Plans for former Model Mill site still evolving

Nathan Baker • Dec 16, 2013 at 9:58 PM

Five four-story apartment buildings could soon add to the housing options in the university corridor, as the developer’s plans change to absorb a neighboring active business.

The site plan included with a zoning alteration request from prospective builder Evolve Development LLC originally showed four buildings where the former Model Mill now stands idle between West State of Franklin Road and West Walnut Street, but has since been amended to add another 48-unit building and 120 more parking spaces with the inclusion of the Mize Farm & Garden Supply property next door.

Three 40-unit buildings remain oriented parallel to the Walnut Street side of the property, although the plans now show a landscaping buffer between the dwellings and the roadway. The fourth, which was originally shown on the opposite side of the property along the State of Franklin greenway, is now rotated 90 degrees, situated closer to the center of the property and joined by a twin building with a courtyard in between.

In addition to the pool and clubhouse shown in the original drawings, a full-size beach volleyball court, a half-length basketball court and a cabana are now planned for the courtyard space.

Johnson City Chamber of Commerce Director Gary Mabrey has publicly supported the most recent plan to sell off the Chamber-owned mill property since word of a possible deal was announced.

The Chamber Foundation purchased the mill property for $400,000 in June 2008 through a partnership with 10 local banks with hopes of a quick turnaround and plans to move the Chamber’s headquarters to the century-old flour mill, but subsequent years brought the housing market crash and the economic recession, and interest in the aging building dematerialized.

Mabrey now says Evolve’s plan, which includes razing the former industrial site, is the best option that has been presented to the Chamber.

On the website for real estate broker TCI Group: Jerry Petzold Agency, the 4.8-acre Model Mill site has long been paired as an option with the adjoining Mize land, which brings the total site to 6 acres and gives the potential buyer a full block of frontage along busy State of Franklin Road.

An email asking a Mize representative to comment on the potential sale and the future of the business in Johnson City was unanswered Monday.

If the development is approved, it will join other multi-unit apartment buildings already built or in the process of being built along State of Franklin.

The University Edge student community, near ETSU’s Thomas Stadium, and Monarch 815, a luxury student housing development planned for the site of the now demolished Mullican Flooring manufacturing facility, differ from the Evolve project in that they cater primarily to students, Mabrey said.

“There’s a significant dissimilarity between this one and the others,” the Chamber president said. “One is student housing, and the other is intended for multi-family apartments. There’s a dog park and a children’s playground in this one, and I think that’s something that isn’t really aimed at students.”

Mabrey’s emphasis on the difference between targeted residents is intended to quell concerns from a group representing homeowners from the well-established Tree Streets neighborhood, who have met several times since the development plans were revealed to discuss speculation the property would also house students, bringing noise and additional traffic.

The zoning alteration requested by the Chamber and Evolve would change the mill property from B-2, or Central Business District, to B-3, or Supporting Central Business District.

It would allow Evolve to operate residential housing without maintaining a retail business on the ground floor.

The company is also requesting a variance from the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals giving it permission to build parking spaces between the building and State of Franklin Road. That body will next meet at 9 a.m. Jan. 14.

If the board approves the zoning change, the proposal will go before the Johnson City Commission in February and will have a second reading in March.

Mabrey said if the plan clears those hurdles, then the Chamber and Evolve will move forward with the property’s acquisition.

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