Monteagle, Tenn. – Though started before the COVID-19 season opened wide in the US, there had been a flurry of anger and hostility about the incoming Petro Stopping Center off the interstate in Monteagle. Though the process had been underway since the beginning of the year, a franchise agreement was formally promoted by Petro in May with a press release. The release cited Rodney Kilgore and Brian and Tammy Graber as primary developers of the new property.
The property boasted 125 jobs, bringing a Papa John’s, Bojangles’ and Betty’s Chicken along with a barbershop, fitness center, driver’s lounge, laundry facilities and even a pet wash. Arguable most prominently, the center promised 300 truck parking spaces. Not to mention that the increased retail tax would undoubtedly help the local economy. Brian Graber took the opportunity on a local cable access program to update the status of the project. Brian Graber acknowledged that there was a certain degree of ambiguity to the timeline of the project but stated resolutely that the project was still continuing.
Graber gave a little history to the project. The partners in the project went to both Marion County Mayor David Jackson and then Monteagle Mayor David Sampley to layout the broad strokes of what they hoped to bring to the area and felt like there was support for the concept. The partners moved forward working with Southeast Tennessee Development District working with the state on permits and procedural reviews. The property just west of exit 135 on I-24 was secured in a purchase which included “10 to 12 parcels” which was already zoned commercial according to Graber.
“Petro was very excited,” Graber began, “…and Petro is the Lexus of stopping centers.” Graber recalled several trips the partners made throughout the United State to get owner input as to which title property to settle on between “TA” and “Petro Stopping Center” as both were under the umbrella of TravelCenters of America. Graber indicated there was really no debate as to what caliber of center the local investors wanted to bring. “We wanted to be good neighbors…,” Graber stated regarding the environment they hoped to cultivate at the new center. Graber said that state planners came on board with the preliminary plans and that estimates of as much as $1.2 million in retail sales per month could translate to around $18,000 per month in local tax revenue.
However, not everyone was on board. Most namely were local residents that had property near or adjacent to the proposed development site. Graber mentioned that a demand for an aesthetic wall being built between the commercial property and the residential developments nearby was something that local developers agreed to very early in the process. “We immediately agreed to the wall and some other [consideration],” Graber said. However, a question of the zoning of the property was brought into question by those opposed to the development. Graber said as developers researched the zoning claims, it turned out that the property had actually been zoned commercial in an effort to prevent a residential housing development from being built near the residences already built. As Graber put it, “Now they were upset because they got what they wanted.” Graber indicated that the zoning issues were something that was firmly established in the property purchase process. “When we purchased the property, title insurance investigated and signed off that the parcel was all commercial,” Graber said.
Graber was quick to follow up with the people that he had met with regarding the project and its location are “good people.” Graber said he had met with local residents for “two-and-a-half hours” and felt like there were no differences that could not be worked out. Graber added he had already taken some guidance from nearby homeowners including the wall and even the direction of lampposts to try and minimize the effects of the center on nearby homes. Graber seemed to indicate that most of the distance between nearby homes could be resolved. However, the timeline being disrupted seems to be lying at the feet of the city.
“We dropped off five sets of plans to the city… and I received a receipt for them,” Graber said. Graber said that now Monteagle Mayor Tony Gilliam had acknowledged to him and his partners that the city is the hold up on moving forward on the project. Graber went a step further saying that he was promised a phone call to schedule a meeting with the city and “hash things out.” However, Graber is still waiting for the call which was promised “tomorrow” several days ago. Graber said the needed to have the meeting “relatively soon or we’re going to have to file suit.” Efforts to reach out to Mayor Tony Gilliam were not immediately answered.