JOHNSON CITY — City officials are asking the group leasing a valuable piece of property near Johnson City Medical Center to clean the site by the end of this month.
At least one city commissioner says while that’s a start, she is frustrated that the land, which Kingsport businessman Stewart Taylor is leasing to Holston Medical Group, has not been the scene of more activity since the commission acceded to Taylor’s rezoning request last May.
“It had seemed like there was all this pressure building behind the dam as far as his desire for development, and if we just changed the zoning it would move forward pretty quickly,” Marcy Walker said. “The feeling was that the last commission was holding this up and by changing it we would see progress.”
Instead, city commissioners and the thousands of commuters daily who pass by the property at the southwest corner of State of Franklin Road and West Market Street see just what they saw 11 months ago: nearly 9 acres of completely undeveloped land, punctuated by large piles of dirt, broken concrete and twisted steel rebar.
Following the rezoning, Taylor told the NET News Service to expect a development open in less than a year with retail, restaurant, office and medical services likely, and said he would deal quickly with the piles of rubble.
“I’m immediately contacting a construction company so we can get grading work for the site started as soon as possible,” Taylor said at the time.
When it changed the property’s zoning to MS-1, the city also stipulated a road system within the development that will allow only for right turns into and out of the property itself, with a newly constructed access road joining the signalized intersection just south of the tract on the far side of the Washington County Health Department facility to allow left turns onto State of Franklin Road.
Three months later, HMG entered a 41-year lease agreement with Taylor for 6.5 acres of the property.
At that time (Aug. 23), HMG spokesman Craig Kilgore said the group might have concrete plans by late October.
Last week, nearly half a year after he expected his group to have an announcement, Kilgore said nothing was set in stone.
“We’re still trying to figure out the best use of the property and talking with some folks,” Kilgore said.
Kilgore acknowledged that the tract at Johnson City’s busiest intersection doesn’t need to lie fallow for too long.
“It is April and we do need to begin to get some things going, but at this point there is no further activity.”
One thing likely to happen soon is some cleanup work at the site. Walker, who called the inaction at one of the city’s most valuable pieces of property one of her biggest disappointments since joining the commission, checked with city staff last week and learned that owners must at least keep their property mowed. She said HMG has indicated it will also do something soon about the piles of rubble.
Whatever ultimately happens on the property, it will have been the end of a long odyssey that began eight years ago, when the Tennessee Valley Authority asked for a rezoning from R-4 residential to B-4 business. Since that time, both Mountain States Health Alliance and the city have sought to buy the property, with MSHA backing out of its option to buy after failing to persuade the city to rezone it to MS-1 (the current designation).
Taylor bid $3.1 million, $100,000 more than the city, in December 2003, but the $360,000 per acre he paid didn’t get him much until last May’s rezoning. MSHA still nearly got a large portion of the property, but late in 2006 a deal that would have given MSHA 6 acres for $3 million fell through due to wrangling over who would pay interest on the land while awaiting rezoning.
Taylor’s site plans prior to leasing to HMG showed four medical/commercial office buildings, and he said upon leasing the property that he would begin the half-million dollar interior roadwork “as soon as my tenants are ready to do something.”
Taylor has said he would like to put a pharmacy on the 2.5 acres he is retaining at the property’s northeast corner.