The search for the Washington County-Johnson City animal shelter’s new home will continue well into September after a request for alternate sites yielded so-so results, with two of the four submittals being found unfit and a new search for county-owned land now under way.
Shelter Director Debbie Dobbs proposed to both entities that the shelter’s operations be moved to a 16,000-square-foot building at 103 L.P. Auer Road. The location offers adequate space with at least a 20-year growth buffer. The property also is located in an unpopulated area of the city, which should eliminate any noise complaints, she said.
Until late June, it appeared this choice was a shoo-in. But City Manager Pete Peterson and County Mayor Dan Eldridge agreed to solicit alternative sites.
“We’re not changing our mind, or trying to slow the process, (we’re) simply making sure that all potential options are explored,” Peterson said at the time.
The L.P. Auer site was resubmitted as an option, as were three other sites, said Johnson City Public Works Director Phil Pindzola, who crafted the proposal.
“The L.P. Auer site, which is priced at $700,000 and a site at 2809 W. Walnut St. remain possible choices,” he said. “The Walnut Street location has a 13,000-square-foot building on 2.5 acres priced at $575,000 and an additional 4.7 acres of vacant land valued at $188,000.”
On Friday, the city sent a request to the county asking for a list of county-owned land that may be available. “We believe it still may be in the best interest of taxpayers to purchase vacant land and build a brand new facility,” he said. “We think a new building would be in the $650,000 to $750,000 range, and that doesn’t include the cost of land.”
Pindzola said Dobbs and members of the animal control board surveyed locations on Collins Drive off West Market Street and a lot on Quarry Drive near Interstate 26. Both were deemed unsuitable.
Pindzola also said the L.P. Auer location is in a flood plain and could prove to be more expensive to develop than first anticipated.
“We’re looking at costs,” he said. “We’re going to have an architect in on Sept. 8 to talk with the animal control board. We’ll be talking to them about what they think it would cost to build a new facility. It was obvious there was not enough flat land on the other two locations. So we’ll be talking with the county about available land and getting feedback from the architect. Both the City Commission and County Commission would have to approve the site, but the animal control board will play a big part in this.”
Pindzola said the animal control board is considering using the Charlottesville, Va., architectural firm Daggett and Gregg Architects and that estimates to renovate the two sites being considered should be ready sometime next week.
There are very few people, city and county officials included, who would say there isn’t an urgent need to relocate the animal shelter to a larger facility, and animal control officials have been asking for a new facility for more than a decade.
“I think property on the west side of the city will suit us best,” Dobbs said. “We’re working with the city, and we’re involved in the entire process. No matter what, I think this (site search) was a good move and we’re going forward with it.”
The County Commission’s General Health and Welfare Committee and its budget committee had recommended the commission approve a joint purchase of the L.P. Auer property, providing up to $350,000 toward the $700,000 purchase. After discussions with Peterson, Eldridge asked that the recommendation be revisited at a later date.
The county plans to use a portion of the money made from the sale of the Downtown Centre toward its half of the purchase. The Johnson City Development Authority has agreed to pay the county $1 million for the center and is trying to obtain financing for the purchase.
In July, the City Commission approved an allocation not to exceed $350,000 from its Industrial Park/Med-Tech Park fund to meet the county’s match to relocate the animal shelter.
The current animal shelter facility at 525 Sells Ave. is owned by the animal control board, but the city owns the land under the building and intends to sell it for commercial development.
The locations considered unsuitable at this time are 200-224 Quarry Road, which includes three multi-family structures on about 7.8 acres of land valued at $425,000 to $450,000. The other location is 616-621 Collins Drive. This property consists of about 6.5 acres and includes three buildings with a total square footage of more than 6,700 and a total value of $250,000 to $300,000.