Defenders of the embattled Jacksonian Apartments hope Metro’s Traffic and Parking Commission will throw up the roadblock necessary to halt plans to replace the historic building with a Walgreen drugstore. On May 21 Metro’s Board of Zoning Appeals granted zoning variances that will allow developer Russell Morris III to raze the Jacksonian and build the drugstore. Nevertheless, Metro Zoning administrator Sonny West cautions, “It’s not over yet.”
In order to proceed with their plans, Morris and his attorney, Tom White, must come up with a traffic circulation plan that will get the green light from the Traffic and Parking Commission and from traffic engineers at the Metro Department of Public Works.
The Traffic and Parking Commission must approve any changes that might affect traffic in nearby streets and alleys. The alley which provides access to the rear of the Jacksonian building is considered a public street.
Morris is expected to propose a traffic plan that will prohibit drivers from making left turns onto West End Avenue. The developer’s plan may also request that the existing alley be changed into a one-way thoroughfare. At the very earliest, the commission would consider these changes is at its July meeting.
Paul Durham, chairman of the Traffic and Parking Commission, says he has not seen the Walgreen traffic plan and, thus, has not taken a position on it. But Durham, pastor of Radnor Baptist Church and a potential candidate for mayor, is known to be a stickler for details when it comes to traffic issues. During his tenure as commission chairman, Durham attracted intense public attention when he led the charge to close Second Avenue to traffic on summer weekends.
“He does his homework,” says Vickie Saito, a fellow commission member. “I’ve never seen anyone on a volunteer board work harder.” Durham’s term on the commission expired April 3, but he continues to serve as chairman while Mayor Phil Bredesen decides whether to renew Durham’s term or replace him.
The commission will be voting on specific traffic issues, but the Walgreen traffic plan raises broader questions about life on West End Avenue. The proposed Walgreen would occupy the northeast corner of the busy intersection at West End and 31st Avenue. Even now, West End is a relentless stream of seven lanes of traffic in front of The Jacksonian. It is easy to imagine that motorists might have a difficult time gaining access to a Walgreen on that corner. And the planned drugstore, which proposes a drive-through window, is intended to attract motorists.
But a Walgreen shopper headed downtown would have to cross three lanes of traffic, without the aid of a traffic light, in order to reach the alley leading from West End to the drive-through window. When making a turn into the alley, a driver might find himself in the same turn lane used by drivers heading out of town. One local traffic specialist describes this situation as “playing chicken in the suicide lane.”
Bill Lockwood, a traffic engineer with Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon, says he’s now working on his “eighth or ninth” version of the Walgreen traffic plan. Observers suggest that the numerous revisions have been required because the site now occupied by the Jacksonian is really too small to accommodate the typical plan for a Walgreen with a drive-through window. Such plans work in suburban settings; the Jacksonian site is quintessentially urban. Fitting the drugstore into the Jacksonian property has been “a shoehorn situation from the very beginning,” says Public Works traffic engineer John Gregor.
Preservationists and planners have united in their opposition to Morris’ plan to replace an urban apartment building with a suburban strip store. Preservationists say the 1917 Jacksonian building, designed by Donald Southgate, one of Nashville’s best-known architects between the World Wars, is a worthy part of Nashville’s past. Planners say The Jacksonian is a better fit for the future of West End Avenue than a Walgreen is.
In his arguments to the zoning board attorney Tom White, said a Walgreen drugstore on the site of The Jacksonian is consistent with the Metro Planning Commission’s General Plan for Nashville-Davidson County. However, the General Plan actually says Metro should “discourage traditional retail strip development and seek feasible alternatives for arterial sites.” The plan also says Metro should “facilitate the development of residential uses along arterials.”
West End Avenue is an arterial roadway. The Jacksonian is a multi-tenant residential structure. Yet the zoning board granted a variance to a developer who wants to replace a residential building with a retail strip shop on a major arterial. “Save Jack” activists can only hope that the Traffic and Parking Commission will play more closely by the rules.
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