The proposed Walnut Street apartment complex already repeating its rezoning process because of improper public notice earlier this year will now return to the Johnson City Board of Zoning Appeals to answer procedural challenges posed in a lawsuit filed earlier this week.
Tom McKee, the attorney representing Greensboro, N.C.-headquartered Evolve Development LLC, said Thursday that he believed some of the claims in Southside Neighborhood Organization member Amber Floyd Lee’s lawsuit pointing to improper application of the city’s zoning ordinance in the granting of a variance for the mill property have merit.
“It’s a situation where they’re doing everything they can to try and delay the thing,” McKee said. “It’s pretty obvious what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, but they’ve raised several legitimate issues related to the city and the way they handled it.”
In Lee’s suit, among allegations the BZA did not have the required evidence needed to grant the property an exception from the city code allowing the owner to build parking spaces between structures and West State of Franklin Road, the attorney and Tree Streets neighborhood resident underscores two articles in the city’s zoning ordinance that she said were not followed.
First, Lee said the sign posted at the property advertising the upcoming BZA action did not include the reason for the variance request, nor the time and location of the meeting at which the variance would be considered, all required by Johnson City Zoning Ordinance Article 15.3.3.
The zoning board’s members also failed to specifically state their reasons for granting the variance, as required by Article 220.127.116.11, Lee alleges, a claim not disputed by McKee.
“Basically, this filing is attacking the city’s staff for their handling of the process,” McKee said. “The variance can be corrected by the BZA, it’s not a fatal flaw. There were deficiencies in there, but they can be corrected.”
Johnson City spokeswoman Keisha Shoun sent an emailed statement Thursday saying the city was “unaware of any procedural mistakes” in the granting of the variance. She noted that McKee picked up an application for a variance request, but had not yet submitted it.
On Thursday, the project was also before the City Commission, for a redo of the second reading of a rezoning request that will allow the owner of the mill property to maintain residential units on the ground floor instead of commercial businesses, as it’s currently zoned.
The city approved the rezone by a vote of 3-2 on third reading in April, but questions on the notification for a second reading and public hearing sent it back to the start in May.
McKee said a third party’s ability to intentionally slow down development cast the city in a bad light from an outside viewpoint.
“People try to come in and invest money, but they have so much trouble dealing with neighborhood associations,” he said. “They city’s trying to avoid tax increases and expand the tax base, but things like this are not a good reflection on the city.”
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