The City Commission approved a third reading of developer Mitch Cox’s concept plan and rezoning request for the 62-unit Villas at Towne Acres on Thursday after a restraining order initiated by property owners in June caused a seven-week hiatus on a final vote.
Both the concept plan and rezoning passed by a 4-1 vote with Mayor Jeff Banyas voting against the measures for the third consecutive time. Cox got his request to rezone about 2.5 acres from PB (Planned Business) to R-4 (Medium Density). The complex in its entirety will sit on a roughly 4.5-acre parcel at the intersection of Peoples Street and Sharon Drive.
The restraining order never made it to court and was dropped Monday. Cox spoke to commissioners and indicated he made some changes to the plan that all parties had agreed to, including modifying the construction of some buildings from three stories (garage, first floor, second floor) to two-story structures as well as adding higher-quality fencing, taller trees and more extensive buffering.
“I’m pleased to be back after a small delay,” Cox told commissioners. “The city process asks developers to go out and talk to neighborhoods. (Property owners) construed that our conversations were contractual obligations.”
On Feb. 14, as Cox’s preliminary plan to develop property near the Towne Acres subdivision began circulating among Johnson City staff, Public Works Director Phil Pindzola emailed City Engineer Allan Cantrell.
“The plan looks fine and completely with no aesthetic value. I’d say the neighborhood association will have something to say. And secondly, even though this comment has no basis in the code, but if it looks like the crap built on Knob Creek, an opportunity for good development will be wasted,” Pindzola’s email said.
Pindzola was referring to Cox’s Stone Crest condominiums, the same structures Towne Acres property owners cited en masse at a May 19 City Commission meeting as being shoddily built and undesirable to the eye. They also begged commissioners not to allow Cox to go forward with the new development, claiming he and the city had violated a verbal agreement to build high-end office space and high-quality condominiums at the site.
“We don’t have an aesthetic code,” Pindzola said Thursday. “The community can really stand out with really good aesthetics. I’ve said what I said in the email in public many times.”
In other business, the commission approved cuts to nonprofits and other agencies in a 3-2 vote, with Banyas and Myron voting in opposition.
The move affects this budget year’s city payout for special appropriations, and cuts were made to Frontier Health ($12,000) and Carter County Tomorrow ($5,000). In addition, all remaining nonprofits were cut by 10 percent across the board. The vote also ensured that $50,000 will be appropriated this year to help with construction of the Johnson City-Washington County Veterans Memorial.
“I had an awful lot of calls today,” Myron said before the vote as about 20 staff members from Girls Inc. listened. “I’m very concerned. I don’t want you to think everyone is dead in the water.”
Banyas said the decision wasn’t an easy one and the agencies serve a great benefit to the community. But he also questioned whether the city has proper guidelines in place that help commissioners when the decisions present themselves. He also commented on the approximately 100 other agencies that didn’t even make the list for consideration this year.
“Next year’s budget is going to be tough,” said Vice Mayor Phil Carriger. “It’s no secret to anybody that the economy is very flat. We’re already three policemen short.”
Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin said commissioners remain interested in listening to and communicating with the agencies.
“I think you all need to know that I feel funding these agencies through special appropriations is appropriate,” he said. “However, we’re still in an economy where we’re not seeing an increase in revenues. The schools are facing funding problems, and that funding is a priority.”
Commissioner Clayton Stout chose not to comment.