Loudon contests Pilot complex

Company's request for exception to zoning ordinance rejected

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Whether it’s called a truck stop or a travel center, Loudon residents don’t want Pilot Corp. to build a new 6-acre fuel, restaurant and convenience store complex at state Highway 72 and Interstate 75.

The Loudon Board of Zoning Appeals on Wednesday voted unanimously to dismiss a request by Pilot for an exception to an ordinance enacted in 2005 that prevents land within the city limits from being developed as a truck stop.

“There is a difference between a truck stop and a travel center,” said Brad Butcher, senior real estate manager for Pilot. “It’s really more like an over-sized convenience store.”

Butcher argued that the exception should be granted because such activities as fueling, restaurant and retail sales currently allowed under existing C-4 zoning regulations would comprise most of the business at the facility.

“The facility is really not designed to attract commercial truckers,” he said.

More than 50 local residents appeared at the BZA meeting to oppose the Pilot plan based on concerns about traffic, crime and air quality.

“I don’t think the money from taxes is enough of a benefit to forgo the quality of life issues,” said Judy Keller, a Loudon resident active in promoting downtown business.

Keller said she was concerned that increased traffic at the intersection would keep local residents from driving to downtown Loudon restaurants and retail locations.

“We are in a position to pick and choose what kind of companies we bring to Loudon,” she added.

The proposed facility, which would have room for parking up to 100 cars and 70 tractor-trailers, also would include a truck scale, eight commercial truck refueling stations and commercial driver showers. Up to 350 trucks per day are expected to use the facilities.

“It’s a traffic nightmare right now,” said local businessman Tom Nicholson.

Loudon City Councilman Mike Cartwright said he was more concerned with the actual use of the facility by truckers than the term Pilot was using to describe the facility.

“I have no problem with a convenience store,” Cartwright said. “In 2005 we voted to exclude truck stops for various reasons related to the activity around truck stops.”

The benefits of the proposal, including 50-75 new jobs and $1 million in salaries, in addition to increased tax revenue, have to be balanced against the factual problems that could be expected to go along with the facility, BZA member Ken Brewster explained.

Loudon Air Quality Task Force Chairman Mike Crosby said he was concerned about the increased traffic at the exit, especially diesel trucks.

“We are already in noncompliance in areas of ozone and particulate matter,” he said.

Russ Newman of the County Planning Commission said it comes down to “how do you define a truck stop?”

Pilot has a right to appeal to the BZA for interpretation of the ordinance.

If an exception was granted to Pilot it would be difficult to deny such an exception to another similar facility at the same location, regardless of whether the business was called a travel center or a truck stop, Newman said.

Butcher, who said he had not anticipated such resistance from local residents, said the company will bring the issue to the Loudon City Council to request a change in the 2005 ordinance.

Cartwright said he didn’t think it was likely that the council, which voted unanimously to enact the ordinance just two years ago, would reverse its decision based on Pilot’s contention that the facility is not a truck stop.