Potential land swap could benefit property owners, city flood remediation

Gary B. Gray • Feb 16, 2013 at 10:11 PM

Johnson City officials are in negotiations to do a “land swap” that would allow the city to open up a large portion of Brush Creek and facilitate the movement of floodwater into Founder’s Park, while also creating a landscaped pedestrian walkway along West State of Franklin Road.

Public Works Director Phil Pindzola said this week the city is considering buying the vacant Kelly’s Foods property at the corner of Sevier Street and West State of Franklin. The city would then work out a deal that allows Church Brothers Family Fun Store, now located at 917 W. Watauga Ave., to relocate on the former Kelly’s Foods site.

Pindzola said if the land swap is successful, it would help eliminate a major restriction where Brush Creek runs under Kelly’s Foods, and the Church Brothers property would be used for additional flood detention.

While the former property owner is well into the mix on a possible deal, the latter hasn’t heard a peep as of late Friday.

The proposed 7,500-square-foot replacement building would be positioned in such a way that Brush Creek, could be exposed and rehabilitated to provide improved water flow into the new park.

“I saw Phil Pindzola and some others walking around at Kelly’s Foods property about one year ago, and that’s when he asked me what it might take to do this,” Church Brothers’ co-owner Dennis Church said Friday. “We would be completely responsible for building the new structure. They (city) would demolish the two buildings at that site, and that’s where we would begin to negotiate. They are going to ask me what I want to do.”

Church put the potential deal in those terms, because he plans to control his own destiny. He has been planning for several years to double the size of his business at the current location, where he has a long stretch of frontage on West State of Franklin. Those plans have been submitted to the city.

“I’m open to it, and we’ve been talking back and forth, but there are no numbers yet,” he said. “Things are so much more complicated than just coming up with a price. I hadn’t contemplated moving, but we’re willing to help the community out.”

At a meeting with some city officials regarding the company’s current building project, Church, and his wife Darlene, were asked if there was a possibility of relocating.

“At first thought, the answer was definitely ‘No,’ because this is the property we have operated a successful business on for all these years. I have basically grown up here,” he said. “After a few days, we started to reconsider the possible relocation.”

He also said he has been well aware of what the city was doing with Founder’s Park and that he had been consulting with the city about helping with flood remediation and making the area more attractive with the addition of a landscaped pedestrian walkway.

That path could begin at University Edge Apartments, or near East Tennessee State University’s Thomas Stadium, and run along the north side of West State of Franklin beside an open Brush Creek, which runs under the Kelly’s building nearest West State of Franklin.

And, since he already was in the process of getting permits, he decided to have Johnson City’s Thomas Weems Architects produce a preliminary schematic design that shows the new Church Brothers location further away from West State of Franklin with about 50 parking spaces, landscaping, an outdoor display area, service area and a new main entrance off Sevier.

“After I thought about it and saw the rendering, I felt it could help flooding and get us off the railroad tracks,” Church said. “I feel positive about it, but I really want to get the numbers. Primarily, it would be a property exchange. We’re not going to get a big amount of money, but we may get some site preparation work and other items in this agreement.”

A potential deal likely would include Casteel’s Roofing & Sheet Metal, which is situated between Church Brothers and Kelly’s Foods. Brush Creek also runs under that building.

But it turns out Casteel’s owner, Debra Lyons, and her brother, Robert Moore, who also own the Kelly’s Foods property, have not been notified that any potential deal is in the works.

“We closed the (roofing company) building in October, and that’s about the time the city came and said they wanted to do an appraisal of it,” Lyons said. “I’ve not heard anything since. I don’t know how they can do it (land swap) without finally approaching me. It would be great for them to buy my property. I would not mind at all negotiating with the city about this.”

Coincidentally, the City Commission approved a $2.8 million bid by Johnson City’s Thomas Construction Co. to build the 5-acre Founder’s Park stormwater/park project in October.

The project was identified years ago by the city’s Downtown Stormwater Task Force and the Washington County Economic Development Council as necessary to help alleviate flooding problems at various sections of Brush Creek.

Workers have removed the old concrete above Brush Creek. The water is being diverted from time to time into one of three existing bays, or channels, while work proceeds. The next step will be to construct a sloping seawall through which the water can flow, as well as increasing the amount of water the creek can hold.

Kelly’s Foods, which had operated at that location for 44 years, formerly supplied wholesale groceries and related products and provided services, such as food aid policies or programs and food planning, reserves management, shortage or surplus management and nutrition programs.

Church Brothers has operated at the same location for nearly three decades. The company sells and services Jacuzzi hot tubs and spas, pools and pool chemicals, billiard tables, furniture and games. The Church family also formerly operated Church Brothers Sand and Gravel at the same site, dating back to the 1950s. That business has relocated to South Roan Street.

“We would lose some frontage, but I would say the new building would be comparable in size to the existing property, including the planned addition,” he said. “If I was relocating across town, I wouldn’t do it.”

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