City applies brakes to Gray annexation

Gary B. Gray • Mar 7, 2012 at 9:17 PM

Johnson City officials plan to follow through on their decision earlier this month to stop any forward movement on the proposed Suncrest Annexation and to enter into discussion with affected property owners in Gray, particularly the owners of family farms and agricultural land.

The annexation will not be on the City Commission’s agenda next week, which is a pretty solid indicator further talks are forthcoming.

“It will not be on the March 15 agenda,” City Manger Pete Peterson said in an email Wednesday. “We are trying to set a meeting with property owners to discuss options. Nothing has been set yet.”

On March 1, a unanimous vote by the commission to defer the move on first reading was preceded by concerns about whether the city was perhaps moving too fast, and whether the annexation of farmland should be handled with a different or alternative approach.

Danny Sells, who organized Citizens to Maintain Gray and owns property bordering the Keebler Farm, one of the larger chunks of farmland in this annexation, still believes Johnson City is being too aggressive with its annexation policy, but he said the deferral of a first reading gave him hope.

“It’s a sign that the city is slowing things down on this action,” Sells said. “I think they do realize they’ve got something out here that’s a little bigger than they first thought. In reality, it’s got to be a larger conversation with those affected.”

The Suncrest Annexation, which is comprised of more than 300 acres on or near Suncrest Drive, is the first phase of a planned 600-acre annexation which includes land along the Bobby Hicks corridor. The city wants to expand its jurisdiction starting from just northeast of the Gray Fossil Museum parking lot past Interstate 26 to a point about 4.5 miles northwest on Tenn. Highway 75, and the Suncrest Annexation is the starting point.

Citizens to Maintain Gray has about 600 signatures on a petition of those opposed to the annexation, and the number is growing. Sells also said that after hearing some serious concerns about the annexation process from several commissioners “it would seem to me the process would have to start over again.”

That may or may not be wishful thinking.

The proposed annexation is within the city’s its Urban Growth Boundary, and it does not violate any city or state laws. However, commissioners have expressed a willingness to tweak the rules under the right set of circumstances, and with input from Washington County commissioners.

“In my discussions with Pete Peterson, the annexation will not be on the agenda, and it is his interest to hold meetings with the affected landowners,” County Mayor Dan Eldridge said Wednesday.

The organized group of Gray property owners met with Republican state Reps. Dale Ford and Matthew Hill on Saturday. Sells said the legislators were supportive and indicated they would be willing to offer legal changes at the state level next session that could favor farms and agricultural land when it comes to municipal-initiated annexations.

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