Johnson City is on the verge of quadrupling the size of its downtown Historic Zoning/Conservation Overlay District, which will put the onus on more property owners to adhere to specific standards but also reward them when improvements are made.
The City Commission on Thursday will consider an ordinance amending the zoning map to expand the district which now includes only the former CC&O Railroad Depot (Johnson’s Depot), where Tupleo Honey Cafe will make its home, and an area bounded roughly from West State of Franklin Road to East Market Street and from Buffalo to South Roan streets.
The proposed boundary for the city’s Historic Zoning/Conservation Overlay District stretches from State of Franklin Road at Buffalo Street to an area near the Interstate 26 on-ramp. It also extends to East Market Street and turns west to meet with Buffalo. To the west of this area, land also would be included bounded generally from Buffalo to North Commerce Street beginning at West Market Street
“Part of the reason is to match properties already on the National Register of Historic Places,” said Jessica Harmon, city planner. “Under the new designation, any extensive exterior alterations, construction or demolition would have to go before the Historic Zoning Commission. Property owners will not be required to make any changes. But should they do so, there are standards that would have to be met. There’s also incentives.”
Benefits include federal tax credits for improvement projects, increased property values, protection on investment and overall economic benefits.
The City Commission adopted the HZCO in 1999 with the intent of preserving the historical integrity and value of the properties. Within the HZCO, there are individual districts grouped together based on location. This expansion deals specifically with the Downtown Historic District, created in 2001.
Each designated district has a set of guidelines used to assist those wanting to make improvements, and property owners may need to make sure they are replacing smaller items, such as windows or doors, with similar types or styles.
Meanwhile, commissioners will consider a first reading of an ordinance to exchange a small slice of land behind the proposed Tupelo Honey Cafe for just under a half acre of frontage that encroaches on city right-of-way on the State of Franklin side of the former depot — a spot on which the city plans to extend its pedestrian/bicycle path and to construct a cul-de-sac near Earnest Street. The cafe likely would use the land behind the building to add parking.
Commissioners also will request that Mayor Jeff Banyas write a letter to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the National Park Service petitioning them to allow the city to use part of Keefauver farm as replacement land for the 14.5-acre Optimist Park.
Optimist Park has been in disrepair for years. Since federal funds were used to help build the park, land of equal or greater value must be identified for recreational use before the park can be decommissioned.
“The Optimist Park property is still in limbo,” said Assistant City Manager Charlie Stahl.
“The city identified replacement property off Browns Mill Road, but commissioners chose not to purchase that. The city purchased the 55-acre Keefauver farm three years ago as a future park site. We would be looking into using as little of the property as possible.”
The mayor’s request will first go to TDEC, but the park service makes the final decision.
“All we’re doing now is requesting that they consider whether the Keefauver property would qualify for conversion property,” Stahl said. “It’s premature to speculate about what recreational activities would be put in place there.”
Clarification: Some maps included in the City Commission's agenda packet were apparently out of date. A previous version of the article included the earlier map and listed the earlier historic district boundaries, some sections of which were later excluded by planners. The article and the map have been updated.