Walgreens gets the go ahead

  By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com
  After months of haggling and last minute requests, the Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission voted 4-to-3 on Tuesday night to amend the final site plan for the Walgreens drug store development.
  However, the decision left a bitter taste for the amendment's most vocal critic.
   "I'm still of the opinion we are making a huge mistake," Commissioner Sam Shipley said.
   The amendment centered on allowing a full-access egress to the property on Broad Street. The full-access point gives motorists the ability to turn right or turn left across three traffic lanes onto Broad Street.
  Shipley, Jack Cole and Ken Markland voted against amending the site plan while Nancy Alsup, Manual Bandarra, Victor Deloach, and Haynes Elliott voted in favor of the amendment.
  Shipley, who serves as chairman of the Carter County EMS board of directors, produced data from Elizabethton Police Department records that found 52 accidents had occurred on a section of Broad Street between Lynn Avenue and Roan Street within the past 14 months. Of that number, five accidents involved injuries and one resulted in a fatality to a pedestrian who was walking across Lynn Avenue when she was struck by a vehicle shortly before dawn.
  Two traffic impact studies were conducted as part of the development. A Mattern and Craig engineering firm report found a full-access egress did not constitute a major traffic hazard to the city. Shipley said two reports gauged traffic flow, but did not account for decisions made by motorists to dash in front of oncoming traffic.
  "One thing the studies do not address or recognize is human behavior," said Shipley.
  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. He said Walgreens wanted a full-access entrance in order to seal the development deal.
  Alsup said she understood safety concerns but added that numerous businesses on Broad Street had entrance points that did not specify where traffic could move onto the roadway.
  "I don't understand how we can't have full access for Walgreens when all the other businesses don't have it either," said Alsup who was absent from the commission's meeting earlier this month, resulting in a 3-to-3 vote deadlock.
  Bandarra also pointed out numerous "curb cuts" granting access to businesses already existed along Broad Street. He felt the difficulty motorists faced turning in front of oncoming traffic would drive more people toward the Lynn Avenue exit.
  "I think eventually people will (realize) that right is dangerous and turn out the other way," he said.
  After Alsup moved for approval and Bandarra seconded the motion, Cole recommended the commission consider revising the site plan to give full-access entrance on Lynn Avenue and right-turn only access for Broad Street. However, a majority of commissioners were not impelled to discuss Cole's recommendation.
  The preliminary site plan allowed for a right-turn-only egress on Broad Street and full access on Lynn Avenue and East C Street. The commission denied the request for a full-access entrance on Lynn Avenue. 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.
  After approving the site plan amendment, commissioners voted 6-1 with Shipley voting no to approve the final site plan for the development.
  The commission voted 6-1 in March to amend the site plan permitting the full access to Broad Street. Cole and Markland said at an earlier meeting that their votes to approve the site plan in March came on the assertion by Street that Napa Auto Parts had a full access entrance on Broad Street, which was incorrect.
   The Tennessee Department of Transportation report on average daily traffic found more than 30,000 vehicles traveling on Broad Street during 2003. Those numbers are expected to increase in coming years according to TDOT traffic studies.
  Shipley said after the meeting he had never seen a document from Walgreens specifically requiring a full access to Broad Street.
  "We've compromised public safety," Shipley said.