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JC planners defer action on expansion of Historic Downtown District

COREY SHOUN • May 9, 2007 at 12:42 PM

JOHNSON CITY - Johnson City planners Tuesday night found themselves in the middle of a disagreement over expansion of the city's Historic Downtown District.

While the Johnson City Regional Planning Commission deferred consideration of the Historic Zoning Commission's recommendation to expand the area, it did not happen without some fireworks.

Though some downtown business owners support the endeavor, others have taken issue with some of the district's guidelines that call for exterior changes to buildings to be made in very specific ways.

"Development is going to be by the private investor, it isn't the city that's putting money into this," said Dan Numan, owner of Numan's, 225 E. Main St. "You can't force a business to look like something on the outside when it needs to be something else on the inside."

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.

Planning Commissioner Mike Marchioni said the move to expand the district is occurring too quickly and downtown might be better served by being allowed to redevelop without restriction for a time.

However, HZC member Tom Shanks disagreed with Marchioni, saying, "We feel like, pretty strongly, that development needs some guidance as it takes place.

"We've all seen some inappropriate things develop there in the past."

Letters were sent to property owners for each of 259 parcels to be included in the potential expansion. Of that number, 66 indicated they were in favor of the proposal while 26 indicated they would be opposed and 11 remained neutral. Twelve letters were returned unopened and the owners of 104 parcels simply did not respond.

Of the 259 parcels, 37 are owned by the city of Johnson City.

Planning Commission Chairman Joe Grandy lamented the lack of response, pointing out that it is indicative of what the city usually receives in terms of "feedback." However, Kim Schneider, owner of several downtown parcels, said the "very generic letters" likely led to the lack of interest.

"Everyone I've talked to - they don't want it," Schneider said. "This isn't going to cut it, it's way too restrictive. This would have been great if it were in place 20 years ago."

City Planner Wendy Jayne Bailey, who also serves as liaison to the HZC, said the move to expand the district is in keeping with the Planning Commission, and City Commission, approval of both the Historic Preservation Element and Downtown Revitalization Element included in the 20-year comprehensive plan.

Some who oppose the expansion insist that few, if any, of Johnson City's downtown buildings are truly historic.

In response to those sentiments, both Shanks and Bailey said the area must be viewed as the sum of its parts, rather than as individual entities.

"By itself, maybe no building is historic ... as a whole, they are," Bailey said.

The Planning Commission will take up the matter again in one month after the HZA "revisits" the proposed expansion boundaries.

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