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Johnson City Commission takes first step to land large retail development

Gary B. Gray • Jul 19, 2013 at 11:14 AM

The City Commission on Thursday passed the first reading of an ordinance to rezone property off North State of Franklin Road that would support a 29-acre retail development proposed by Brentwood’s GBT Realty Corporation.

Though some commissioners asked to defer the vote until a specific traffic study could be conducted and reviewed, it now moves to a second reading and public hearing in a 3-2 squeaker.

After about five minutes of debate concerning traffic flow and possible congestion created by the development, Commissioner Jenny Brock made a motion to go forward with the first reading. Brock, Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin and Commissioner Jeff Banyas voted to move forward. Vice Mayor Clayton Stout and Commissioner David Tomita wanted to defer the move and voted against the rezoning.

The developer wants to rezone property located at 920 N. State of Franklin Road from MS-1 (Medical Services) to B-4 (Planned Arterial Business). Mountain States Health Alliance owns the land.

GBT has dubbed the massive undertaking Franklin Commons, and preliminary plans show two phases of construction. The first includes four outparcels (individual retail sites in a shopping center) and a grocery store. The second is a massive area that would be used for retail, as well as for four outparcels fronted by North State of Franklin. Drawings show a 425-space parking lot in the center of these structures.

It appeared Thursday night that commissioners basically accepted the plan. But fitting even more vehicles in that area became a concern — a concern shared by the Hunters Lake Community Association, since the subdivision is positioned near the site.

Angie Carrier, Development Services Department director, told commissioners the proposed development would generate about 4,900 vehicle trips daily, according to information from the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

“Have you driven on Skyline Drive?” Banyas asked about the two-lane throughway being considered for use as an access road. “It’s barely big enough for two cars.”

City Manager Pete Peterson said additional turn lanes would be added on North State of Franklin and that Skyline would get new asphalt and “probably be widened by a few feet.”

“I’m not inclined to vote for this at this time,” Tomita said. “Perhaps after looking at a traffic study.”

Banyas agreed.

“You’re taking a lot of cars and dumping them into an area that already is very crowded,” he said.

Still, Banyas decided to move the rezoning process forward.

If the concept plan is approved, the city would allow right turn access and egress off North State of Franklin Road — the same approach taken in the Fresh Market design. But that would place the road off Sunset Drive about 500 feet away from its intersection with North State of Franklin, an intersection with six lanes.

“I’m pleased that the right questions were asked, and I think the request for a traffic study highlights concerns we’ve expressed,” said Urs Gsteiger, a Hunters Lake resident.

GBT is a commercial development and net lease company located just outside of Nashville which has just more than 300 developments throughout the entire country.

Commissioners also approved a contract with Beeson, Lusk & Street to provide architectural services for the design of the new fieldhouse at Kermit Tipton Stadium. The company will receive 5 percent of construction costs. Science Hill High School Athletic Director Keith Turner has been raising money for the project for several years. Design of the new building must be completed before specific construction costs are known.

The five-member board also took another step toward alleviating downtown flooding when they approved a more than $833,000 contract with Elizabethton’s Summers-Taylor for construction of a new underground culvert at the intersection of Main and Broadway streets. The area has been hit hard by flooding over the past month.

In other business, commissioners:

n Approved an ordinance that designates the Department of Development Services as the overseer of the city’s codes enforcement. The existing ordinance cited the state as having granted the Public Works Department that authority. Angie Carrier is the Department of Development Services director.

n Approved an ordinance that repeals a section of city code that allowed a 1 percent discount for the early payment of property taxes. The money will go toward repayment of debt incurred by borrowing $1.5 million to help construct the new Washington County-Johnson City Animal Shelter.

n Approved a $143,600 contract with Elizabethton’s Floyd Storie Roofing Contractors to re-roof seven buildings at the Brush Creek Wastewater Facility.

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