Linda Lee wasted no time in letting members of the Metropolitan Planning Commission know how she felt about Home Depot coming to town. “If this happens,” she said, “we’ll close.” Lee and her husband Chuck own the Parker Brothers Ace Hardwware on Kingston Pike in Bearden, Tennessee. Her sentiment was echoed by Claxton Mayo, Jr., who is a 4th. generation owner of Mayo Garden Centers. Mayo told officials the Bearden community doesn’t have enough market shares to go around. “I don’t think there’s enough business to go around for a Home Depot, us, Tate’s Window and Door, Witt Lumber company, and Parker Brothers and many others,” he told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. Home Depot wants to build a 130,000 s.f. store on 15 acres along Northshore Road. The land has several small homes on it, and is heavily wooded. It also happens to be zoned residential — not commercial. When strong community opposition surfaced, the developer asked the Planning Commission for a delay until August 10th. “We’ve requested a postponement to have more time to work with the neighborhood.” A total of at least seven parcels are involved, most of which the developer has under option. If anything, more time means more anger among residents of the Westwood neighborhood. The News-Sentinel quotes neighbor Joni Caldwell as saying: “We don’t need corporate America coming in here and running our merchants out of business, ripping out all our trees, and putting in a big orange building. What’s the point? Are we going to pave the entire city?” Home Depot responded to the charge of economic devastation by saying its not a conscious issue at Home Depot. The company says it doesn’t want to see smaller merchants disappear. “That’s never our intention,” said a Home Depot spokesman. “If they are willing, we invite them to come in and we tell them how to compete with us.” Which boils down to selling niche products that Home Depots won’t bother to carry. But it sounds like small merchants like Linda Lee and Claxton Mayo, Jr. don’t need to sit down at Home Depot school. They’re going to compete with the store during the zoning process, and to teach Home Depot a few lessons in local control along the way.
Home Depot has a major problem here. The land they want is NOT zoned properly They need to have it rezoned, and local officials know that rezoning is a discretionary act. They don’t have to give anyone a rezoning, and no court is going to overturn a local decision not to rezone land from residential to commercial. All the Metropolitan Planning Commission needs to say is that the project is 1) too intense a land use, 2) will adversely affect the traffic patterns and the surrounding properties, 3) will present a public safety problem because 4 big box building supply stores have sustained major fire damage since 1995, and 4) would set a land use precedent that other big box stores could ask that residential land be rezoned, nullifying the need for zoning standards in the first place. As for the claim that Home Depot never intentionally puts small merchants out of business, explain that one to Grossingers, Handy Andy, Hechinger’s, Payless Cashways, and all the regional chains that have claimed Home Depot helped nail them shut. Home Depot, if it wants, could build homes on Northshore road, but the land is not zoned commercial, and on that reason alone the MPC could turn the project down. The developer recently admitted: “We were originally interested in it for an office development.Home Depot approached us.” Hey, guys. Stick with the office park. For more details on the Beardon battle, see www.knoxnews.com.