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Johnson City officials to debate rezoning of former TVA property

COREY SHOUN • Apr 4, 2007 at 11:15 AM

JOHNSON CITY - "The third time's the charm" and "deja vu all over again" might be cliched, but they are also appropriate as the Johnson City Commission tonight may well decide what the future will hold for the always-controversial former Tennessee Valley Authority property.

Property owner Stewart Taylor hopes his request to rezone the property from R-4 residential to MS-1 medical services/commercial mix will succeed where similar efforts have failed in the past five years.

Though proper zoning and use of the property has been debated since the federal government decided to vacate it in 2002, the commission now seems to be on the verge of approving Taylor's request after a recent Med/Tech Corridor study suggested the tract should, in fact, be zoned MS-1. The 8.6 acre tract is located at the corner of West Market Street and North State of Franklin Road, adjacent to the city/East Tennessee State University-owned Innovation Park and across from Johnson City Medical Center.

Taylor and the city planning staff have reportedly reached an agreement on a site plan for the proposed development. Even with approval of the rezoning ordinance, the commission may still choose to tweak the site plan further and delay approval of those plans.

City officials and commissioners have expressed concerns over traffic congestion at that intersection, widely considered to be the busiest in Johnson City.

Mayor Steve Darden had been the swing vote among a split commission when last a rezoning was presented to the commission. In November 2005, Darden voted against a request by Bob Pearman, who had been leasing the property from Taylor in hopes of constructing a retail/restaurant development, to rezone the 8.6-acre tract to a PB planned business designation. Third reading of that rezoning ordinance failed by a vote of 3-2.

Following the release of the Med/Tech study and its recommendations, Darden has voted to approve the rezoning on two readings along with Vice Mayor Phil Roe and Commissioner Jane Myron. Commissioners Pete Paduch and Ricky Mohon have continued to vote against the measure.

"I guess I've become resigned, not happy about it, that MS-1 is the appropriate zoning," Darden said. "The best deal, the best scenario imaginable, was before us in December 2002.

"But, this is where we are and we can't fret about where we've been."

Darden was referring to a prior request to rezone the property to MS-1, which was made by Mountain States Health Alliance, when that organization held an option to buy the property from the federal government. MSHA had agreed to a set of concessions, including no development of fast-food restaurants and the placement of a Walgreens pharmacy across North State of Franklin on property already owned by MSHA, that made it "MS-1 light," Darden said.

However, concern over a grove of beech trees, since removed by Taylor, created controversy that ultimately led to the rezoning ordinance failing when Commissioners Pete Paduch and Ricky Mohon and former Vice Mayor C.H. Charlton voted against the measure on third reading.

Taylor purchased the property for $3.1 million at auction in December 2003 by outbidding the city. His rezoning request and a request for a residential building permit had both been put on hold for several months. Taylor's suit against the city for a building permit was recently dismissed by Circuit Court Judge Jean Stanley.

Taylor has also said he would like to bring a Walgreens to that corner lot along with medical service buildings and other office space.

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