Johnson City Commission: Cherry Street upgrade & camping citations

Zach Vance • Aug 8, 2018 at 10:55 PM

Cherry Street in downtown Johnson City will soon get a complete makeover.

Johnson City commissioners voted Wednesday to approve a proposal from the Johnson City Development Authority to pave the street, from South Roan to Spring Street, with bricks to make it more pedestrian- and bike-friendly.

The city has committed to funding $40,000 of the project, while the JCDA plans to contribute $50,000 in tax-increment financing funds. The various Cherry Street Commons’ property owners will pay for the remaining balance of the project, which is estimated to cost around $135,000.

“The project will allow Cherry Street Commons’ existing and proposed tenants to have outdoor dining, outdoor displays for retail during special sales, and most importantly, the extension will attract Tweetsie Trail and Tannery Knobs riders to park downtown, ride the bike paths and return to enjoy time downtown,” the JCDA’s proposal stated.

“We believe allowing access to the bike trails from downtown will also allow for the recruitment of outdoor-driven retailers (outdoor stores, touring groups, running apparel and so forth) that will thrive in downtown.”

Public Works Director Phil Pindzola said his department will tear up the asphalt, which will be done in addition to the $40,000 payment. He expects the asphalt removal will take two days.

Although he wasn’t exactly sure on the timetable, City Manager Pete Peterson estimated work could begin on the street as early as this fall.

Downtown police presence

Since taking effect July 1, Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner told commissioners his department has issued 10 “camping ban” citations for people sleeping on sidewalks and other city-owned property.

“Most of those or a lot of those will be heard this month so they have not been adjudicated in city court, yet. So the majority of those are pending,” Turner said.

“From what we know from talking to the officers ... a lot of people have voluntarily complied with the ordinance. So just a warning has been sufficient for most people down there.”

Passed in May, the controversial ordinance defines camping as using a temporary accommodation, tent or tarp for living accommodation activities, such as sleeping or making preparations to sleep. Laying down bedding for the purpose of sleeping, storing personal belongings, making a fire, earth breaking or cooking activities also fall under the city’s definition of “camping.”

A person who violates the ordinance can be fined $50 per day, similar to a parking ticket, but cannot be charged criminally.

Since meeting with downtown business owners in late June, Turner said his department has ramped up efforts by offering overtime for officers to patrol downtown.

“We’ve had a lot of positive comments. I have received some emails from the downtown business owners, as well, about the condition of downtown and how it has improved through reduction of panhandling and some of the crimes that have taken place in downtown,” he said.

During June and July, Johnson City police issued 31 open container violations, made 48 public intoxication arrests and 11 drug arrests. Parking citations have also increased with 177 written in June and July, which Turner said makes up more than half of the total issued in downtown this year.

The extra patrols have also resulted in a reduction in arrests on theft, simple assault and vandalism charges downtown, Turner said.

Downtown properties for sale

City commissioners also approved a one-year agreement with Mitch Cox Realtor Shannon Castillo to market four city-owned properties: the former J.C. Penney’s building; the former Woolworth building; the former Sears building and Blaine Cutshall’s former property at 323 E. Main St.

Castillo will be paid 6 percent of the sale price of each building.

The city is asking $621,500 for the JC Penney’s building; $500,000 for the Woolworth building; $279,000 for the Sears building and $140,000 for the property at 323 E. Main St.

There is also a clause in the agreement that permits Castillo to reduce those prices more than 25 percent to incentivize upon the economic impact a certain buyer might bring to downtown, such as the creation of jobs or demand downtown for other businesses. If that occurs, Castillo is to be paid based off 75 percent of the listing price, not the sale price.

Sesquicentennial project

Commissioners entered into a contract with Kingsport-based Barge Design Solutions to engineer and design the splash pad, water feature and playground at King Commons Park, a project meant to coincide with the city’s 150th anniversary in 2019.

The total maximum cost for the design was set at $300,000, but due to current funding questions and the short timetable, the city is currently only authorizing the completion of “Task 1,” which is the topographic survey and design of the project.

“In the two or three months needed for its completion, we should be in a better position to determine which elements of the project we could fund. Based on that information, we would proceed to the next tasks for negotiation and authorization by the commission,” the agenda stated.

“In the event funds allocated are less than the total project, this contract price would then be negotiated downward.”

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