Tower Design Approved for Hill and Locust

Hill and Locust Development, Design Review Board, Knoxville, June 2024
Hill and Locust Development, Design Review Board, Knoxville, June 2024

In its third appearance before the Design Review Board, the Hill and Locust project backed by Woodfield Development gained approval on an 8 to 0 vote. The project, controversial to many, particularly residents living behind its proposed location, is quite different from the project as originally proposed. Originally more of a monolithic structure, the core of the building has been broken into visible sections that more resemble a group of buildings. (You can see the fine details of the proposal, including grade drawings, material composition, etc. here.)

I’ve included below the original rendering presented in April. It’s from a different perspective, but major differences are obvious. The group met with those concerned after the April meeting and made some revisions as a result. With the Design Review Board still not pleased with some components of the project, the group returned with revisions based on their feedback, resulting in the image above.

Rendering of Locust and Hill from the Southeast (As Initially Presented in April 2024)

The project continues to include five stores of parking on the bottom, primarily accessed via Hill Avenue. While the massing has shifted to make the eastern end of the project taller (18 stories) and the western end (adjacent to Henley Street) shorter (13 stories). The number of stories includes the five stories of parking, which will rise roughly to the level of the Henley Bridge, meaning the structure will rise about 8 stories above Henley, but the full eighteen stories over Locust which cuts past headed toward Neyland.

The frontage on Hill will be quite different, coming in much shorter at seven stories and only rises one story above its closest neighbor. It will include what is being referenced as a “coffee shop” or “retail” space, but it appears to be more accurately a lobby entrance for the residences. While it includes about 290 homes, it includes parking for 399 cars. Under downtown guidelines, it does not have to provide parking. Some questions were asked regarding the amount of parking provide and whether it might be better to use some of that space to provide more units.

The building will include just shy of 300 homes, coming in above any other project completed thus far in downtown Knoxville. The apartments, slated to be high-end from the beginning, now include penthouses. Also included, and visible from Henley, will be an amenity level including a pool. The building components wrap around the pool level forming something of an uneven (in height) “C” on the south side.

Hill and Locust Development, Design Review Board, Knoxville, June 2024
Hill and Locust Development, Design Review Board, Knoxville, June 2024

The meeting began with a listing of the primary revisions made since the last review. A penthouse level was added to the tops of the portions of the buildings, and those are set-back, making them more visually obvious. Vertical “fencing” or plates were added to the garage with the exception of the first floor, in an attempt to break up the massing. The bottom floor of the garage, which had previously been changed to include openings that could be converted to retail as needed, now includes a glassed-in space on the corner of Locust and Front which can be used as a retail location or (more likely) as an amenity space.

Also added to the latest iteration is landscaping, including shade trees along Locust and front, a seating space between the building and Henley, and a dog park on a small parcel located on the other side of Henley, but also owned by the developers. Related to landscaping is a proposal of a pedestrian pathway that would connect the development to the pedestrian bridge crossing Neyland near Calhoun’s. This would involve DOT and they have been contacted regarding the proposal.

Hill and Locust Development, Design Review Board, Knoxville, June 2024

City staff recommended accepting of the currently proposed design, pending an engineering review, and approval of signage and other small details.

The developers formally presented the latest design, with Gary Rogers expressing appreciation for the process and saying, “We’ve come a long way and the feedback has made the project better. We are proud of this project.” The changes to the building and to landscape design were also detailed.

Opposition speakers then had a turn at the floor and the first to speak was Josh Wright. In what has to be a first for the Design Review Board, Josh, who is Chair of the Board, but who also built The Overlook, whose view will be blocked and who lives in that building, recused himself from the board but then spoke vehemently against the project as part of the opposition, both this time and last. He insisted the project does not meet guidelines and will have a negative impact on any future development of Neyland.

Hill and Locust Development, Design Review Board, Knoxville, June 2024
Hill and Locust Development, Design Review Board, Knoxville, June 2024

Others, most of whom also live at the Overlook, also spoke in opposition. The theme of not conforming to guidelines was repeated and suggestions were made that the renderings are not accurate and more of the Henley Bridge will be obscured than the renderings reveal. The scale of the project came in for criticism, and the fact that over 1,000 people signed a petition opposing the project was noted. The point was made that this building forms a wall between downtown and the river whereas cities like Chattanooga have limited the height of buildings near the river to avoid such a fate. Concerns were also expressed regarding traffic flows.

The developers responded that their project will not inhibit any future development along Neyland and that the design guidelines for downtown are guidelines and not codes. They said they felt they had addressed may of the concerns. They pointed out that City Staff took the position that they had met guidelines.

The board then held the shortest discussion to date regarding the project, before voting eight to zero to approve the design. Next up, the group will likely go to City Council and request a tax abatement and other details will be addressed. How soon the project will proceed depends on their response from City Council and how long that process takes.

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