Task force searches for recommendation on street to name after Martin Luther King Jr.

Zach Vance • Aug 31, 2017 at 11:17 PM

Following Thursday’s public comment session, Johnson City Regional Planning Commission Chairman Dr. Timothy Zajonc really wanted a unanimous recommendation on which Johnson City street name should be changed to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

But some things take time.

Nearly 50 people filed into the Memorial Park Community Center and selected one of three streets to change: East and West King Street from Elm Street to Watauga Avenue; Legion Street and University Parkway from State of Franklin Road to Market Street.

After two hours, city staff members gathered all the written comments, and it seemed University Parkway garnered the most support.

But Johnson City Development Services Director Angie Carrier said the city’s Geographic Information Systems Division and 911 officials strongly discouraged changing University Parkway’s name due to public safety concerns, as well as the 200 addresses it would impact.

Regardless, task force members Wayne Robertson and Ralph Davis, both members of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, remained steadfast with their University Parkway preference because of its high visibility.

Other members were either lenient with their selection or recommended King Street, as long as it came with the city’s commitment to invest in further development along the street.

Zajonc suggested voting on a ranking of the streets, but member Jeff Benedict said the task force should further study the different streets before moving forward with a recommendation, a motion other members supported as well.

“I was pleased with our meeting because it was a step in the process. Clearly, visibility is an important part of this project for those who are involved,” Zajonc said.

“In order to do this properly, if we don’t have a major street, we need to demonstrate and ensure that the street we’re putting together creates an entire package that’s even better.

“We’d like to see — if we move to King Street as our recommendation — that everyone involved would have to feel ensured that it’s not just a street, but a destination that encourages awareness of civil rights history (and) of Dr. King.

Mike Cummings, also a task force member, said he wanted to see the King Street development idea “fleshed out,” such as incorporating a statue of King in the park, before making a definitive decision.

“(I’d like to see) some identification. So when you’re coming off Interstate 26, you have a historical African-American school there (Langston) with some tie-ins to our history of the area, no different than State of Franklin,” Cummings said. “This is way bigger than a street.”

Altogether, Cummings and others appeared satisfied with the decision to defer a recommendation.

“The people here, they’ve spoke. They need more information. Although, you have three different options, people need information. It’s not that they’re against anything, it’s just this is the first time you’ve given them an opportunity to have a voice (in the selection),” Cummings said.

In the next few weeks, the task force plans to walk down the two streets, speak with residents, really visualize what can be accomplished and determine the cost.

“It’s important to flesh out what you can do and what you can’t do. It’s very important not to promise something you can’t do or can’t guarantee. That would be disingenuous,” Zajonc said.

“A concept plan is only as good as the funding, as Wayne and Ralph were concerned, and that’s legitimate. What we want to do is flesh this out to the point that we understand what we really can guarantee could happen or could not, and how we can come together privately and publicly to have that happen.”

During the task force’s next meeting, which has yet to be scheduled, Davis suggested having GIS and 911 officials present to specifically explain the public safety concerns related to changing the name of University Parkway.

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.




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