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JC leaders want to wrap up former TVA land issues

COREY SHOUN • Apr 21, 2007 at 12:42 PM

JOHNSON CITY - Some members of the Johnson City Commission are urging their colleagues to finish consideration of some controversial rezoning requests that have been on hold for more than a year.

Commissioners Ricky Mohon and Pete Paduch Thursday night said they would like to see the saga involving proposed ordinances for the former Tennessee Valley Authority property, located at the corner of West Market Street and North State of Franklin Road, brought to an end at the next commission meeting.

That meeting will come a little more than a week after the April 24 city election - the seats held by Mohon, Paduch and Vice Mayor Phil Roe will be up for grabs - and just a few days before the May 7 inauguration.

"I really feel like this commission should move forward, not knowing who the next commissioners will be," Paduch said.

Jeff Banyas, Roger Bryant, William Hill Jr. and Marcy Walker are also vying for commission seats along with the incumbents.

The panel did not consider the rezoning requests during Thursday night's meeting because Stewart Taylor, who owns the former TVA property, asked to have the items deferred in order to continue work on his proposed site plans.

"I think this is the fourth different site plan we've seen since your last meeting," City Manager Pete Peterson said. "I can't say enough for Mr. Taylor and (attorney) Mr. (T. Arthur "Buddy") Scott's willingness to look at other options."

After discussion, a proposed site plan for nearly two hours, two weeks ago, commissioners decided they were still not ready to vote on the third, and final, reading of Taylor's request to rezone the property from R-4 residential to MS-1 medical services/commercial mix.

Even after Peterson said he could support Taylor's plans, which showed a new access road, a pharmacy and three retail buildings, several commissioners indicated they would like to see Taylor enhance the plans to a greater degree.

"We owe a greater duty to the public than to just not be opposed," Mayor Steve Darden said. "I'm just not sold on this site plan being the best we can achieve."

Both Darden and Roe said their main concerns with the plan revolve around traffic concerns, while Paduch and Mohon, who have consistently opposed rezoning the property to MS-1, voiced additional problems they have with the type and density of the proposed development.

Nearly every commissioner agreed they would like to see Taylor extend construction of the access road from West Market Street to at least where it would join the signalized intersection next to the Washington County Health Department, if not all the way to the next signalized intersection to the south on State of Franklin Road.

Scott, who represents Taylor, said those types of plans go beyond "the realm of reality" due to cost estimates in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and/or the devotion of a full acre of the 8.6 acres in the tract to such a project.

Scott said the MS-1 zone is restrictive enough to make such plans economically nonfeasible.

In addition, Paduch said Thursday he had spoken with Washington County Mayor George Jaynes, who said the health department could not afford to lose property behind the facility, even though the city owns that tract of land.

Though proper zoning and use of the property has been debated since the federal government decided to vacate it several years ago, the commission seemed 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.

In November 2005, the commission on third reading voted down 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.

A prior request to rezone the property to MS-1, made by Mountain States Health Alliance when that organization held an option to buy the property from the federal government, also failed on third reading in December 2002.

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 have both been put on hold for several months. Taylor's suit against the city for a residential building permit was recently dismissed by Circuit Court Judge Jean Stanley.

Following that dismissal, Taylor made an appeal to the city Board of Zoning Appeals for an administrative review of the non-issuance, but that panel was unsure how to proceed in the matter.

Also on Thursday, the commission approved having City Attorney James Epps III put together a list of potential attorneys to assist the BZA in this matter.

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