Planned road will run right through animal shelter

Gary B. Gray • Jan 2, 2012 at 8:23 PM

Plans to relocate the cramped and aging Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter have moved up to the front burner, and that objective has close company.

City officials recently learned the state has committed funds through the TDOT State Industrial Access Program for construction of a new two-lane road that will run through Optimist Park and across the current animal shelter property on Sells Avenue. It’s no secret a connection to the other side of West Market will help the city lay down infrastructure needed to develop the area and help open an economic door in and around 30 acres of city-owned land at the former National Guard Armory site.

“The road goes through the animal shelter, so that’s why finding a new location is such a high priority,” said Phil Pindzola, Public Works Department director. “The city will finish design of the road sometime this spring. Upon completion, we hope to begin construction. But that can’t happen until a new location for the animal shelter is determined.”

Meanwhile, a consulting firm has concluded its study regarding estimates on renovation of several sites, including the L.P. Auer Road location. City and county officials have awaited these results for months.

“The feasibility study explains the size of shelter needed to handle the number of animals over a 20-year-period,” Pindzola said. “The L.P. Auer site was assessed, and it is not off the table. But the end result was that there is not a lot of cost difference in renovating that site and building a brand new facility. I’ve been looking at alternative properties, and if there was a large tract of land where somebody was willing to sell 5-7 acres in a good location, we would be interested in it.”

The Animal Control Board, which owns the shelter (the city owns the land under it) and will have the final say about a location, meets at 3 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Winged Deer Park conference room to review the study’s results and to decide how to proceed.

“The city and county have both committed funds, but there definitely needs to be some private money put into this,” Pindzola said. “That’s one of the things the board will be discussing. The study shows it would cost about $3.8 million to build a proper facility. So it may be that we have to start with a certain amount of square footage and continue to build from there as funds become available.”

Pindzola said a desirable site would be one that’s near Interstate 26 or a major, accessible arterial road. He also said he would prefer a location in the Boones Creek area.

Once a home is found, Guy Wilson, owner of Wilson Pharmacy, plans to construct Clinical Management Concepts just off the new road. The owner of the coming 11,000-square-foot pharmaceutical distribution and compounding facility in Franklin Medical Park requested that a new access road be built from West Market Street to North State of Franklin Road via Lark Street to facilitate truck traffic as the facility comes on line.

Though the funding amount from TDOT is unknown at this point, the company is set to begin production in April, bringing with it 76 jobs and an annual payroll of about $4.5 million. Expansion is expected, and the company has reported that an additional 25 employees will be hired over the subsequent three years.

That’s good news for the city, and officials should be motivated due to the value of the property underneath the current shelter site and the potential to expand the Innovation Park area. But it also means a new home for the animal shelter must be found soon if the new business wants to stick to its time line.

“We have multiple objectives here,” Pindzola said.

That’s true. And one of the interlocking pieces of this puzzle is Optimist Park, which is positioned between what would be the west end of the new road and the existing animal shelter.

Consider that Johnson City’s Parks and Recreation Department has been planning for about two years to decommission the old park and find new land on which to establish new programs. Today, the park remains in dire need of improvements.

The city received grant money to make improvements at the park. But the fact that some of that money came from the federal level requires the city to acquire new park land of equal or greater value that would be used by the parks and recreation department before it can initiate the decommission process.

Another option that’s been on the table is selling the city-owned land for commercial development. Regardless, once the acquisition of new property is made, the city would have up to 24 months to build the new park.

The City Commission has not yet identified suitable replacement property. A new location would not necessarily need to be home to baseball or softball, but the stipulation in receiving the grant money requires the city to find, acquire and hold parks and recreation activities on the new site. This has been a standing recommendation to commissioners for more than a year.

Anyone owning property that may be a potential site for the new shelter can call Debbie Dobbs, Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter director, at 926-8769 or email jcanimalshelter@earthlink.net.

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