CLARKSVILLE — A plan to redevelop a vacant Clarksville motel into “class A” apartments is receiving pushback from the town’s planning and zoning department, which doesn’t believe the area is appropriate for residences.

Denton Floyd Real Estate Group closed on the Crest Motel along U.S. Highway 31 a month and a half ago after it was deemed unsafe for human occupancy and shut down by the Clarksville Building Commissioner around five months ago.

The Louisville company, which is also renovating New Albany’s former M. Fine building, plans to completely rehabilitate the motel and turn it into 40 one-bedroom and studio apartments for millennials and young professionals called Clarksville Lofts, adding a pool, dog run and clubhouse to the property in the process.

“We just felt like it was a great opportunity as an adapted reuse development company to eliminate a longstanding blight in the area,” said Brandon Denton, co-founder of Denton Floyd.

The Clarksville Redevelopment Commission is hoping to add an amendment to its redevelopment plan, listing the $3.1 million apartment complex’s site as a location ripe for redevelopment, giving the town permission to devote tax increment financing, or TIF, dollars to the project. They believe the new development will attract more investment to the area, said Dylan Fisher, Clarksville’s redevelopment director.

But Clarksville’s planning and zoning staff disagrees that the development will do so, and they don’t think the area is good for apartments, either.

Location, location, location

The former Crest Motel is stuck between Interstate 65 and railroad tracks, separating it from most of Clarksville’s commercial attractions and Jeffersonville’s plans for a power center along Town Center Boulevard. There aren’t many developments in the immediate area that would complement apartments, either, just a Furniture Row, Woodspring Suites (formerly Value Place), an adult entertainment store, Raben’s Tire & Auto Service, White Castle and Thorntons.

The sidewalks residents could use to get to those places are nonexistent.

“It would be 40 units basically living in the middle of a commercial area, in a heavy commercial area,” said Sharon Wilson, Clarksville’s planning and zoning director, about Clarksville Lofts.

Things that she would normally like to see around residences, such as parks and drug stores, also are nonexistent. The spot was OK for a hotel — traveling visitors use their car for everything, anyway — but she doesn’t believe it's conducive for apartments.

Clarksville’s planning staff never intended the area for residential use. The comprehensive plan calls for the area to be either heavy-commercial or industrial. Going against those uses could be detrimental for the city, according to Wilson.

“…A comprehensive plan is kind of like your plan for your budget at home,” she said. “You have to know where you’re going and how to get there, and if you put the wrong land use in the wrong place, there’s going to be different residents that are going to probably not be happy.”

Wilson said that she often tries to find a way for coming developments to comply with the comprehensive plan, but Clarksville Lofts just didn’t — not only with regard to its land zoning, but also any other general planning objectives for the town.

Denton is aware of the planning department’s concerns, but he’s betting that the amenities offered within the complex will attract residents and keep them entertained in the building. His clubhouse, alone, will contain a game room, a kitchenette and a gathering area for events.

As for the redevelopment commission’s wish for new development around the apartment building, Wilson says that the vacant properties nearby the motel are owned by existing users Woodspring Suites and Furniture Row. No more commercial uses would come to the area, she believes, unless the landowners choose to sell or continue to build.

Clarksville Lofts will have to receive rezoning approval by the Clarksville Plan Commission and Town Council to be constructed. Denton Floyd is turning the motel’s land into a planned unit development from a heavy-commercial zoning. The comprehensive plan is intended to factor into the plan commission’s decision, but the voting body might ignore it based on its actions at a meeting Wednesday night.

A telling vote

To adopt the vacant motel site as a potential project listed in its redevelopment plan, the redevelopment commission needed the plan commission’s approval. While state statue gives the commission permission to consider the comprehensive plan to make its decision, Greg Fifer, the board’s attorney, advised at the meeting that state statue does not require the comprehensive plan to be considered, a fact that Wilson contested.

The commission ended up approving the amendment and two others on a 4-3 vote, sending them on to the Town Council for a vote.

Plan commission and town council member Jennifer Voignier said at the meeting that she voted for the amendment because she wanted to see improvements along the Highway 31 corridor.

“It may be worthwhile to put this in the comprehensive plan, and try to do something with it instead of just pushing it off again and again to where nothing ever gets done,” she said.

Wilson agrees that something needs to be done to the area. She had a basic idea of demolishing the motel and building something completely different and compliant with the comprehensive plan in its place.

“I think they could have looked instead of taking the first thing that came across their plate,” she said. “They could have looked at the entire situation and come up with a better solution.”

If the town council votes for the amendment and the redevelopment commission adopts it, the city could end up reimbursing Denton Floyd for around $660,000 of their project costs. That action would also have to go before the town council for approval, but the sum, while still in negotiations, is integral to Denton Floyd’s costly project, Denton said.

Chris Sturgeon, Clarksville’s town attorney, hopes to bring the amendment to the town council on Dec. 19.

Danielle Grady, a Southern Indiana native and a 2016 Ball State University graduate, is the business and economic development reporter for The News and Tribune. Basically, she writes about your favorite restaurants. Send story tips via email or twitter.