Legislation to remove the scenic highway designation from the Shops of Western Plaza ground to a halt Tuesday morning when House sponsor Rick Staples told City Council member Andrew Roberto that he will remove the bill from the House calendar.
The bill had already been approved in the Senate and would have allowed the Western Plaza developers to exceed the 35-foot height restriction imposed on new construction within 1,000 feet of a scenic highway. Opposition emerged last week when neighbors learned of the legislation and were concerned that it had gotten so close to passage without their knowledge.
Rep. Eddie Smith, who represents the Sequoyah Hills area, called an emergency meeting between the developer and the Kingston Pike Sequoyah Hills Association last Sunday to discuss those concerns, but few neighbors seemed satisfied with the developer’s explanations, which they said were vague and unclear.
On Monday, representatives of Mayor Madeline Rogero contacted City Council members with a plan to salvage the bill by imposing an 18-month deadline on the developer to come up with a clear plan. An emergency resolution was to have been placed on tonight’s City Council agenda to formalize that intention.
But on Tuesday morning, Roberto said Staples will remove the bill from the House calendar, ending the attempt to exempt Western Plaza from scenic highway restrictions.
“The concerns of the neighborhood have been communicated to the sponsor, and he said he will not present the bill,” Roberto told KnoxTNToday.com.
Bill to benefit Western Plaza developer puts emergency resolution on Council agenda
The Shops at Western Plaza are on the edge of a scenic highway that stretches from the intersection of Concord Street/Neyland Drive and Kingston Pike to the east, skips across the pike in front of Western Plaza and extends westward down Lyons View Drive to Northshore Drive. As the name suggests, the designation carries protections, including the one that requires that new buildings be no more than 35 feet tall.
Unbeknownst to most of its neighbors, Biltmore Properties, owner of Western Plaza, has been lobbying the state legislature to remove the height restriction from the shopping center property so it can proceed with a mixed-use development.
Senate sponsor Becky Massey passed the bill last month, and House sponsor Rick Staples was poised to take it to the floor last week for a final vote, but “rolled” it when Western Plaza neighbors began to complain.
Unanimously, those neighbors say they do not object to mixed-use development, but to the vagueness of the plan and the haste with which the bill has been moved toward becoming law.
Because of the complaints, state Rep. Eddie Smith, who represents the Bearden area, (Staples said he’s carrying the bill because Smith had reached his 15-bill sponsorship quota) arranged a Sunday meeting and brought in a representative of Biltmore Properties, whose vagueness did not reassure the neighborhood, many of whom said they’d been presented with a concept rather than a plan.
Many were leery of the tampering with the scenic highway designation because they remember a 2014 bill passed for the benefit of a new Tennova hospital that never materialized, leaving the property on Middlebrook Pike de-regulated and without scenic highway protection. They left the Sunday meeting with the understanding that the bill would be removed from the House calendar and re-filed next year after the developer comes up with a solid plan.
It’s election year and lawmakers are scrambling to conclude their business and get out on the campaign trail. The developer has indicated he cannot wait another year to get started.
On Monday, Mayor Madeline Rogero and her staff went to work on a proposal to salvage the project by amending the bill to give the developer 18 months to come up with a solid, workable plan. No plan, no deal.
City Council will consider this proposal tonight on an emergency basis, which means it won’t have to pass two readings.