Serious discussion on exactly where businesses should be built or located in the city is occurring for the first time in nearly 40 years.
Steve Neilson, development coordinator with the Johnson City Planning Department, appeared before the Johnson City Development Authority Friday morning requesting input from that group in the zoning conversation. The conversation has only begun, but the Johnson City Regional Planning Commission is seeking out input from many people for ideas, suggestions and comments on what, if anything, needs to be changed in the zoning codes for Johnson City’s business areas.
“Zoning codes have been amended over the years but it’s not really been looked at comprehensively since 1972,” Neilson said.
While business districts are not limited to downtown, it is one area that would certainly be affected by any change in zoning codes. Currently, the downtown area has B-2 and B-3 zones, which limits what can be built there and allows some things to be built that may be better suited to other areas, Neilson suggested.
The B-2 zones are essentially in the middle of downtown, and the B-3 zones are on the periphery. The intention of the B-2 zones, or central business zones, “is to promote a compact urban core with a mixture of commercial, office, institutional and residential uses which facilitate pedestrian accessibility,” according to documents provided by Neilson. Those same documents indicate that B-3 zones can have hospitals, warehouses, storage yards, bottling operations and several other things.
“When people are driving into the city, what do we want to see?” Neilson asked. “What do we want to see? Do we want the buildings to be brick? Do we want people to hide mechanical equipment?”
There are two sub-committees of the Planning Commission looking at zoning. The first committee is looking at gateways into the downtown area and design guideline overlays for those entrances.
The other committee is charged with looking at all the various business zones — B-1, B-2, B-3, B-4 and PB — across the city.
Things have changed in 40 years and people now are interested in mixed-use zoning, Neilson said.
“So we’re looking at maybe adding uses but maybe taking some out,” Neilson said.
One example of a possible change that could be discussed is allowing residential housing in the same building as commercial business.
Currently, city code has been modified to allow security offices with beds in businesses but it is not uniform and it is certainly not residential.
“We regularly have requests for apartments in the back of a commercial building,” Neilson said. “But we get people who are trying to do more things. And having a residential component is one of them.”
He said other developing cities have implemented similar zoning codes.
“The whole key to downtown is to have this continuous frontage of buildings, so that when you’re walking you don’t see any breaks,” Neilson said.
No time line for the analysis and discussion of business zoning was given, but Planning Commission sub-committee chairwoman Angie Marshall said the process would take time and not be rushed.
“We’re also studying other cities and seeing what has worked for them and maybe what has inhibited them and maybe seeing how we could develop our own codes,” Marshall said.
Besides input from the JCDA, the Planning Commission is working with the Washington County Economic Development Council an the Johnson City Commission.
“We want to make it easy for people to come here and business to come here but also protect our citizens at the same time,” Neilson said.