City commissioners on Thursday breezed through a first reading of an ordinance to rezone property at the former Mennel Milling Co. and current Mize Farm & Garden sites to make way for a new 216-unit apartment complex proposed by North Carolina’s Evolve Development.
Though dozens of people potentially affected by the development were on hand to hear what commissioners had to say, they will have to wait until a second reading on Feb. 20, at which they will be able to speak their minds at a required public hearing.
Commissioners unanimously voted to approve rezoning the property at 500 W. Walnut St. from B-2 (central business) to B-3 (supporting central business). Both zoning districts allow multi-family uses. However, businesses in the central business district rely only on street and on-site parking.
Development Services Director Angie Carrier told commissioners there were people living in the Tree Streets area who have voiced concerns about the likelihood that most tenants would be college students, which could increase traffic and bring more noise and crime to that area.
Carrier, however, said the Johnson City Regional Planning Commission approved the plan and did not feel the development would create a negative impact to the surrounding area, as the B-3 district is intended to encourage developments that will support downtown.
At a Jan. 9 neighborhood meeting of Tree Streets residents, Johnson City attorney Tom McKee, who is representing Evolve, revealed the company will allow tenants to rent by the bedroom, a common practice for student housing. That, too, is expected to be a topic of concern when commissioners hear from residents in two weeks.
“Do we have any lines that delineate the central business district?” Commissioner Jenny Brock asked Carrier.
“No,” Carrier replied.
“Are there any disqualifying reasons why this property should not be zoned B-3?” Brock asked.
“No,” Carrier answered.
The vote proceeded with only one other comment: “There will be a lot more discussion on this in the next few weeks,” said Vice Mayor Clayton Stout.
Commissioners also unanimously approved a slightly reworded resolution authorizing debt service payments for the construction of the new Washington County/Johnson City Animal Control Center (animal shelter). In June, the City Commission unanimously voted to add $1.5 million to its fiscal 2014 budget for the purpose of constructing the new center. Stout introduced the idea last year as city officials were rewriting a third and final reading of the FY 2013-14 budget ordinance.
The resolution states that the city will make an annual financial contribution to the Animal Control Board sufficient to retire the debt in 20 years, but wording was added to include “or its successor” to ensure that if, for example the Humane Society for some reason assumed operations, funding would not be cut off.
The Animal Control Board will be the entity that issues the debt and is responsible for building the new shelter, and city contributions for construction of the new center off North Roan Street will go directly to that board.
City Manager Pete Peterson has suggested in the past that the city could use funds from the gas franchise fee, reduce the variable rate debt allocation from 5 percent to 3.5 percent, cut special appropriation spending and eliminate the 1 percent early tax payment discount to help pay for the added expenses.
On Thursday, he said only that the funding source will be “built into next year’s budget.”