By Elena Cawley, Staff Writer
The location of a proposed Love’s Traffic Stop and Country Store in Coffee County is facing some hurdles that could prevent it from being constructed off I-24’s Exit 117.
Representatives of the company attended a meeting of the Coffee County Planning Commission in July to discuss plans to develop a truck stop at the corner of I-24 and Wattendorf Highway, across from the Coffee County Interstate Industrial Park.
The $20 million project, including a truck stop, restaurant, store and tire-maintenance facility, could create more than 40 full-time jobs and generate tax revenue, according to company officials.
However, since that initial discussion, member of the Coffee County Planning Commission Dennis Hunt, who also serves as a commission for District 6, has expressed several concerns related to the establishment of the truck stop in Coffee County.
“Most of the people living in that area don’t want the truck stop there because of illegal activities, such as human trafficking, prostitution and drug-related crimes at truck stops,” Hunt said.
“You have 100 trucks parked there every night. The truck drivers have to stop because of the law. There are unscrupulous people that prey on the truck stops to provide this stuff, and these people permeate into the neighborhood.”
The obstacle preventing Love’s from beginning construction is the current C-1 (rural central district) zoning in the area. Hunt said that a truck stop is defined as an extensive impact facility, which requires the zoning to be changed to C-2 (general commercial district).
The property rezoning is on the agenda for the planning commission’s Dec. 19 meeting.
“Right now, changing of the zoning from C-1 to C-2 is an issue,” Hunt said. “Changing of the zoning always requires a public hearing, and that’s when residents from this area can show up and either voice their concerns and opposition or support it.”
If approved by the planning commission, the zoning change would then need to be approved by the full commission, which is scheduled to meet on Jan. 9.
“Also, air quality is a concern, with the trucks parking and getting fuel there,” Hunt said. “Traffic congestion for the people who work at the industrial park and at Arnold Air Force Base will be a problem, too. Trying to get to work, get on or off the interstate, with this extra traffic on this already dangerous intersection, will be an issue. This is not a good place for the truck stop. Period.”
According to Hunt, traffic would also increase on U.S. Highway 41.
“That highway, from I-24 going north to U.S. 41, is going to see an increase of traffic because the big trucks will get off the interstate, go into the truck stop, and, then, they will turn right and go to U.S. 41 to avoid the weigh station that’s on I-24,” Hunt said.
Hunt said that truck drivers will do whatever they can to avoid the weigh station.
Hunt said none of the four corners at Exit 117 are meant to be developed.
“Going from Nashville to Chattanooga, the truck stop is going to be on the left,” Hunt said. “The air force base’s property is on the right side of the interstate. The other section is industrial zone which is already developed. That leaves us one corner for commercial development, which is currently C-1.”
Even if the property is rezoned to C-2, that won’t solve the issue, Hunt said.
“Even if it’s changed to C-2, the development has to spread toward the rural and residential area; it can’t spread toward the interstate, and it can’t spread to the other side of the Wattendorf Memorial Highway,” Hunt said.
Representatives of Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores Company have indicated that they will develop a site plan, which will take all these issues into consideration.
Impact to the county
The $20 million project, including a truck stop, restaurant, store and tire-maintenance facility, will create more than 40 full-time jobs for locals, in addition to bringing tax revenues to Coffee County, according to William Gleason, real estate project manager for Love’s.
After building of the site, the truck stop will offer visitors a restaurant, store and about 150 parking places.
“The restaurant there will probably be an Arby’s, and there will be a typical Love’s (Travel Stops and Country Store),” Gleason said. “There will be 90 truck parks, 62 car parks, about seven gas pumps and eight diesel pumps.”
The business will also create jobs for locals.
“Opening the travel stop will create roughly 40 full-time jobs, including 401K and health, dental and vision insurance,” Gleason said. “We are open 365 days a year for 24 hours, so we need full-time people.”
Not only will establishing Love’s have a positive economic impact for Coffee County by offering jobs but it will also bring sales tax revenues, Gleason said.
“Roughly, the total retail sales yearly are between $4 and $6 million.”
The company was founded by Tom and Judy Love in 1964.
The privately-held company is headquartered in Oklahoma City. Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores have more than 430 locations in 41 states, providing professional truck drivers and motorists with 24-hour access to places where they can purchase gasoline, diesel fuel, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), travel items, electronics and snacks.
In 2008, Love’s began offering roadside assistance and tire care at select locations.
The Love’s companies create thousands of jobs, including more than 17,000 employees in the travel stops and country stores and the corporate offices.
The annual revenues of the company are about $14.2 billion.
The closest Love’s travel stops on I-24 are located off Exit 89, at 6137 Epps Mill Road in Murfreesboro, and off Exit 158 in Jasper.