City’s annexation plans: Full speed ahead

Gary B. Gray • Jan 10, 2012 at 11:38 PM

Johnson City’s annexation of 64 acres along U.S. 11E in Sullivan County will go forward despite a recent revelation that the property has been subdivided and has not one, but two owners, and the fact County Mayor Steve Godsey says the county’s neighbor to the south may be getting a bit greedy.

“I’m not saying they’re doing anything illegal, but when you come up through the main corridor — the main vein — and annex it, it takes development possibilities away from us,” Godsey said Tuesday. “That doesn’t lend itself to a good working relationship. They’re going after big development — commercial development. It’s got a bad smell to it.”

Some Sullivan County commissioners have called Johnson City’s annexation either near or into parts of the county “unreasonable.” But not only is Johnson City growing, the city has planned its path, which includes annexation of property along the Bobby Hicks Highway corridor all the way to the Sullivan County line.

“I hate that Sullivan County feels that way,” Steve Neilson, Johnson City’s long-range planning coordinator, said Tuesday. “But our Urban Growth Boundary was reviewed and approved years ago by a committee that included representatives from Sullivan County’s government. I thought we were being very neighborly. When we annexed the area where Food City went up (U.S. 11E), Sullivan County was able to receive a share of sales tax revenues for 15 years.”

The wheels were set in motion for Johnson City’s Bobby Hicks corridor push and other annexation years ago. And yes, the city has been and will be annexing property in Sullivan County because that’s where the expansion is taking place. Though some may call it a land grab, state law clearly supports Johnson City, and any other city that meets annexation criteria.

The latest ruffling of feathers concerns the Johnson City Commission’s approval last week of a first reading to annex the land at the intersection of U.S. 11E and Austin Springs Road. Information on hand at the time led the city to believe it was owned by one entity — Tom Bachman. However, Bachman had sold a 20-acre chunk of his land to Wade Hughes, and Highlands Engineering is preparing plans for the residential development of Cedar Crest in Sullivan County.

The entire 64 acres sits to the southeast of U.S. 11E and is bound on two complete sides by city-owned land. Johnson City’s Urban Growth Plan allows it to initiate annexations to “fill in” developed and developing areas.

“Our records initially indicated there was only one property owner,” Neilson said. “Steve Ellis, Highlands’ president, was reluctant to have it annexed, but I think we’ve resolved his concerns. My understanding is we have an agreement in principle.”

Neilson said a meeting is planned Friday to iron out any misunderstandings.

“I don’t quite understand,” Godsey said. “They’ve ignored staying in step with what they’ve been doing. I just didn’t know why this particular development has their attention. I think the law should be changed to only allow annexation in their (a city’s) county,” he added. “It causes some ill will.”

When asked if he had contacted Neilson or City Manager Pete Peterson about the matter, Godsey said he had not.

Neilson also said Johnson City has extended utilities into Sullivan County and that when these areas are developed, the county reaps financial gains from property taxes. When a city annexes territory, the county is “held harmless” for 15 years for the loss of certain tax revenues that the county was receiving from the territory on the date of its annexation, according to state law.

Johnson City’s Urban Growth Boundary was ratified by the Washington, Carter, and Sullivan county Coordinating Committees and the Johnson City Commission. The state’s Local Government Planning Advisory Committee approved the plan on June 28, 2000.

Within its UGB, Johnson City can use any of the annexation methods as provided by Tennessee annexation law contained in T.C.A. Title 6, Chapter 51, including annexation by ordinance and by referendum, as modified by Public Act 1101.

Any annexation proceedings may be abandoned and discontinued by the City Commission at any time by resolution. This state statute applies only where the annexation has been initiated by a municipality, which is the case here.

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