City commissioners are hustling to approve and deliver a completed, $250,000 federal grant application by Friday in hopes the money would help buy the Kelly’s Foods property at the corner of Sevier Street and West State of Franklin Road.
Should the city manage to land the competitive Federal Emergency Management Agency Flood Mitigation Assistance Program grant, the money would go toward the purchase of unoccupied buildings at the site. That move would be followed by excavation and construction of a storm water project to decrease flooding and improve water flow in Brush Creek, not only at that specific location but also to improve drainage from the Tree Streets, as well as continued flow through Founders Park.
Public Works Director Phil Pindzola alerted commissioners about the need for urgency Monday night at the City Commission’s agenda meeting.
“This money would go toward the purchase of the property, and it can only be used for flood mitigation purposes, meaning we could not use the funds for the purpose of condemnation,” he said. “The property is appraised at about $417,000, and the remainder of the purchase would be paid for by using money in our storm water fund.”
Pindzola said he has talked with Kelly’s Foods’ owners Debra Lyons, and her brother, Robert Moore.
“We first talked with them earlier this year,” he said. They were amenable then and they are amendable to this plan.”
Lyons and Moore also lease out a nearby building in which Casteel’s Roofing & Sheet Metal operates. This building is situated between Church Brothers Family Fun Store, at 917 W. West Watauga Ave., and Kelly’s Foods. Brush Creek runs under that building and one of the Kelly’s Foods’ buildings.
In February, Pindzola and Johnson City officials were in negotiations to do a “land swap” that would relocate Church Brothers on a reshaped Kelly’s Foods site, allow the city to open up of 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.
Church Brothers’ co-owner Dennis Church said at the time he planned 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.
But he also is open to moving into a proposed 7,500-square-foot replacement building which would be positioned in such a way that Brush Creek, which now runs under Kelly’s Foods, could be exposed and rehabilitated to provide improved water flow into the new park.
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 which 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.
Church said his business would be completely responsible for building the new structure. The city would demolish the two buildings at that site, and that’s where further negotiations would begin.
“We have talked with him,” Pindzola said about Church and the city’s continued attempt to seal the deal. “We want to first purchase the Kelly’s Foods property, then we will re-open discussion with him. He seemed to agree with that. The elimination of Kelly’s Foods has been in our master plan (flood mitigation) all along, but it has not been at the forefront. If this comes together, we will increase the amount of water that can get from one side of Sevier to the other. This also would work in concert with Founders Park. We would excavate much of the area near State of Franklin and create a wetland to provide additional stormwater storage.”
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.