Chattanooga wants the "right" Publix on South Broad -- designed for a city, not a suburb

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Chattanooga deserves an urban Publix in our urban core

Publix. Most of us agree: Great company. Great stores. Superb services. We’d be happy to have one on South Broad. 

But it needs to follow the urban model Publix has successfully developed throughout the Southeast--like the one above--not a suburban-style Publix with a sprawling parking lot.

Unfortunately, an Atlanta developer has proposed a cookie-cutter-style, strip-mall Publix more appropriate for Shallowford Road. He has asked the city to rezone the property to allow this, from UGC-Urban General Commercial to C-2 Convenience Commercial Zone—which would open a Pandora’s Box of development options—from drive-throughs to strip malls.

The developer may say that an urban approach won’t work, that Publix won’t go with a different design. In urban centers such as ours, though, it’s more the norm for Publix to avoid sprawling parking lots and encourage (and often invest in!) mixed-use development. They even include such options among their own in-house prototypes.

Publix has done its demographic research. They want to come here.

It seems that the main factor regarding a UGC development versus a C-2 is just the lower front-end development cost, rather than a long-term evaluation of the property value and the impact on the community. The developer wants to come in, do a quick build, and "flip" it to Publix.

It's developer greed versus the needs of the community. 

Why would allowing a change to C-2 be a problem? 

  • A development of this kind will yield lower property taxes—sprawl development typically brings in 25 percent what mixed-use development contributes.
  • It could be a Dollar General instead—zoning is for a property, not projects. What if Publix pulls out?
  • It sets a poor precedent and could cause a domino effect down South Broad Street.
  • Today’s trend is toward smaller parking lots and more pickup and delivery services.
  • It turns its back on years of planning and extensive community input—from the South Broad Redevelopment Plan of 2003, the 2015 rezoning to UGC to C-2, and the recent South Broad Street Plan.
  • We don’t want South Broad to become the next Shallowford Road with sprawling parking lots and snarled traffic
  • We prefer more that of a town center or “Main Street,” welcoming cyclists and pedestrians as well as cars--and tourists visiting our city.
  • We do not want strip malls on South Broad. We do not want more fast food restaurants and gas stations. We want an attractive setting that will encourage new residential and mixed-use development and improve our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren.

Let’s do better
Councilman Erskine Oglesby noted that the South Broad Street Plan “is going to help us transition into what Chattanooga's going to be moving forward." We agree.

Let’s put the development on hold and come together as a community to find ways to make the development valuable to the developer, to Publix, to the neighborhoods—and to future generations.

We can do better. Publix can do better. The developer must do better.

Chattanooga deserves better!

More information
A development of this kind will yield lower property taxes.
Sprawl development provides 25 percent or less of the tax revenue that mixed-use development brings. Had the North Shore Publix followed more of a mixed-use format with retail, commercial and residential, property taxes would likely have increased by $2 million over 20 years. With a format more like North Shore I and II, it could have generated an additional $4 million.

It could be a Dollar General instead.
If the rezoning is approved, nothing is to keep the developer from putting in a Dollar General instead. Zoning isn’t for specific projects. It’s for a specific property. Sure, it’s likely to be a Publix, but what if they decide to close it in five years?

It sets a poor precedent.
The rezoning would also set a precedent that could apply to the entire South Broad District and create a domino effect of lower property taxes. What is likely to have a higher value: a building next to a supermarket or a building next to an attractive mixed-use property?

It’s so 1970s.
The trends in supermarkets are away from parking lots and more toward online shopping with pickup or delivery services. When 20 percent of the grocery market is already trending in this direction, why build toward 1970s trends in parking quantity?

It turns its back on years of planning
On April 10, after years of planning and community involvement, the City Council approved recommendations in “The South Broad District Study: A Vision for Revitalization” in an effort “to establish a public vision for the future of South Broad Street.” A development with a sprawling parking lot adjacent to the street runs contrary to this vision.  

The district was rezoned Urban General Commercial (UGC) specifically to support the type of development that would transform Broad Street, as one of our major corridors, into a great urban street.

As the first major commercial redevelopment site on South Broad, this development acts as a gateway and will set the tone for the rest of the corridor.

It turns its back on the community.
Little more than 2.5 years ago, the Planning Commission and City Council approved a zoning study for this entire corridor that included extensive citizen and property owner input. Just as a new vision for South Broad Street has been announced and acclaimed, an approved zoning request would repeal the prior effort and set an inappropriate precedent.

The quality of life in and around South Broad and St. Elmo will be at risk, the opportunities for economic growth in the area will be diminished, and potential tax revenues will go away forever.

We don’t want South Broad to become the next Shallowford Road.
Will South Broad take the form of Shallowford Road with sprawling parking lots and snarled traffic or more that of a town center or “Main Street,” welcoming cyclists and pedestrians as well as cars?

We do not want strip malls on South Broad. We do not want more fast food restaurants and gas stations. We want an attractive setting that will encourage new residential and mixed-use development and improve our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren.

Publix does it better elsewhere
The developer may say that it won’t work, that Publix won’t go with a different design. In urban centers such as ours, it’s more the norm for Publix to avoid sprawling parking lots and encourage (and often invest in!) mixed-use development.

For example, in St. Petersburg, Florida, a city not much larger than Chattanooga, Publix looked at a store there not just as a profitable location:

"It's very exciting to be part of a vibrant downtown area which continues to grow as a popular destination," said Brian West, a spokesman for Publix. (Yes, Chattanooga is also a “destination”—with tourism increasingly important to economic development.)

The city's mayor recognized Publix's working to create a more thoughtful development:

"The Sunshine City continues to grow in new and exciting ways, and I am glad Publix recognizes the opportunities in our city and wants to be a part of that growth. This investment makes downtown even a better place to live, work and play."

We repeat: Live, work and play. Not just park and shop. 

The new St. Pete store will comprise 28,000 square feet and include three levels of parking above the store.

In Mobile, Alabama, a city just slightly larger than Chattanooga, a planned Publix will be hidden by “liner buildings” of shops and residential properties. Parking will be in a center court and not visible from the streets.

In Tampa, Florida, the newest Publix development will include condos, apartments, shops and a multi-level parking garage.

 



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