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Time to “wait and see” on that hotel proposal for Woodland

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.

City Council will soon hear the proposal to rezone the property (from single-family residential to office, with a PUD) and amend the city’s land use plan to change this site’s designation from residential to commercial. Unlike conventional zoning, approval of a PUD means that the City is approving not only the land use but also a specific development plan, including building placement, parking lot layout, etc. The proposed development would also require City Council approval of driveway access to South Illinois Avenue (right now, the property has access from Potomac Circle, but if the development proposal is approved, that access would be closed). I expect that the Traffic Safety Advisory Board will review the proposal for driveway access before it is presented to City Council.

No Woodland residents spoke up at this Planning Commission meeting, causing newspaper reporters to conclude that the neighbors have withdrawn their opposition. However, the residents I talked with after the meeting say that they are still opposed. They figured that the Planning Commissioners had already made up their minds, so they decided to save their breath for the upcoming City Council meetings on this matter.

I have seen the site drawings, but I have not heard the staff’s and developer’s explanations of the current proposal, and I have not yet had a chance to ask questions. Thus, I still don’t have all of the information I need on this proposal, so my opinions are preliminary.

I believe there is a market for another hotel in Oak Ridge, and I am pleased to see the efforts that this developer has made to accommodate neighborhood concerns, but I have some serious misgivings about the proposal. Fundamentally, the property is not quite big enough for a hotel, so the building and parking areas would be located very close to the neighboring residential properties — too close for my tastes. Indeed, there would be no setback between the parking lot and one of the lot lines, placing the edge of the parking lot just a few feet away from the house next door on Potomac Circle. The hotel would sit farther away from the lot line by the other next-door neighbor house, but that single-story house could be dwarfed by the three-story hotel.

I wonder about construction impacts on the neighborhood, too. Given the small size of the lot relative to the footprint of the building, it is not obvious to me that there is enough space onsite for “laydown” of equipment and materials, and I want to know how construction access and parking would be controlled to limit adverse effects on the residential neighborhood.

Finally, I’m bothered by the proposed highway access — and the precedent it could create for other developers who might seek to build nearby. Traffic flow on South Illinois Avenue has been slowed in recent years by the proliferation of new businesses and their accompanying curb cuts and stoplights, and addition of more left-turning traffic on a wide street would further impede traffic flow and add new safety hazards. Although this curb cut would be directly across from the Outback Steakhouse driveway, it would add to the complexity of an already difficult stretch of road.

It’s “wait and see” time on this proposal. If I had to vote on this tomorrow without additional information, I would have to oppose it, but I have not heard the whole story yet.

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2 Comments

  1. Ray Kircher says:

    I’m glad to read you have not become the proverbial fence walker, but can you clear something up for me. Is it that you feel our city entrance is better off as a mixed entrance similar to Knoxville’s downtown and campus entrance on Kingston Pike?

    I feel we should keep our mixed entrance as a preservation issue.

    If Mr. Patel is determined to convert his Woodland property to business, let it be a bed and breakfast. I feel it is absurd to say this corridor is destined for commercial use. Those who say that haven’t traveled much.

  2. Ellen Smith says:

    My opinion on this is history now. I voted against this rezoning proposal on both first and second reading, but the rezoning passed both times, 4-3.

    Most of my thoughts were already recorded here. Although the developer’s modifications from the earlier proposal did address some of the concerns with it, I found the project to be “too big” for the site (the plan provides almost no buffer for the adjacent residential properties, and it is not even clear that the parking lot can accommodate all of the expected customers, particularly customers hauling off-road vehicles on trailers) and I have serious concerns about the traffic safety and congestion impacts of adding an entrance and exit at that location on South Illinois Avenue. Additionally, I am concerned that spot rezoning with extensive variances will create a precedent that will make it more difficult for the city to consistently enforce its zoning rules in the future.

    Although the Planned Unit Development (PUD) has been approved, including that entrance and exit on South Illinois, City Council still hasn’t approved the traffic access. Before that is presented to Council, the developer needs to pay for a detailed traffic engineering plan, and that plan needs to be reviewed by the city engineer (Steve Byrd) and the city’s all-volunteer Traffic Safety Advisory Board (TSAB). Both Mr. Byrd and TSAB will submit written recommendations to the City Council.

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