Zoning-delayed developments going in tornado recovery zone
As appeared in The Tuscaloosa News I Saturday, March 20, 2015
By Jason Morton
Plans to build an Aldi grocery store and a Texas Roadhouse restaurant as part of a larger commercial project at the Lofts at City Center will go forward, nearly a year after being delayed because of zoning issues.
Birmingham-based Capital Growth Buchalter withdrew its plans for the project in late March 2014 when area residents objected to the company’s request for several zoning variances.
But the City Council later modified the mixed-use zoning regulations that apply to the location, which is near the intersection of McFarland Boulevard and 15th Street, making the variances unnecessary.
Aldi and Texas Roadhouse are the first phase of the commercial project, called the Shops at City Center.
“This new development will bring new and needed retail and restaurant offerings to the community,” said former Tuscaloosan Robert Buchalter, president of Capital Growth Buchalter. “With the start of construction on the commercial phase of City Center, the vision of City Center as a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use development is coming into focus.”
The retail development fronts another Buchalter project, the Lofts at City Center, a 1,226-bed, upscale student housing complex that opened in 2013. The retail and student housing developments are on the former site of Wood Square, a shopping center anchored by Hobby Lobby that was destroyed by the April 27, 2011, tornado.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the retail project will be held Monday at 3 p.m.
Company officials said the second phase of the project will be announced soon.
As part of its recovery plan following the tornado, the city adopted new zoning regulations to govern rebuilding.
For the Shops at City Center, Capital Growth Buchalter sought variances to the new mixed-use, or MX, regulations relating to building setbacks, windows, access roads and driveways. But the company withdrew its petition after residents in nearby neighborhoods complained, saying the variances would set a precedent for making exceptions to the new zoning regulations.
At the time, the city was already considering changes to the regulations, and about two months later, the City Council adopted some amendments. Most of the amendments dealt with technical and detail changes that eased the building process for developers while, according to city officials, maintaining the spirit of the recovery plan. The changes allowed Capital Growth Buchalter to proceed with its plans for the grocer and restaurant without the need for special permission from City Hall.
According to site plans submitted to City Hall in October, Aldiwilloccupyal 7,018-squarefoot building, while Texas Roadhouse will go in a 7,163-square-foot space.
Aldi, a German-based grocer, has more than 1,000 stores in the U.S. and 9,000 stores worldwide. The market-style stores are about 15,000-18,000 feet, much smaller than traditional supermarkets.
Texas Roadhouse, a casual dining chain specializing in steaks, is based in Louisville, Ky., and operates more than 450 restaurants in 49 states and four foreign countries.
This will be Aldi’s first store in Tuscaloosa, but it has others in several Alabama cities, including four in the Birmingham metro area, as well as Decatur, Cullman, Gadsden and Oxford.
Texas Roadhouse is also new to Tuscaloosa, but has a half-dozen restaurants elsewhere in Alabama.