Developers not dissuaded by Model Mill mix-up

Gary B. Gray • Apr 29, 2014 at 10:14 PM

Johnson City’s failure to give proper public notice of a second reading and public hearing to rezone the Model Mill property has, for now, derailed plans for a North Carolina company to develop an apartment complex on the site.

Commissioners unanimously approved the rezoning on first reading on Feb. 6. The second reading and public hearing was held Feb. 20, and the third and final reading was April 3. Commissioners voted 3-2 at the two final readings to approve the rezoning.

“We were notified by Amber Lee, Southside Neighborhood Organization’s attorney, that apparently we had not given public notice in the newspaper,” Johnson City Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin said Tuesday. “By law, we have to go back and start with the first reading, hold another public hearing at a second reading as well as hold a third reading.

“She advised city management, and the first I heard of it was Monday. My understanding is the Chamber has not closed the deal with the developer. The best of us make mistakes.”

TCA 8-44-103 states: “Any such governmental body which holds a meeting previously scheduled by statute, ordinance, or resolution shall give adequate public notice of such meeting.”

A first reading to rezone the property is expected to appear on Thursday’s City Commission agenda.

Johnson-City-Jonesborough-Washington County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gary Mabrey said there is a binding contract in place with Evolve Development LLC to construct a $18.5 million, 216-unit apartment complex off West Walnut Street and West State of Franklin Road — property which includes the now-vacated Mize Farm & Garden Supply.

“All this does is require us to meet another 30-day period,” Mabrey said.

Scott Austin, one of four Evolve principals and the lead representative in the company’s quest to build here in Johnson City, was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

Tom McKee, the company’s local legal counsel and spokesman, said that from Evolve’s standpoint, the mix-up was an inconvenience, not a problem.

“I’m sure the city certainly regrets this, but things happen,” he said. “We don’t blame the city at all. They’ve been very proactive. We’re not slowing down at all. We’ve started environmental studies, and we plan to continue.”

The plan to develop the roughly 6-acre site was first proposed publicly in October. Since that time, commissioners approved Evolve’s request to rezone the mill property from B-2 (central business district) to B-3 (supporting central business district). Now, they will have to go through the entire process again.

About one week prior to the City Commission’s final reading, the Board of Zoning Appeals approved a request for a variance, or exception, from the city’s parking code to allow part of its parking lot to be built between West State of Franklin Road and the complex’s buildings.

SNO President Jodi Jones said the Tree Streets neighborhood group will intensify some of their efforts, especially regarding the mill’s preservation.

“I’m sure we’ll have some strategic meetings,” she said. “We had a lot of irons in the fire before that third reading, and we were hoping to see one get hot. What this does is buy us some time, which is good. There seemed to be a groundswell of interest in saving the mill. We’re still trying to stay the wrecking ball.”

Follow Gary B. Gray on Twitter at @ggrayjcpress. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/garybgrayjcp.

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