Next Gray annexation phase features less agricultural land

Gary B. Gray • Jun 4, 2012 at 6:56 AM

Johnson City’s proposed second phase of annexation in Gray contains much less agricultural land than first envisioned.

Still, if property owners replicate their actions during the first phase, or Suncrest Annexation, there will be a move to fight the plan with just as much fervor to keep family farms out of the annexation and to find a method which allows residents to have more say.

Potentially affected property owners have received notices from the city indicating that the City Commission plans a first reading of an ordinance to annex parcels of land in Gray along the Bobby Hicks Highway from Interstate 26 north to the Washington County/Sullivan County line.

“I haven’t looked at it close enough to identify every parcel, but this does answer my questions to the City Commission that weren’t answered regarding when they were going to go after this area and whether farmland would be affected,” said Danny Sells, who organized Citizens to Maintain Gray and owns property there. “It appears they’ve taken some farm land out of this, but the problem continues to be a lack of communication from the city to affected property owners.”

Sells said the notice includes a map and information about when commissioners will consider the annexation.

“The notice does not include any information about a meeting or workshop between commissioners and residents,” he said. “Residents have an everincreasing demand to know why the city is doing this.”

Washington County Commissioners Mike Ford, Mark Larkey and Roger Nave, who serve the county’s 7th District where Gray is located, plan to be involved all the way through this next phase. They did the same during the Suncrest annexation, attending and speaking at City Commission meetings as well as community meetings at which strategies in opposition to annexation were formulated.

The commissioners, and Gray property owners, including those that would not be immediately affected, have said and continue to say annexation affects its schools negatively, restricts opportunity, raises property taxes and disrupts the lives of those who own family farms, some of which have been in their family for 200 years.

“My two fellow commissioners and I will stand toe-to-toe with our constituents in opposing this second phase of annexations,” Larkey said Friday. “Even though the city is acting within its legal limits I cant ignore the fact that with each annexation the city continues to gut the sales tax base of the county making Washington County the county with the lowest sales tax outside of a municipality in the state of Tennessee. These continued annexations leave the county schools with no sales tax base to support the education of its children. Johnson City should only annex private residences that request annexation.”

This move has been in the pipeline for some time and the City Commission should consider the plan on first reading June 21. However, a map of the proposed annexed areas looks very different than the original plan prepared last year.

A large swath of land on the east side of Bobby Hicks at I-26 has been removed. An even larger parcel on the east side of Bobby Hicks about half the distance to the Kingsport Highway also is missing. Proposed areas of annexation include a smaller grouping of parcels at Old Gray Station Road and a few assorted, and relatively diminutive, parcels between Roy Martin Road and Red Lane.

On April 19, Mayor Jeff Banyas, who openly favors annexation in that area for future growth, asked for a revised ordinance that removed all 215 acres (70 percent) of land within the Suncrest annexation zoned for farm or agricultural use.

On May 3, Gray residents left Johnson City’s Municipal and Safety Building a bit happier after commissioners passed the revised ordinance on third reading by a vote of 3-1-1.

Banyas and Commissioners Jane Myron and Clayton Stout voted for the revised ordinance. Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin voted no; Vice Mayor Phil Carriger abstained due to a conflict of interest in having family in that area.

An emailed request Friday to speak with either City Manager Pete Peterson or Development Services Department Director Angie Carrier regarding the annexation yielded no results. Telephone messages left for Peterson and Banyas were not returned.

The city is expanding its jurisdiction starting from just northeast of the Gray Fossil Museum parking lot past I-26 to a point about 4.5 miles northwest on State Route 75, and the Suncrest Annexation is the starting point.

Last summer, Angie Charles, a development specialist with the city’s planning department, presented officials with some estimates on the entire proposal, including an assessed land value of the annexation of about $13.8 million. She also estimated that more than $265,000 in annual property tax revenues and about $27,000 in state-shared tax revenues could be realized. This does not include annual sales tax revenue.

Charles said at the time that about 600 acres, or 60 percent of all land proposed to be annexed, involved working farms.

Johnson City’s municipality is comprised of 43 square miles of land.

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