The Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen last week voted to accept a set of stipulations required by the Tennessee Department of Transportation to proceed with construction of traffic roundabout at the Five Points intersection of Depot Street and state routes 81 and 353.
The project, which has been on TDOT’s drawing table since 2009, will result in the demolition of the Five Points Grocery where store owner Kelly Street on Monday expressed her frustration with the town’s repeated failures to notify of her of pending action on a project that will eventually cost her and her husband and two longtime store employees their livelihoods.
Conceding that improvements are needed at Five Points and crediting TDOT for it efforts, Street said, “It’s a bad intersection, a rough intersection. I’m not having any trouble with the state. They’ve been out here surveying and they came in in September and said my business would be impacted and they would take my store.
“It’s the town down here that got the state involved,” and failed to notify her both times the project has come up for action by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, she said.
Town Administrator Bob Browning said Tuesday when the project was first brought before the board in 2009, TDOT gave Jonesborough two options for Five Points, a roundabout that could be built entirely with TDOT funding or a traffic signal for which the town would have to contribute about $100,000.
With a recommendation from Jonesborough’s Traffic Safety Committee, the aldermen voted for the roundabout. Prior to that vote, Browning said a packet of information about the project was prepared for Street but because of “a misfire in communication,” the package was not delivered until the day after the board’s meeting when he personally took the information to the store and apologized to Street for it not being delivered earlier.
When the project came back up for the board’s consideration last week, Street said the town again failed to give her notice. “It must be a secret. I didn’t know anything about it until I read about it in the paper.”
Asked about the second lack of notice to Street, Browning reiterated the response he gave at the board’s meeting on July 9 when Alderman Chuck Vest expressed concern that Street was not present.
Plans for the project have not changed since 2009 and TDOT’s request for the town to agree to its stipulations was a procedural step that did not require any further input at this time, Browning said, noting that TDOT will conduct a public hearing in the future to inform and gather the input of property owners and others who will be impacted.
“The town of Jonesborough has a communication problem,” Street said. “I don’t know what they think I’m going to do for a living. I’m 47 years old and I’ve got to work another 20 or 25 years. I have a college education, but this is all I have ever done. And I have two employees too.”
Speaking in favor of the roundabout at the July 9 meeting, Vest said it would be better for Street to lose her entire building and receive compensation for her property from TDOT than for her to lose only her parking lot for construction of a traffic signal that would effectively put her out her business without any compensation from the state.
Alderman Mary Gearhart opposed the roundabout, calling it “a recommendation for trouble,” but later joined Vest and Vice Mayor Terry Countermine in an 3 -0 vote to accept TDOT’s requirements for the town to notify the state Attorney General within 10 days of the filing of any lawsuit brought against Jonesborough as results of the project, to move utilities, to provide town right-of-ways and to maintain the roundabout without change once it is completed.
According to Street, the store has done business at the Five Points intersection since the 1940s when TVA flooded the town of Butler to build Watauga Lake and a Butler store owner purchased the property and moved his business to Jonesborough.
Before that, Street said, a trading post that dated back to the early 1900s occupied the building. Her father and mother, the late Charles and Mary Lou Willis bought the property in 1976 and her father ran the business continuously until his death in July 2009. Two weeks after Street inherited the store from her father, she said, the town voted in favor of the roundabout that will take the property.
“The public hearing is the next step, so far as I know,” she said. “If it goes to a jury trial, I won’t have a job so I’ll have time to go to a jury trial.”