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Cooperation was key for Turkey Creek developers


May 15 , 2006
By ROGER HARRIS
From The Knoxville News Sentinel

Nothing turns a developer's dream into a nightmare faster than well-organized homeowners associations, vocal environmentalists and tight-fisted politicians.

In the late 1990s, Turkey Creek Land Partners faced all three when it announced plans to develop 410 acres of largely vacant land on the southwest corner of Interstate 40/75 and Lovell Road.

But TCLP was determined to prevail.

How'd they do it?

In a word, they listened.

When homeowners associations complained about having a giant shopping center in their backyard, TCLP doubled to 100 feet the width of the buffer zone separating residential neighborhoods and the retail center now anchored by SuperTarget and Wal-Mart Supercenter.

The developers also built an 8-foot-high wooden fence behind the shopping center and paid to move utility company power lines that crossed the backyards of some homeowners.

TCLP "made an attempt to work with us. They weren't confrontational," said Farragut Alderman Tom Rosseel, who represented Stonecrest subdivision homeowners in negotiations with Turkey Creek developers prior to running for office.

"We started in 1995, and negotiations went all the way to 2001, so it was a long process and it wasn't easy. ... We got many of the things we were hoping for, but not everything," Rosseel said.

When environmentalists complained that the Turkey Creek development plan would destroy one of the last unsullied wetlands in Knox County, TCLP set aside 58 acres as a nature conservancy and brought in the Izaak Walton League to manage the wetlands.

The Parkside Drive extension that cuts through the development site features an environmentally friendly design to ensure the free flow of water and animals through the wetlands.

TCLP didn't do everything the opposition wanted, but whenever possible, the investors spent the money to solve a problem, said Jim Nixon, a TCLP partner and a principal of First Commercial Real Estate.

Convincing his partners to spend the money was sometimes harder than negotiating with the opposition, said Nixon, who was the partnership's lead negotiator with neighborhood groups.

In all, TCLP spent more than $2 million solving environmental problems.

The partnership severely underestimated the cost of environmental remediation, but the investors had no choice but to pony up the money, Nixon said.

"I'd go to the partners and ask them for more money and they wouldn't always want to do it, but it was the right thing to do, and in the end, they always came up with the money," Nixon said.

Dealing with the politics was a bit easier. The thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in new tax revenue that would be generated by the project convinced most local elected officials to support the development.

Still, there was the $6 million TCLP wanted from city and county governments to extend Parkside Drive across the development site.

To sweeten the deal, TCLP donated the land for the road, paid for the engineering and guaranteed it would cover any cost overruns in building the road.

"There are always overruns. That ended up costing us about $700,000, but we would have done anything to get that road," Turley said. "We had to have the road, and it made the officials feel better that we would cover the overruns."

Cooperation makes a lot more sense than confrontation, Nixon said. The previous owner of the Turkey Creek land, BML Associates of Florida, refused to work with Knoxville and Farragut and was never able to do anything with the property.

"They finally gave up, and that's when we came in," Nixon said.

Business writer Roger Harris may be reached at 865-342-6342.

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