Today is Wednesday, August 16, 2017

City again stops construction of south MJ Starbucks, others

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For the second time in four months, the City of Mt. Juliet has stopped progress on the South Mt. Juliet Starbucks as well as other businesses within that strip mall, which was originally slated to open by May.

The first stop work order was issued in January and lasted three weeks. It was an attempt by the city to convince Memphis-based developer Boyle Investments to add a rear cross-access to their tenant Publix's center - near the new strip center that will have not only Starbucks, but also Moe's, Supercuts, a Chinese restaurant and Edible Arrangements.

"Without the cross access the traffic will be problematic, to say the least," District 4 City Commissioner Brian Abston said, referring to the fact customers must go through Holiday Inn Express's drive to access the businesses. There's only one entry /exit at this time.

Abston said January's stop work order got discussions going again, and the city lifted it in hopes a "solution" could be reached. Henceforth, there have been multiple meetings but just last week the city realized there is still an impasse.

Abston said talks have gone south, and they have no choice but to try to bring Boyle back to the table with another stop work order. He confirmed the stop work order took effect at 10 a.m. Tuesday and will stop work on those businesses that already have completed facades and some that have their signs up.

Edible Arrangements is already open, but Abston said since it's mostly a delivery business and won't bring in traffic, it can operate.

Abston originally said he had great hope the developer would pay for the second entrance, but Adam Ballash with Boyle supplied Abston and the City of Mt. Juliet with 2009 documents he said show final approval, and he said the plans "ultimately reconciled the environmental permitting, removed the bridge, realigned the creek and permitted the removal of wetlands." In other words, Ballash indicated Boyle was not legally bound to add a second entrance to what Abston termed "Mt. Juliet's latest crash spot." The current plan of action will allow just one access to the property, and it is shared with the Holiday Inn Express.

An April 15 meeting was "blown off" by Boyle, Abston said, and rescheduled for April 18.

"Basically all the meetings were them telling us all the reasons why they can't do it (build an access bridge)," Abston said.

He indicated the city was told misinformed by Boyle that TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) would not allow a bridge or alternative route.

"But, when we talked to them (TDEC) they said, 'sure' it was allowed," he said. "Obviously, though it will take some money and time, Boyle doesn't want to spend the money."

Abston said, "We believe Boyle is legally and morally obligated to construct an alternative access to the property."

Through the months, according to Abston, Boyle representative Mark Traylor and his attorney produced five different alternative plans. Abston said three of the plans were "no good" at all and "two were workable."

Those two were narrowed to one, which "was not the bridge we really needed," but a rear-type exit.

"They did some engineering work and said it was just too expensive to do," Abston said. "Our position is, it's not necessarily our concern how much it costs them, it's a public safety concern, and it's been their obligation from the beginning. Their last option wasn't the bridge, but it was workable."

Apparently now, that's no longer an option offered by Boyle. Abston said most likely Boyle will take the city to court to lift the stop work order; however, even it it's lifted, Abston said in the end the businesses will not be able to obtain certificate of occupancy.

So as of Tuesday, work is stopped.

"I hate this," Abston said. "Everyone wants to work this out the right way and see these businesses flourish, one aspect is public safety in an already overly congested area. Equally important are the tenants there now and the fact this is keeping them from having a great location. The way it is now will keep people away. They deserve what's right."

He said the future businesses are in the "cross fire." "We were looking forward to having them open and no problem with the tenants," Abston said. "We are fighting just as much for them."

Abston said he's not talked personally with any of the future tenants except for the vice president of Starbucks.

"Of course, they want to open up. But they seem to understand."

He said, "At this point I have no idea how long this process will take with litigation."

Abston said he's taken some heat over the issue but has had a lot of support as well.

"I've been asked if I want to be known as the commissioner who lost Starbucks," he said. "I know they want to be there in South Mt. Juliet. I guess I'd rather want to be known as the one who lost Starbucks, rather than known as the one who let things be unsafe."

Abston still holds out hope Boyle will "step up."

Calls to Boyle were unreturned at press time. Writer Laurie Everett can be reached at laurieeverett1@gmail.com

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