My response to a recent front-page story about Evolve Development wanting to buy the former General Mills property, as well as the entire block, to build 168 apartment units is one of concern.
Johnson City is the only “green” city in all of Tennessee. We are currently creating more green space for community use and enjoyment, as well as working on flood abatement, building a permanent farmers’ market, building the Tweetsie trail, encouraging community gardens and attempting to connect East Tennessee State University’s campus with the downtown by a walking path. Why would we want to have only apartments “not for the student population” and no stores on this property?
My first objection is the loss of a business, Mize Farm and Garden, that I patronize almost every week for my own needs, as well as that of the community gardens I coordinate. I don’t want to drive to Gray or go to big box stores to purchase seeds and garden tools, and I am sure there are a lot of my neighbors in the area that don’t either.
I am not saying the present owners can’t or shouldn’t sell if that is what they wish. What I don’t understand is why it has to be part of this tear-down. Why can’t the Mize property be offered for sale as an intact and thriving business? I think the decision not to have stores in the Evolve Development plan is a mistake. All one has to do is look at thriving communities and see that walking access to mixed-use spaces — such as coffee shops, small groceries, bakeries, bookstores and other local endeavors — are key to sustainable communities.
Secondly, why tear down such a great landmark? Look at what Tupelo Honey is doing to save the train station. I can see that some of the General Mills building is not worth restoring and definitely landscaping is needed. Why not look at development companies that have taken historic buildings and restored them for reuse that includes housing. Surely the examples of the former downtown businesses that are now condominiums are worth exploring.
ETSU is looking for art space out in the community; the example of the old glass factory in Morgantown, W.Va., which was turned into restaurant and gallery/studio space, is an excellent example of reuse.
And where is the need for housing? Does this city really need another 168 apartments, considering the empty spaces in downtown, the impending building of apartments on the former Mulligan Flooring property and other apartment and housing complexes going up all over town? I would request that our City Commission and Economic Development Council take a good look at this. Empty housing stock is not good for business.
Another consideration is to ask what the plans for this complex are. Will it be LEED certified, and are there plans to install solar panels on roofs? If the City Commission does feel that this development plan is of benefit to the city’s housing mix, then shouldn’t it take into account future needs? Is there truly a population that needs more housing?
Is this requested change in zoning truly going to benefit the ETSU-downtown corridor? Will this benefit the existing businesses on Walnut Street? How will the loss of a successful business affect the area?
I truly think these questions are not being addressed, and because a zoning variation is being requested, the City Commission should look carefully at how this change will affect the community in the long term.
Lyn A. Govette lives in Johnson City.