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Hotel proposal for Woodland (and the South Illinois corridor)

An important local issue that was largely overlooked in the brouhaha over Crestpointe is the controversy over the future of the Woodland neighborhood.

After City Council rejected (appropriately, I think) a proposal for rezoning to allow construction of a 5-story Holiday Inn Express hotel on a pair of residential lots between Potomac Circle and South Illinois Avenue, city planning staff initiated the “South Illinois Corridor Study” (included in the May 21 City Council agenda package) to determine appropriate land uses and development constraints in the event of future proposals for commercial development near South Illinois. The study report contains much good information and makes many excellent points. (For example, “traditional neighborhood development” is identified as an appropriate zoning classification for part of the area. I think that’s sensible, as Woodland is a traditional neighborhood in most senses of that word, but the zoning change would likely destabilize the area.) Woodland residents are understandably nervous about its main thrust, which is an expectation that commercial development will nibble away at the edge of this residential neighborhood. Long-time resident Mary Henderson encapsulated these concerns in a May 17 letter to the editor. The report has not led to actual rezoning (as residents fear), but it could do so.

Now that the Corridor Study is approved, the hotel proposal is back, in revised form. A preliminary concept was unveiled at a Planning Commission work session on Thursday.

The proposal would require several city approvals. Developers expect to bring it back for Planning Commission approval in August. Both Planning Commission and City Council would have to approve a zoning change (from residential to a business or office zone with a planned-unit development plan included in the rezoning). Also, Council would need to approve a change in the city land use plan and a new highway access for the property. The decisions are likely to be difficult.

The 3-story hotel design would have almost as many rooms (68) as the 5-story design proposed earlier, so it would have a larger footprint on the lot. The building would be set close to the lot line adjoining one of the neighboring houses, and the house on the other side of the site would be very close to the parking lot. Some good news is that the building would be no taller than the nearby TNBank building (it could be a little lower depending on roof design). The fact that the lot slopes down from Potomac Circle (South Illinois is about 8 ft lower than Potomac) would further reduce impact on Woodland. Also, the development planners have worked hard to design landscaping to screen the site from neighboring homes and from Potomac Circle. (There would be no vehicle access on Potomac Circle.)

Although it would be physically possible to provide vehicle access by a frontage road connection to the TNBank parking lot, the prospective developer says that TNBank has rejected that possibility, so the developer is proposing a new highway access from South Illinois Ave, directly across from Outback Steakhouse. That access plan is less than ideal — left turns into and out of businesses have often been difficult along that stretch of South Illinois, and new business accesses will only make it more difficult to turn safely there. However, the city cannot deny access to a street from a legal lot. It wasn’t yet clear how sidewalk access would be handled — sidewalk access is important in that area.

Spot zoning is undesirable, but this developer is working hard to accommodate the needs of neighbors, and the development might turn out to be compatible with the existing neighborhood. However, I do not want to have yet another access to South Illinois, and I have concerns about the way this hotel could overwhelm the small houses adjacent to it. These concerns won’t be resolved until we see a more detailed plan. (Stay tuned…)

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5 Comments

  1. Ray Kircher says:

    I find the TN Bank position interesting. Here is a business owner taking stock in citizens. I applaud his effort to preserve the community. This may be the push to preserve what little housing City of Oak Ridge has.

    I can see how the Hotel can persuade TN Bank customers to go elsewhere due to traffic congestion alone.

  2. Ellen Smith says:

    I don’t see things that way — unless TNBank’s objections to a frontage road cause the property next door not to be rezoned, which I don’t think is TNBank’s objective.

    If this property ends up being rezoned for the hotel, it will get its very own entrance from South Illinois Ave., which will worsen existing problems on that stretch of road — and may lead to accidents due to hotel customers and employees making left turns in desperation (after giving up waiting for a suitable break in the traffic).

    A frontage road (or just a parking lot connection) that allows folks to make their turns at the Rutgers Ave. traffic light would make sense from a planning standpoint.

  3. Ray Kircher says:

    I agree the lone access for the Hotel is dangerous. This is one of my concerns, second to the impact of view in the neighborhood. I believe the service road is the way to proceed, but I do not believe the service road should be pushed upon another property for just a hotel.

    Wouldn’t the service road increase congestion at the TN Bank rear service road to Manhattan Ave? Rather, I believe, TN Bank would much rather see different businesses there that do business with the local public daily? In favor of TN Bank, if those lots were developed for service businesses, customers of those businesses would see a favorable location in TN Bank. I would like to own a bank with those amenities of a corner lot. If it isn’t out of the concern for residences, it is surely out of the concern of his clients and future clients, Oak Ridgers.

    Now, I do believe TN Bank would like to see more business along S. Illinois, and their three points of entry to a service road is desirable: Illinois, Manhattan, and Rutgers.

    In counter to the TN Bank service road, the Hotel should consider the cemetery with its covenants and the Hotel putting more money into correcting an unsafe stretch of road for their business, at least as much as they take. But that would only be a minimum to feeling better about the S. Illinois entrance. I would like to see the Inn Lane intersection improved to cross S. Illinois; this would require the cemetery lot. I think it would further promote retail sales with a new intersection on S. Illinois, but at the end of the day, it is just my opinion.

    It is good hear our community talking about what is more important: sales taxes or lives?

  4. Ray Kircher says:

    Mrs. Smith, it is now apparent our planning commission is on their own track away from citizens, as Mrs. Whetsel’s letter to the editor in Fri. OakRidger states. I am in agreement with her and my issue with ALDI. Thankfully the hotel wasn’t fast tracked, but ALDI is. We are continually showing elected and appointed positions that use the citizens as pincushions for their own lack of ingenuity. Why are they not listening? Now they are saying “We are out of the office!” When will they be back in office, when there isn’t anything else to discuss because their decision is it?

    Brighter people need to fill these positions, including the paid positions. A qualification of city residency should be applied to all of the paid departments in our city, at least have the city show reasonable effort to find an employee within our own boundaries. I’ve grown tired of listening to outsiders say what is better for us and then ignore our questions and comments.

  5. […] On Thursday the Oak Ridge Municipal Planning Commission unanimously approved rezoning for that proposed hotel on the edge of Woodland (see my earlier comments at http://ellensmith.org/blog/?p=53), along with several variances, including some reductions in required setbacks from adjacent properties. […]

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