A high-end grocery store, likely Publix, is being considered for South Broad Street. (Photo: Josh Hallett, Flickr)

A rezoning request for a potential “high-end grocery store” on South Broad Street is worrying some St. Elmo residents who say the rezoning could lead to other unwanted commercial developments.

The property is widely believed to be the site of a future Publix though that’s unconfirmed by the developer. When grocery chain came to the North Shore, the same developer also initially declined to confirm that it was a Publix.

The South Broad Street location, which is still owned by the former operators of the old Mt. Vernon restaurant, is currently zoned as “urban general commercial.” This type of zoning allows for a wider variety of retail and is characterized by features that facilitate easier pedestrian traffic.

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The rezoning request asks for the property to be changed to a convenience commercial zone, which still allows retail, but allows for bigger parking lots and more vehicle-oriented designs.

Some nearby residents are concerned that this change could set a precedent for the area and lead to strip malls and more drive-thrus.

“What happens on South Broad Street is really important to St. Elmo because it’s our connection to the rest of the city,” former city transportation engineer Bertran Kuyrkendall said. “Everyone’s really excited for the vision for South Broad; it could become like a Main Street or a Cherokee Boulevard. But if we can’t stick with form-based code, it could put the whole area in jeopardy.”

Kuyrkendall is also responsible for creating an online petition to “save the vision for South Broad.” The petition currently has nearly 900 signatures.

Jim Johnson, a concerned citizen and business owner, also said that the proposed rezoning could also take away from the city’s potential tax revenue if completed. He used the North Market Street Publix as an example.

“Parking lots take up space where additional retail could be,” Johnson said. “If they had put in a little bit [more retail], more tax revenue would have come in.”

Some citizens are excited to have someplace nearby to shop for their food.

Another Chattanooga resident, Lawrence Miller, said that while he doesn’t live in the area, he thinks a grocery store could be highly beneficial because it could serve a population of people who do not already have one nearby.

“I think there’s more of an upside to it than down,” Miller said.

Mike Price with MAP Engineers who represents the developer of the property said that he applied for rezoning because the current zone creates too many restraints on a property that is already challenging.

“This site does not conform to what [the residents] asking for,” Price said.

Price also said that residents do not have to worry about this setting a precedent for the area.

“Looking at the terms used by the opposition, they’re fearful of things that I don’t think are going to occur,” he said. “These are similar to the concerns people had [about the Publix on North Market Street]. [The store] has been very successful, met a need in that neighborhood and did not create an atmosphere where developers came in and tried to gut the area plan.”

The rezoning request will be addressed in an upcoming Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission meeting on June 11.

The Chattanooga Times-Free Press is reporting that city planners are already gearing up to recommend denial of the rezoning request because it is not compatible with the vision set for this area.

A community meeting over the request is planned for June 7 at 6 p.m. at Calvary Chapel at 3415 Broad St.

Alina Hunter-Grah is a contributing writer. She is a graduate of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where she received a bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor in political science. Alina has three years of journalism experience including time spent with CNN and 2nd & Church, a magazine based in Nashville, Tennessee. You can reach Alina at  [email protected] or on Twitter @alinahuntergrah

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