Neighbors generally positive as they wait to see impact of Southland's new campus

Southland Christian Church's satellite campus on Richmond Road will bring more people, cars, jobs and activity to the site than neighbors and nearby business owners have seen since Lexington Mall closed.

Reaction on Friday was generally positive, but several people said it's hard to anticipate the changes that will come as the church gets established and four commercial parcels on the front of the property are developed.

"Until the project is completed, I really don't know what to expect," said Mike Scanlon, owner of Applebee's, located in front of the church campus.

The church was built on the site of the former mall, which had been owned by the Maryland-based Saul Centers since 1974.

"As Saul allowed the (mall) building to deteriorate, that hurt us," Scanlon said.

Last fall Southland erected a construction fence around the pond at the front of the property. "That fence blocked the view and made us look like we were not there," Scanlon said. Large banners were posted on the fence saying "Applebee's is still open."

Asked whether he thinks the inconvenience was worth it, Scanlon said, "Call me in about six months, when it's all said and done. I'll let you know."

Through a separate entity, Lexington Mall Properties LLC, the church hopes to sell or lease two parcels in front of the church facing Richmond Road, plus the former location of Perkins Restaurant. It is in negotiations with owners of the former gas station next to Perkins to buy that land.

Kurt Braun, Southland's executive director of finance and administration, said, "In the process of developing outparcels, we've had a lot of conversations with interested parties. We've had conversations with people who want to purchase and those who want to lease."

One neighbor not particularly happy with the church is Neil Khatri, owner of the BP station on the west side of the church. Southland recently closed the driveway that leads from his gas station to the service road on the church property. It was a favorite shortcut for neighborhood residents; they could enter Khatri's station without going onto Richmond Road, which they now have to do.

"It's very inconvenient. And why did they do it? They didn't close the driveway going into the bank next door," Khatri said. "And no one even spoke to me. They talked with my landlord."

Chris Hahn, lead executive pastor, said once the church opens and officials see how traffic flows during peak times, "It might not be an issue to open that road again. We would definitely go back and have a conversation with the landowner."

Annette Castle, president of the Idle Hour Neighbors Alliance, said at one point neighbors feared neighborhood flooding would be an issue after Southland reduced the size of the pond next to Richmond Road. Neighbors met with city engineers and Southland's site engineer to voice their concerns. Both engineers said storm water would run over Richmond Road before it backs up into their neighborhood, Castle said.

"We were reassured. At this point, we're OK," she said. The church also kept the neighborhood updated with e-mails of what was happening as construction progressed.

Gary Black, campus director for Richmond Road, said, "Working with the community has been phenomenally good. We expect criticism when you do anything that's broad-reaching and out of the ordinary. We accept that. We've gone to a number of neighborhood groups. We've tried to meet with everyone face-to-face who wanted explanations ... We've always made an attempt to have a personal contact or at least a telephone call."

Fifth District Councilman Bill Farmer expects the church will have a major impact on the Richmond Road corridor as the former mall site goes from "dead to something that has a pulse, to something quite vibrant. It's going to be a big change."

Redevelopment of the 30-acre property will bring jobs. "Maybe not as many as when Dillard's and Dawahare's was there. But when the church gets established and the outparcels are sold, there's going to be a lot going on there," Farmer said.

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