If a Town Center, it’s horizontal, walkable; if not, it’s ‘big-box’ time: Povlin

A “horizontal approach,” or one-story approach, to building a mixed-use Farragut Town Center at the current old Kroger location is “what they all suggested, what they said would be a great concept” when it comes to developer feedback Town administrator David Smoak said he’s received “as I have gone around the country talking to developers about doing that here.

“Having the uses close together, but not just on top of each other,” he added during his Town business update to Shop Farragut/Farragut Business Alliance at its monthly Zoom (electronic) meeting Thursday morning, Sept. 17.

A more “vertical” or multi-story approach, however, resulted “in a lot of ‘no’s’” from those same developers, emphasizing “there’s been a lot of, ‘that really doesn’t work in suburban communities; it’s difficult to finance, it’s difficult to find (someone) to do it right, to do it well,’” Smoak said.

He added such developers have said they’ve found “easier places to that you can go” to make such vertical town center plans work.

However, he maintained the Town would “ultimately love to see … a vertical component” in overall Town growth, which “we still have on the books in our Land Use Plan.”

As for a breakdown of business versus residential for the proposed Center, “I think the current concept shows about 63,000 square feet of commercial,” Smoak said. “That’s actually less than what the old Kroger building is now.”

Feedback, ‘big box’ fear

In terms of planning and citizen feedback, he said, “We’ve done several studies over the years on Mixed-Use Town Centers, and people want to see mixed use in Farragut — it’s something that’s a priority for them.”

In Smoak’s 10 years as Town administrator, “Every time we’ve done a survey — and we’ve done three of them … it’s always been one of the top things on people’s list,” he said. “They’d like to have a unique sense of feel, they’d like to have a walkable community, they’d like to have a mix of uses.

“All those boxes are getting checked here,” Smoak added.

In terms of pro-Town Center feedback, Farragut Vice Mayor Louise Povlin said she’s “gotten a lot of positive private e-mails.

“They will not venture onto social media; there are some people locally that are against this,” she added.

Moreover, Povlin pointed out “a pretty vocal group that has disseminated a flyer” in Concord Hills, asking Alliance chair Candace Viox, a Concord Hills resident, if that is correct.

“I got a thing in the mail … a group of people are yelling about it,” Viox said.

“They’ve done this with 5G and Sweet Briar (opposition), and filled it up with a lot of scare tactics and mis-information.”

About the anti-Town Center voices, “I don’t think that they’ve read the Land Use Plan,” Povlin said. “I don’t think they understand what the alternative is.”

Concerning the Biddle property where the Town Center is to be located, “If we don’t plan for it, the natural, suburban development would be another big box with another long strip mall to support it,” she added. “In the numbers that I’ve calculated, that would bring much more traffic in the area than what is currently proposed.”

Such an alternative “is unconscionable … is not walkable, it’s ubiquitous,” she added. “… What we’re trying to achieve is a walkable community.”

Even if a big box retailer were to aid the Town’s sales tax revenue in the short term, “Big boxes tend to have a life span of about 15, 20 years,” Povlin said. “In 15 to 20 years, we would potentially leave future generations with another empty big box sitting where this current big box (old Kroger) is.

“The last thing we need to do is invite more big boxes into the heart of our Town.”

Povlin said she is hoping more Town residents “do some research because our Town is aging,” hoping they will embrace “this walkable infrastructure.”

Viox said choosing the correct growth plan is vital, given her observation the rate of those moving into Farragut from around the state, region and nation “is insane.”

However, “I hear the other side: ‘we don’t want those people,’” she added. “‘We don’t want people from California moving here.’”