Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press
Plans to demolish a 100-year-old flour mill in Johnson City and build a five-building multifamily apartment complex in its place could be delayed again, this time from a legal challenge to a variance granted in April for the project.
Johnson City attorney Amber Floyd Lee, a member of the Southside Neighborhood Organization and a vocal opponent of the complex planned by North Carolina’s Evolve Development LLC, filed a lawsuit on June 2 against Evolve and the city Board of Zoning Appeals, claiming a mishandling of the board’s variance approval process allowing the developer to build parking spaces between the site’s structures and West State of Franklin Road.
Echoing objections she raised during the BZA’s variance process, Lee’s suit claims the city board granted the property an exception to the zoning regulations outside of its authority given by Tennessee law and Johnson City code.
Lee’s suit, filed in Washington County Chancery Court on her behalf by attorney Rebecca Ketchie with Wilson, Worley, Moore, Gamble & Stout, claims the Model Mill property and the neighboring Mize Farm & Garden Supply property did not suffer from conditions unique to the area and should not have been granted the variance.
At the April 1 hearing, representatives of Evolve and city planners said the variance was needed to allow the complex’s buildings to be constructed outside the 100-year floodplain, with parking between them and West State of Franklin.
“On this particular property, I don’t believe the Board of Zoning Appeals handled it appropriately,” Lee said Wednesday. “I’m interested in working with the board once this is done to educate them if they’re interested. It is a really arcane and specific area of law, and I’ve learned a lot about it in this process.”
The lawsuit also claims the BZA did not properly give public notice that a variance for the property was under consideration, and the signs posted at the mill did not contain the information required by Johnson City Zoning Ordinance.
Lee asks that the judge reverse the BZA’s variance and grant an injunction to keep Evolve from demolishing the structures on the properties while the case is pending.
According to the court clerk’s office, no answer to the petition has yet been filed by the zoning board or by Evolve, and the case does not have a hearing date set.
Johnson City Development Services Director Angie Carrier said Wednesday afternoon that the city has not been served with the writ, but Lee did visit her office Monday to notify her of her intention to file it.
If a judge does reverse the variance and send the issue back to the BZA, it would be the second do-over for the apartment project.
Tonight, the City Commission is scheduled to hold the second reading of a rezoning ordinance that will allow the developer to place residential units on the ground levels of the buildings instead of commercial business space.
The commission passed the ordinance by split vote in April after a third reading, but a challenge to the city’s public notice process for the readings put the issue back at the start.
Neither Evolve’s local representative Tom McKee, nor Scott Austin, one of the principals for the real estate developer, could be reached Wednesday for comment on Lee’s suit.
In April, however, Austin said the company hoped to begin construction near the first of next year, and said he didn’t believe there were any legal concerns with the project.
Follow Nathan Baker on Twitter @JCPressBaker. Like him on Facebook: www.facebook.com/jcpressbaker.
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