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JC panel aims to sell expanded historic district

COREY SHOUN • Mar 28, 2007 at 11:48 AM

JOHNSON CITY - One Johnson City organization is looking to expand efforts to preserve the aesthetic fabric of downtown. While many business owners in the area support the endeavor, others think it will serve to hinder redevelopment.

The Johnson City Historic Zoning Commission is planning to soon recommend an expanded Historic Downtown District to the Regional Planning Commission and City Commission. Earlier this week, the HZC approved some guideline changes aimed at "cleaning up" some text elements while holding off on approval of suggested boundaries for the expanded zone.

"We have twice as many (business owners) in favor than we do opposed," City Planner Wendy Jayne Bailey said. "But we would like to make that a little stronger before we take it to the Planning Commission and the City Commission."

While there are those already in support, and those undecided who could become in favor of the expansion, there are those who will likely not support the measure in any event.

"What historic event happened in that area to make it historic?" Main Street business owner Pat Paduch asked. "(The expanded zone and accompanying guidelines would) make so many hoops to jump through that if I were developing something, I'd go somewhere else."

Paduch said it is his belief that, in some cases, sacrificing the past is necessary to make way for the future.

"A decent shopping center would do more than anything else to revitalize downtown," Paduch said. "I've been part of the silent majority ... but I just don't see historic in that big area."

HZC member Tom Shanks defended the expansion and said some, including Paduch, are "missing the point."

"You've seen other buildings around town with inappropriate modifications," Shanks said. "We're not trying to make it like Jonesborough or anything like that. We're just saying that things need to be compatible, or consistent, with the originally intended look of downtown."

Currently, only two blocks of downtown are included in the Downtown Historic District and therefore fall under the auspices of the HZC. The blocks within the area encompassed by Market Street to State of Franklin Road and South Roan Street to Spring Street make up the district at the present time.

"(The City Commission) approved the Downtown Historic District in 2001, and in 2003 two large sections of downtown were placed on the National Register of Historic Places," Bailey said. "Now we are recommending the downtown core area be protected as well as some extended areas."

Bailey said several churches, two train stations and some businesses - including Free Service Tire Co., 126 Buffalo St.; U-Haul Co., 112 N. Commerce St.; Sunny's Cafeteria Inc., 601 Spring St.; and the Johnson City Public Library, 100 W. Millard St. - are included in the suggested outlying area."We're not going to make them do anything," Bailey said. "It's a matter of when they do decide to do something, we'll ask them to work with us."Bailey stressed that all restrictions include only building exteriors."It doesn't affect interior uses at all," Bailey said.The district's guidelines are designed to "help preserve the historic character of properties in the area," Bailey said.The historic zoning district is part of a "three-pronged approach" aimed at improving downtown. The tax increment financing/downtown redevelopment plan and the historic preservation element of the 20-year comprehensive plan make up the other two "prongs."Expansion boundaries will be reconsidered by the HZC in April and will be presented to the Planning Commission in May, Bailey said.

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