Walgreens plan deferred, again

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  The decision over left and right has again deferred a Walgreens drug store's official site plan development.
  The Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission deadlocked 3 to 3 Tuesday night in voting to grant final site plan approval to Johnson City builder Ed Street for development of the Walgreens drug store on Broad Street.
  The commission remains at odds over a full-access entrance on Broad Street to the drug store that some commissioners feel creates a safety hazard to the 30,000 motorists that rumble along Broad Street each day.
  "I think we are making a horrible mistake if we approve this," said Commissioner Sam Shipley, who, along with fellow commissioners Jack Cole and Ken Markland, voted against the plan. "That is a very, very serious safety issue."
  A full-access egress allows motorists leaving the property to turn right onto the northbound lanes of Broad Street or turn left across three traffic lanes to travel south on Broad Street.
  Street initially presented a plan to build a Walgreens on property along Broad Street in January. After approving the rezoning of residential property on East C Street and closure of an alley off Lynn Avenue, planning commissioners gave the project subdivision plat approval and preliminary site plan approval in February.
  Street later approached the commission at its March meeting requesting the site plan be amended to provide a full-access egress from the property onto Broad Street. The egress allows motorists leaving the property to turn right onto the northbound lanes of Broad Street or turn left across three traffic lanes to travel south on Broad Street. The commission denied an earlier request by Street for a full-access entrance on Lynn Avenue.
  The preliminary site plan allowed for a right-turn-only egress on Broad Street and Lynn Avenue and full access on East C Street. A right-turn entrance provides one entrance lane and one exit lane to a property site while prohibiting motorists from making left turns across multiple lanes of traffic.
  City Director of Planning and Development, David Ornduff, produced a traffic impact study Tuesday night from the Mattern & Craig engineering firm describing traffic movement and safety problems created with permitting motorists to turn across multiple lanes of traffic
   According to the study, 11 percent of motorists were expected to turn left from the site across two lanes of traffic onto Broad Street while 36 percent were expected to turn right onto Lynn Avenue to exit the store parking lot.
  Commissioners voted 6-1 in March with Shipley voting no to approve the request for a full-access egress on Broad Street. Commissioners Jack Cole and Ken Markland said Tuesday night their "yes" votes in March came on the assertion by Street that Napa Auto Parts had a full-access entrance on Broad Street, which commissioners they found to be incorrect.
   Street has been issued a building permit by the city government to construct the store building and property not including the Broad Street entrance. He did not attend Tuesday night's meeting.
  Citing statements in the report, Bandarra said the Mattern and Craig survey did not state the full access constituted a major traffic hazard to the city.
  "A person has to be responsible coming out of that driveway," he said.
  The Tennessee Department of Transportation report on average daily traffic found more than 30,000 vehicles traveling on Broad Street. Shipley, who serves as chairman of the Carter County EMS board of directors, reiterated his belief the full-access entrance posed major safety problems allowing motorists to cut across five lanes of traffic on Broad Street to enter or leave the Walgreens property. He also bristled at demands placed on the city by an out-of-town developer.
  "I don't like others coming in here and dictating how we should have our town," said Shipley.
  Commissioners Victor Deloach and Manual Bandarra along with Commission Chairman Haynes Elliott voted in favor of the amended site plan. Commissioner Nancy Alsup whose brother passed away Tuesday did not attend the meeting.
  Deloach told Shipley he realized the safety issues were there, but added greater problems existed with a full-access point on Lynn Avenue.
  "If you do either one, it is a messed up situation," said Deloach.
   Regarding Shipley's comment about "outsiders", Deloach said he had staunchly opposed the Wal-Mart super store development because of its potential impact on the mom-and-pop businesses around town, but the commission approved the development. He pointed to Johnson City's commercial growth as an example of what governments must do to develop a tax and employment base.
  "It is the big man gobbling up the little man," said Deloach of large retail developments. "We've got to have some tax revenues and we've got to have something for us."
  Commissioners requested in June to hold a called meeting with Street in attendance to discuss the site plan in detail, but the called meeting never materialized.
   Deloach also said Street had advised him earlier this month that he sent two letters to the city regarding the amended site plan proposal but did not receive a response from the planning department. Ornduff said he had contacted Street's office but had not talked directly with him. He told commissioners a called meeting would be arranged later this month.
  In other business, the commission voted 6-0 granting preliminary and final plat approval for subdivision of the "Fuddtown" property on West Elk Avenue. The property goes up for sale during a three-day public auction held Aug. 19-21.
  The commission also voted to maintain existing officer positions keeping Elliott as chairman, Deloach as vice chairman and Bandarra as secretary.