After two requests to rezone an area at the front of the Royal Oaks development in Maryville, new efforts to spark a conversation with Maryville have the city talking about development in the Royal Oaks subdivision.
Planning commissioners on Monday night discussed a letter dated June 19 from Foothills Golf LLC’s owner Tinker Richmond, who urged the city once again to consider rezoning land in the front of Royal Oaks from residential to commercial.
The letter also detailed possibilities for development inside the subdivision including rights of way for utility installation.
Richmond and his daughter, Marnice, formerly owned the Royal Oaks Golf Course before it was closed in November 2018 and are still hoping to make money on the land as it changes from abandoned course space to lots or open land.
Since the the closing, questions about residential and other types of development have loomed over the area.
One particular piece of land, a small, 7-acre parcel off U.S. Highway 411 South near the subdivision entrance — once the golf course’s hole No. 3 — has been a subject of controversy for several years.
The spot would be more valuable if sold commercially rather than as residential, Richmond said in a phone interview, and he’s determined to get the most value from it. “As a commercial piece of property it’s worth a couple million dollars. With residential it’s worth maybe a couple hundred (thousand).”
But it’s also a point of concern for residents who are worried traffic and a view of the mountains would be significantly affected by commercial development.
Royal Oaks Property Owners Association President Rick Ziegler said even though it’s been more than a year since the last official request for rezoning hole No. 3 went through, sentiments about the situation haven’t changed.
“I think if rezoning is requested again ... there would be people concerned about the same things,” he said.
The top on that list of concerns is a proposed Chick-fil-A that Ziegler said could cause traffic access problems and even road-use and maintenance issues inside the subdivision.
Richmond confirmed a signed contract for 2 acres of the land with Chick-fil-A already exists, pending rezoning approval. But he also indicated it’s not the actual restaurant but the location that matters in this scenario. “It’s the best piece of property left along 411 South and it has some real value.”
Richmond said an agent told him the land could be sold for around a $1 million an acre.
He said in his letter that such a move would not only benefit him, but the city as well. “We feel like this decision could impact a positive change for the city and the possible taxes it could generate,” he wrote in the letter handed out during the Monday work session.
Commissioners weren’t so sure.
Maryville takes another look
“There’s a number of players in this whole scenario,” City Planner Jordan Clark commented during the city’s workshop. “There’s the homeowners association, there’s the owner of the golf course, there’s any other developers who may come in and try and purchase those areas, and there’s us.”
Clark said he’s been in discussions with Ziegler about developing a plan for the open golf course land. Richmond included his own thoughts concerning some of these plans in his June letter to the Planning Commission, suggesting ways for city utilities to be installed on the land.
But Maryville City Manager Greg McClain noted that another option under consideration is for the newly formed Royal Oaks Conservancy to buy the open land and leave it open, a plan he said would be ideal and which all parties see favorably. “That would take care of 90% of the issues,” McClain added.
“We know that some of this is going to go to development no matter what,” said Matt Jagnow, president of the Royal Oaks Conservancy, a group incorporated in November 2018 with the intent of conserving and transforming some of the Royal Oaks Golf Course tracts into green space.
“We know there has to be some land set aside for green space, so instead of it being an acre here or an acre there, let’s combine that and make an actual destination park.”
Jagnow said the group received 501(c)(3) status in June and is ready to accept grants for buying the land. He knows that they may not be as quick as developers when it comes to “having the cash on hand” but agreed with McClain’s sentiment that turning golf course land into green spaces would be amenable to everyone.
But the focus of the workshop discussion was on the request for rezoning the land at the front of the subdivision, and with property being bought up inside for development and the future of the area becoming clearer and clearer, Richmond is eager to get answers.
“Please ... help Maryville to get the money it needs for future development by allowing companies to purchase our land and grow their business within this wonderful and burgeoning town,” Richmond wrote.
“This land fulfills all the requirements for it to be changed, as it is the only remaining piece of land within that entire area that is not zoned commercial,” he said.
Clark reminded commissioners of the area’s history, noting that past rezoning requests had not been turned down, but never made it through the entire process for approval.
Commissioners were dubious, however. “I could not see a Chick-fil-A being there,” Commission Chair Keri Prigmore said. “But I could see it as being developed for something with less traffic.”
“I think it’s a a bridge too far to (zone) it to business transportation,” McClain agreed, pointing out it would be better to zone it with the neighborhood in mind.
Added Clark: “We’re kind of in the same situation we have been in. Until all the players come to the table and are willing to talk I’m not sure that we can just say ‘Yeah, this looks good. Let’s go for it.’”
The Planning Commission is set to meet again in mid-August, but there was no indication during the work session whether or not Royal Oaks development issues would appear on the agenda.