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Proposed development facing fight

March 13th, 2014 8:25 pm by Gary B. Gray

Proposed development facing fight

A North Carolina company is testing the waters in Washington County for feedback on a proposed $12 million student-housing development just outside the Johnson City limits in the Sinking Creek Road neighborhood.

If Wednesday night’s meeting in Jonesborough between concerned citizens and Stonegate Developers’ principals, Jeff Wakeman and Dale Tweedy, is any indication, the plan will be an extremely tough sell.

The neighborhood appears to be very well-organized and armed to the teeth with questions — and attorneys. They say increased traffic, environmental problems and all-around safety concerns are compelling reasons to shoo away the development.

“It would be an environmental disaster and shortsighted action by our local government,” said Don Spurrell, a local attorney and owner of land adjacent to the 63.7 acres sought by the developer. “If they decide to go forward with it, we will take action, including litigation.”

Stonegate is eyeing six parcels of land east of Hickory Springs Road — a dead-end road under which Sinking Creek flows. The mountainous and tree-covered property lies just beyond the upper end of Hickory Springs. The Charlotte, N.C.-area developer wants to build a 119- to 150-unit development comprised of stand-alone, four-bedroom cottages.

Washington County Zoning Administrator Mike Rutherford said more than 50 people filled his conference room Wednesday.

“It was a very civilized meeting, but no one spoke in favor of the development except the developers,” he said. “Our office sent out 102 notifications publicizing the meeting. Mr. Bill Francisco showed up with a petition containing 72 signatures of people in opposition to this.

“The developer wants to build cottages — not like what you see downtown. We don’t know what square footage we’re talking about yet, but we do know each cottage would have a kitchen, laundry and ‘social room.’ It actually fits the land well, but you’ve got to buy a lot of land to accommodate parking. They also would be responsible for constructing new streets, since it’s all within a giant development.”

Neither Wakeman nor Tweedy were available for comment Thursday.

Rutherford said the developer wanted to begin construction this year and finish the job 18 months after breaking ground.

“The developer claims it would take 18 months to complete, and we know that probably wouldn’t happen,” said Spurrell, who acted as the neighborhood’s spokesman at the meeting. “Sinking Creek is there, and it’s very sensitive to the environment. The developer would blast, drill and log out thousands of cubic feet of woodland, which contains a number of underground springs, a number of species of animals — some of them perhaps on the endangered list.

“We also have safety concerns with children. A former state trooper who lives in the neighborhood spoke, and he got really emotional about the number of people he thought might be killed on Sinking Creek because of the added traffic.”

Rutherford said most people who spoke in opposition had concerns about traffic, especially the fact the area and the current road system in place could not handle heavy traffic.

“Their main objection related to what happened 18-20 years ago when a propane explosion at a condominium in that area caused a fire, and emergency services had a tough time getting there,” he said. “When they showed up, the area was congested and it caused delays. They also were concerned specifically about the increase in student traffic. The developer said they had talked with (East Tennessee State University) officials about possibly changing one of the bus routes to accommodate the student population there.”

The ball is now in Stonegate’s court. The developer will have to decide whether to make a formal proposal to the Zoning Administrator’s Office. If so, plans would be reviewed by the Johnson City Regional Planning Commission. The issue would go to this commission because the proposed development is within a 5-mile radius of the city.

The planning commission would then make a recommendation regarding the approval or disapproval of the plan, and send it along to the County Commission for an up or down vote.

Stonegate is constructing The Standard, an off-campus student housing facility for Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C. The facility features more than 450 beds with commercial space on the first floor.

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