   Attorney Stacy Street spoke on behalf of William David Bass who requested a variance to the curb cut policy before BZA. Bass sought to create a street access to his property at the corner of Hudson Drive and Burgie Street. City ordinances require a distance of 75 feet from an intersection for a curb cut access to another property.
   Bass -- who is also Street's brother-in-law -- sought to have the curb cut set 35 feet from Hudson Drive. Street said Bass submitted a site plan petition to the city a year and a half ago and city director of planning and development, David Ornduff, had denied the variance request.
   The meeting took on tenor as Street and Ornduff essentially went through two rounds of opening and closing arguments regarding the variance. Street told the Commission Bass felt the city's planning department had been unwilling to work with him regarding the property's development.
   "How did that happen?" Street asked rhetorically. "I don't know how, but we know they are there."
   Ornduff argued the variance would essentially create a traffic storage problem on Hudson with motorists piling up on Burgie to enter Bass's property. He also said no site plan had been submitted to his office regarding the variance, and the board was ill-prepared to vote on the variance as presented.
   "It was supposed to be submitted 21 days before this meeting and it has not been," said Ornduff, who also said he had no power as one individual to approve or deny a variance. "We have not had the cooperation we feel we should have had with Mr. Bass.
   "It is hard to work with someone you can't communicate with."
   Street countered the site plan had been submitted and was available before board members.
   "Mr. Bass has tried to work with Mr. Ornduff," said Street. "We are trying to cooperate."
   Following Street's remarks, Ornduff vociferously disagreed that the planning department refused to accommodate Bass and his petition. Ornduff said he and the planning department had every intention of working with Bass and any other developer who sought the department's assistance.
   "You will always run into folks that you don't agree with," Ornduff said.
   The request was the first such appeal brought before the BZA since city ordinance was amended permitting an appeals process. Street reminded the commission that the ordinance amendment came after he and Bass nearly filed a lawsuit last year due to having no appeal process for his variance request.
   Attorney Charlton DeVault representing the BZA cautioned board members that the decision they made regarding the curb cut would become the benchmark for all future variance requests.
   "What you decide tonight, you are going to be stuck with on subsequent appeals," DeVault said.
   Board members Nancy Alsup, Victor Deloach, Manual Bandarra and Haynes Elliott voted to approve the variance while Sam Shipley voted no. BZA members Howard Matherly and Jack Cole were absent.
   Alsup felt the variance request had languished for consideration long enough.
   "I don't think the planning commission has tried to work with Mr. Bass," said Alsup, who moved to approve the variance request.
   Prior to the BZA meeting, the Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission granted final approval to the subdivision plat and site plan for the Wal-Mart supercenter development on the former North American Rayon Corp. campus.
   Property developers initially requested a curb cut onto W. Elk Ave. from the NARC property allowing a secondary access point to the proposed Wal-Mart supercenter campus. The planning department proffered a separate site plan creating an access road to connect the supercenter property to Wallace Avenue to provide the secondary W. Elk point.
   "That road would extend to the old Wal-Mart access road at some point in the future," Ornduff said. "We are very confident that road will be developed by parties other than the city."
   Ornduff said Wal-Mart had also submitted a bond to cover the cost of road improvements pertaining to the development.
   Wal-Mart recently purchased a 22.69-acre tract where the NARC building presently stands for $2.8 million. The supercenter building covers 205,000 square feet and will include discount gasoline sales on the property. Construction of the supercenter is expected to cost around $15 million and employ upwards of 500 people.
   Ornduff said the access road would become one of a system geared to accommodate future development around the NARC property.
   "We feel very confident that's going to happen," he said.