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Panel advises Franklin to stick to plan for Ashley Furniture site

Ashley Furniture site seeks rezoning to allow warehouse use

Feb. 26, 2013

Franklin - Planning officials do not envision 27th Street as a home for warehousing and distribution center business, despite retail development challenges the economy has posed.

As Ashley Furniture prepares to vacate its location at 6801 S. 27th St., the Plan Commission on Feb. 21 recommended denying a request from building owner Greywolf Partners to rezone the property to allow for warehousing and distribution uses.

The Plan Commission's recommendation will be forwarded to the Common Council for action at its next meeting.

Planning Manager Joel Dietl said the main reason city staff recommended against the request is that it is not consistent with Franklin's Comprehensive Master Plan or 27th Street Plan.

"Both those plans envision this area to be a regional shopping center destination, not distribution or warehousing," Dietl said.

The approvals that originally allowed Ashley Furniture to occupy the space severely restricted the warehousing and distribution center elements of the operation, Dietl added.

Thinking ahead

Mayor Tom Taylor noted that Oak Creek was recently told its plans for a destination shopping center on Drexel Avenue were not feasible. He wondered whether plans for the 27th Street corridor could still be achievable, given current economic conditions.

Dietl said he believes those planning goals can still be reached, but it will be over a longer period of time than previously envisioned.

"When we look at present economic conditions and then plan based on that, we're selling ourselves short. We have to think long-term," Commissioner John Michlig said. "I think we should do the best we can to maintain the plan and stay retail up here, as long as we possibly can."

Representatives of Greywolf Partners, however, indicated that their efforts to find another retail tenant to occupy the space have been unsuccessful so far.

"We have been, for the last year, attempting to find a new retail tenant, knowing that Ashley could possibly leave," said Marilyn Herzberg, senior asset manager.

Difficult building to fill

More than half of the building has been vacant for just over a year, said Andrea Rogutich, assistant property manager for Greywolf Partners. With Ashley planning to vacate completely by the end of July, the owners just want the opportunity to consider non-retail tenants that could also align with 27th Street plans, Rogutich said, such as a bounce house facility.

"One of our challenges is (the building) was built for Ashley's use," Herzberg said. "To find another retailer who needs a retail showroom with a distribution warehouse that is approximately the same size in square footage as their showroom, is very difficult."

Additionally, the economy and low market rental rates have made it challenging to strike a deal that is beneficial to both parties, Herzberg noted.

Converting the building into a space that could be suitable for use by another retail or office tenant likely would be cost prohibitive, Rogutich said.

For neighboring residents who spoke during the public hearing, additional noise and traffic that could be generated by a warehousing or distribution center site was their primary concern.

The Plan Commission voted unanimously to recommend denying the proposal.

NEXT STEP

WHAT: Common Council consideration of the request to rezone Ashley Furniture site to allow for warehousing and distribution center use, in addition to retail

WHEN:6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 5

WHERE:City Hall, 9229 W. Loomis Road

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