Oak Ridge Referendum Fails

By: Mike McCarthy
By: Mike McCarthy

Oak Ridge (WVLT) - A big night at the polls in a number of places, first, Oak Ridge, as voters reject a controversial a new shopping center.

By 450 votes, voters denied council the ability to issue up to six million dollars in bonds. That money would've funded site work to transform Pine Ridge into a $65 million retail hot spot.

Volunteer TVs Mike McCarthy has more on what this could mean now for the city.

It was a grassroots effort by citizens that got the referendum on the ballot. It was a grassroots effort of signs and neighbors talking to neighbors that spread the word, and that effort of around 50 Oak Ridgers got a big result.

The signs in oak ridge don't just divide the highway, they've split the community.

"As long as it brings revenue and jobs, I'm all for it," resident Jeremiah Henderson said.

"I think it's a foolish enterprise," resident Virginia Jones said.

Turns out, most voters thought the proposed Crestpoint shopping center on Pine Ridge was foolish. So they denied.

"A bond referendum which is associated with retail development," Mayor David Bradshaw said.

Up to six million dollars in bonds.

"Up at this point is probably where the target will be," said Charlie Jernigan from For the Future of Oak Ridge.

Or would've been. Charlie Jernigan was hoping the money would turn these rocks in retail space. That would've meant much grating, road and utility work.

"The developers have been very, very clear that to prepare this site for the 400,000 square feet of total retail space would require some assistance from the city," Bradshaw said.

But now it's not coming. The city also would've funded the rest of its 10 and half million dollar investment from debt reserves.

"In about 13 years would be repaid solely through the property tax paid off on the property," Bradshaw said.

Exactly why when the polls closed, many voters had said no.

"Using the city's reserve fund, what was raised in 2004 for the high school," Jones said.

But....

"You're looking at year one of declining sales tax," Bradshaw said.

And with this site now staying grass.

"That pressure will only continue to ramp up year after year until we begin to see the pressure for a property tax increases," Bradshaw said.

Oak Ridge City Council already bumped up property tax 10 cents.

"If retail sales had been stronger, we wouldn't have need that tax increase this year," Bradshaw said.

Voters have suggestions.

"We need to support small businesses. The city seems really intent on having big box stores," Jones said.

This time, voters kept the big boxes out of town.

Bradshaw says council has 3 or 4 other developers who have different retail proposals, but none of them as large as this one.

And there will be three new faces on council to decide how to handle Oak Ridge's sales tax issues.

Tuesday, voters elected Tom Hayes, Ellen Smith, and l. C. Charlie Hensley.

In other races, two incumbents on the school board kept their seats.
Voters re-elected Angie Agle and Keys Fillauer.

Robert McNees the third ran unopposed as city judge


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