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About 100 concerned – and some short-tempered – residents piled into the newly renovated Simpsonville Community Gym on Monday evening to hear new details and ask pointed questions about the Outlet Shoppes of Louisville, the outlet mall Horizon Group Properties is planning to build in the city.
The development, which is planned to be more than 365,000-square-feet of retail space on about 50 acres, sits just south of Interstate 64 on Buck Creek Road behind the current BP gas station, and many residents who live in that area attended the meeting to voice their concerns about mall and ask why it has to be built in Simpsonville, of all places.
Horizon Senior Vice President Tom Rumptz told the crowd that Simpsonville is the perfect place for the $75 million development, citing it’s location close to Louisville but within a short drive from Lexington and because of the state’s improvements to I-64.
“We did look at other locations but felt this was the best one,” he said. “The property is bordered to the north by Interstate 64, to the east by Buck Creek Road to the west by railroad tracks and to the south by undeveloped land.
“The site has easy on and off with I-64, and we believe we have designed the development with the least impact on the residents.”
Still, many of those in attendance voiced their concerns about Horizon’s plan to drain a 6.5-acre pond and the increased traffic the development would bring with it, and required zone change.
Deborah Bilitski, an attorney with Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs who specializes in zoning law, said the company had submitted its zone-change request and application to the Triple S Planning and Zoning Commission.
“The application was submitted today [Monday], and we hope to be on the agenda for a public hearing in July,” she said.
Officials at the office of Triple S confirmed the application was submitted in time to be on the agenda for meeting on July 17.
Along with the zoning request, Horizon awaits a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the draining of the pond and some surrounding wetlands. The pond in question was dug when I-64 was built in the early 1960s.
Bilitski said company officials weren’t sure when the Army Corps would rule on the permit, but she said she expected that decision to come sometime after the zoning hearing next month. Horizon does not need the Army Corps’ decision on its permit to request the zone change from Triple S.
The zone change request covers less than one-third of the property – some of which is zoned agriculture and some commercial. The majority is zoned Interstate Commercial. If this passes, all the property would be entered under the current regulations for Interchange Zone (called X-1), which lists outlet malls in its zoning description.
Rumptz said the company plans to work with the proper officials to move any wildlife from the pond area.
“We also moved the development a little to the north to lessen the impact of filling the pond,” said Kevin Young of Land Design Development of Louisville, who designed the development. “The part of the pond not filled in will be used for dry retention, meaning it will collect water as it runs off the paved areas and slowly release it, working much like it does now. But it won’t always be full of water, like a pond.”
The company would also have to pay mitigation fees for environmental purposes.
“Since this project would be on private land, those credits would go toward clean-water projects on public land to benefit the community,” Rumptz told the crowd.
And what happens if the Army Corps of Engineers denies the permit to fill the pond on site?
“We’d have to start looking elsewhere,” Rumptz said.
However, residents were quick to point out how the development does not fit with the surrounding area and questioned the competency and thoroughness of the planning – including the completeness of the required traffic impact study, which had been turned in to the planning and zoning office earlier that day with the application.
Bilitski tried to assure them that the study was completed in accordance with the state’s regulations and that it is currently being reviewed by state transportation officials.
Another point of concern with traffic is the amount of tractor-trailer traffic already in the intersection because of the Pilot Truck Stop, which is on the north side of I-64.
Young said the widening of ramps – which would blend into the new 4-lane overpass that has been constructed in advance of the ongoing widening of Buck Creek Road to four lanes between I-64 and U.S. 60 – to include a “free-flow” lane southbound and a dedicated right turn lane northbound should alleviate the concern of backup there.
Others compared the potential traffic backups to those that occur during peak times in Louisville around the Oxmoor and Mall St. Matthews shopping centers.
“If you look at both of those, they are probably about eight hundred thousand square feet. That’s about three times the size of our proposed site,” Rumptz said. “And that traffic is screwed up because they didn’t control their entrances, their points of access.”
Rumptz pointed to the free-flow lane from the I-64 ramp, saying it would help ease traffic concerns to the entrance, and to where Buck Creek Road would meet Veechdale Road, an intersection that would be moved south of the development and include a traffic signal with two right-turn lanes to allow traffic to enter the development on the south side. Those lanes also would be designated deceleration lanes for right turns into the development.
To help the design fit into the surrounding areas, Bilitski said the company chose a “Churchill Downs-type of theme to help it blend into the horse capital of the world.”
Said Rumptz: “In Oklahoma City [where Horizon recently opened a new development] we used a vibrant art-deco design with bright colors to fit the surroundings, and in Gettysburg [where Horizon owns a more established development] we chose a more traditional eastern seaboard look. So we always try to take into account where we’re building and what our surroundings are like.”
That design also addresses another big concern of those attending: the lighting for the mall.
“We design all our sites with what the industry calls dark-sky regulations,” Rumptz said. “Our lights don’t bleed off site, and we use a lighting system, actually from Eaton Corp [which has a facility in Simpsonville], which helps us control the lights all night.”
The question of another outlet mall opening on the east side of Buck Creek Road – as is being planned by Trio Property Development – was broached, but Rumptz said he believes that would be unlikely.
“That would give this area an outlet center that would be too big for it to support,” he said. “It would likely be bigger than the biggest one in the country, serving the New York City market.”
Shelby County District 2 Magistrate Michael Riggs, who lives on Veechdale Road, attended the meeting – although no official from the city of Simpsonville did – and reminded the citizens that it would not be Triple S or Shelby County Fiscal Court that makes the final decisions on the property. It will be Simpsonville officials, because the entire project – after some recent small annexations – all falls within the city’s boundaries.
“We need to make our voices heard on what we can affect,” Riggs said.
He noted several zoning changes, the possible waivers the developers will seek with their development plan and the road plan changes.
“These are areas we can make a difference in and be heard,” he said.