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'A transformative project' | Developers propose four apartment buildings along Cumberland Strip

The project would combine 24 existing lots including Mellow Mushroom, Shell, Stefano's Pizza, University Liquors, Panera Bread and Taco Bell.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Four major apartment buildings and a parking garage could replace 24 existing lots along the Cumberland Strip. Developers are hoping to get the "Hub on Campus Development" approved.

There are at least 18 properties with the same name across the country including the University of Florida, University of Kentucky and University of Alabama. 

"We've been working on it for quite some time. It's — I think — a transformative project for the city, for the Cumberland Avenue area," one developer said at the Knoxville Board of Zoning Appeals meeting. "We do think that there's a lot of benefit for this development."

Credit: Hub on Campus

The central building would be located along Cumberland Avenue between 19th and 20th streets, where Stefano's Pizza, Jimmy John's and University Liquors are currently located.

Plans show it would be 10 stories tall — more than allowed under current zoning regulations — with 313 units and commercial space. Documents suggest it could be used for a "national big/medium-box brand tenant(s)."

Credit: Hub On Campus
Rendering for Building 1

RELATED: Developer purchases entire block of Cumberland Avenue businesses

Building 2 would replace the Rocky Top Market/Shell station across the street. It would include a drive-thru Taco Bell, so developers could use the existing Taco Bell across the street.

"Taco Bell is perfectly comfortable staying put [where they are now] forever. They're like, 'We're going to keep our drive through there forever and never move,'" developers told the Knoxville BZA. "The thesis was to swap one location for the other."

BZA members expressed concerns over the variance request to allow for the new Taco Bell location.

"Anytime we see 14 variances, it's a red flag ... One concern I immediately zero in on is building to accommodate a drive-thru, which I know is against the spirit and intent of Cumberland Avenue area plan," one person said. "[It] sounds like the hardship is you've got an existing tenant you need to relocate. That's not really a hardship for our zoning ordinance."

Credit: Hub On Campus
Rendering for Building 2

RELATED: FarmHouse fraternity site near UT campus acquired by Chicago housing developer

Building 3 would be constructed on the properties where Mellow Mushroom, the Cook Out Office/Store, Insomnia Cookies and Victor's Tacos currently are. Plans submitted show it would be eight stories tall and include 168 units.

Building 4 would be built where the existing Taco Bell, Yesterday's Bar, Panera Bread, Tennessee Farmhouse Fraternity and property previously owned by Bob Lattimer are located. 

It would be eight stories tall and have about 237 units, documents show.

Credit: Hub On Campus

A central parking garage would be located behind the main first building. Covenant Health, which operates Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, would own about 212 spots; developers wrote they've offered 85 to 90 spots to East Tennessee Children's Hospital.

Transfer student Daniel Pavolic said he thinks the new development is a great idea.

"When I was trying to transfer here, looking for living was kind of hard," he said. "It opens up a lot more places. [Tennessee] is a growing school."

Other students said there are too many similar mixed-use development buildings, like the Standard, Slate at 901 and the TENN.

"There's only so many lots and there's all this food," Tate Donley said. "How much space and how many apartments can you fit on this two-lane road? Cumberland Avenue is not that big."

The developer's local representative said they are unable to share more details at the moment because of non-disclosure agreements. 

Strip area businesses have already been through a lot -- following a major redesign some years ago of the busy road and sidewalks. Many current businesses will either be displaced or closed. 

"Everybody's dealing with it in a different way," business owner Joseph Smith said. "Some are trying to find a valuable space, which is hard and expensive. And, you know, others are maybe seeing it as an opportunity to move to a different location."

Smith owns The Half Barrel among other businesses on the Cumberland strip. He said this has been a place for many locals, but after the changes, the landscape has been transformed a lot.

"[Locals] come here, and they expect certain things," Smith said. "And now, I mean, that's one thing that your favorite bar restaurants not here anymore. It's another one of all the buildings thing is gone. And, you know, people don't even recognize it anymore."

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