PHOTO: Reports from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation say the gravel from the new parking space has entered nearby storm drains. / Photo courtesy of the city of Spring Hill
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
A string of businesses off of Duplex Road on School Street are continuing to face lost business nearly a year after losing road access to their parking spaces, with the property owner Tim Neal’s attempts to resolve the issue catching the attention of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).
Beginning in November 2017 and handled by Eutaw Construction, the Duplex Road widening project is projected to be completed sometime in 2020, and will see the road widened to five lanes from Interstate 65 to Main Street. In July of 2018, businesses on School Street such as Old School Vapor and Yankee Clippers suddenly found their parking spaces were no longer accessible from the road, which had been paved three feet lower than it was before.
Tim Neal, the property owner for the School Street businesses, had sold a portion of his property to the state in 2016 for $8,500. During the negotiations between Neal and the state, Neal was briefed on specifically what portions of his property he was selling. Neal has previously said he was not made aware of the effect the sale could have on his tenants’ parking access, and that he was not informed as to the state’s intent to lower School Street.
Nearly a year after first losing access to their parking, the business owners say they’re still seeing lower than normal sales.
Sam Oechslin, who runs the Old School Vapor shop, said their sales were significantly lower when compared to the same time last year. Oechslin has also been highly critical in the past of the city’s response to the issue, or rather, the lack thereof.
City staff has maintained that the issue is mostly out of their control, as the Duplex Road widening project is a state project, managed by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Once construction on Duplex Road around School Street was completed, Oechslin, along with his stepfather who owns the business, helped fund an effort to give customers access to the parking spaces again, and paid for the area to be graded down to a slope and have gravel laid out. It would be shortly after this that TDEC would send a warning to Eutaw Construction.
During a city meeting Monday, city leaders discussed what TDEC had warned Eutaw Construction about, and what the consequences may be were the problem not remedied.
“Some things that we find particularly challenging here is that the gravel has been added to the gutter side of the sidewalk, which means that you have no gutter,” said City Administrator Victor Lay. “[This] does two things; Eutaw can’t pave out the way they were supposed to pave out. Because it’s gravel, it washes down into the catch basins, and that’s actually was TDEC is citing Eutaw for, they’re having all this gravel getting washed down into the draining system.”
Lay continued to cite issues with the current state of the parking space, showing pictures of the newly constructed sidewalk on School Street that had been cracked from vehicles entering and exiting the property.
Alderman Vincent Fuqua, who was actually praised by Oechslin for his attempts to resolve the issue, said that the parking space needed to be fixed, and fixed fast.
“I’m under the impression that it’s about a $25,000 fine, so I’m going to go ahead and say that we need to take whatever action to correct it, because ultimately, Eutaw will pass that expense to us,” Fuqua said. “I’ve worked with the business owner over the last year to come up with some accommodations on parking, we were willing participants to work in whatever fashion was necessary, and we couldn’t come to a conclusion of how that was. I think that we determined that it was the building owner’s responsibility to accommodate parking.”
Alderman Matt Fitterer told Neal, who was present at the meeting, that the responsibility to fix the parking space was ultimately his own, and that if repairs were not made in a timely manner, the city may have to make the repairs itself, then bill Neal for the work.
“I understand your dilemma, I understand your tenants’ dilemma, [but] I hope you understand we can’t just allow a TDEC violation to continue,” Fitterer said. “We can’t just allow for the sidewalk to continue to be damaged. Ultimately, it’s the applicant’s – in this case you – responsibility to propose something to the Planning Commission, and allow the Planning Commission to respond and react to that. I don’t know how to solve your problem, but I think you need to bring a suggestion to the Planning Commission, and work with them to land on something that’s not going to cause a TDEC violation.”