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Nathan Baker

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Four-story apartment complex proposed for Model Mills property on W. Walnut

October 29th, 2013 8:00 am by Nathan Baker

Four-story apartment complex proposed for Model Mills property on W. Walnut

Contributed site plan

A crumbling century-old flour mill property on West Walnut Street could soon become a fourstory apartment complex if a request for a zoning variance is approved by the Johnson City Board of Zoning Appeals.

Evolve Development LLC, a multi-family apartment and student housing developer headquartered in Greensboro, N.C., submitted preliminary site plans for the 500 W. Walnut St. property, formerly the site of Model Mill and General Mills, as part of a request for a variance from the land’s Central Business District (B-2) zone.

While B-2 zoning allows residential units, but not on the first floor of a building, the requested variance would allow the company to build and operate residential housing on the ground floor of any development.

The plans, drawn by Greensboro, N.C., firm Hagen Engineering, show three four-story apartment buildings lining Walnut Street and a fourth on the State of Franklin Road side. Each building houses 40 units, according to the drawings.

In the middle of the complex are a clubhouse, a swimming pool and a 280-space parking lot with entrances and exits for vehicles shown from Walnut and Sevier streets.

It’s unclear from the plans whether the apartments will be used for student housing or multifamily residences.

Johnson City Chamber of Commerce Director Gary Mabrey, although hesitant to identify the prospective developer, said the Chamber is the closest it’s ever been to selling the nearly 5-acre mill property since purchasing it more than five years ago.

“(The developer) is exploring options for the property, and is requesting a variance that would allow him to have all residential space on the first floor,” Mabrey said Monday. “Everything right now is very preliminary. We’re not anywhere near closing on the property, but we’re trying to keep the conversation going.”

The Chamber Foundation purchased the industrial site for $400,000 in June 2008 using credit provided by 10 area banks.

Mabrey said the Chamber hoped to quickly sell the property to kickstart development along West Walnut Street, a valuable corridor connecting the city’s downtown core with East Tennessee State University.

For years, Mabrey said the Chamber has entertained several inquiries for the property, but none of them have yet come to fruition.

Washington County Economic Development Council Revitalization Director Shannon Castillo said developing the Model Mill property could be the catalyst needed to spur more growth on West Walnut Street.

“I’ve always said about the Model Mill site, if we could have something happen there, it would be like the first domino to fall,” Castillo said. “When we bring more people downtown, everything else will follow suit. We would love to have some kind of grocery store element downtown, and the more people we can get in the core area, the easier it will be to convince businesses to locate here.”

A sign posted on chain-link fence facing West Walnut announces that the property is being considered for a zoning alteration and directs members of the public to call the Johnson City Planning Division with comments or questions.

A representative of Evolve Development will attend the BZA meeting Nov. 12 to make the case for the variance and to discuss the company’s plans for the property in more detail.

The preliminary plans seem to confirm a statement made by Mabrey earlier this month that, if Evolve does decide to develop the property, the existing mill and the six easily identifiable white silos will be razed and the new apartment buildings will be built anew.

The announcement will be welcome news to many Johnson City residents, especially those in the Tree Streets neighborhood, who have long complained that the abandoned industrial property is an eyesore and a safety hazard.

If the residential complex is built, it will join the University Edge student community near ETSU’s Thomas Stadium and the luxury student housing development planned for the former site of Mullican Flooring as the latest large-scale residential properties to be built along the State of Franklin Road corridor.

According to the company’s website, Evolve Development was founded by Mike Winstead, Stephen and Scott Austin and Joe McKinney Jr., and has built dozens of townhouse communities, conventional apartments and student housing complexes.

The company has also developed free-standing restaurants and retail stores. ? said Evolve recently purchased property near downtown Knoxville, where it plans to build a 172-unit project called Evolve CityView.

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