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Johnson City still determining fix for breezeway wall

David Floyd • Updated Aug 15, 2019 at 10:49 AM

After noticing that a 4-inch veneer wall in the breezeway on East Main Street was at risk of falling, Johnson City hired a firm in October to demolish it.

The side of the building has been exposed since the demolition occurred in late 2018.

“It’s safe and secure, but it’s just not aesthetically pleasing,” said Randy Trivette, the city’s director of facilities management.

The city is in the process of determining how to replace the veneer wall, and although they agreed the bottom 15 feet of the structure should be made of brick, city staff and members of the Historic Zoning Commission have gone back and forth about the type of material the city should use for the top portion of the wall.

Staff have said the footing is not strong enough to support a brick wall that extends the full height of the adjacent building at 220 E. Main St.

“We as the Historic Zoning Commission are being as accommodating as possible,” commission Chair Nathan Brand said, “and would love to see the choice of a beautiful, appropriate material in that area, but given the high traffic from several directions and the permanence of this decision, it’s not one that should be entered into lightly, and it’s one that should set a strong example for the rest of our applicants.”

The Historic Zoning Commission initially denied a proposal from the city to use HardiePlank siding and approved an exterior insulation finishing system or traditional stucco for the project. On Tuesday, the body met in a special called meeting to consider a subsequent request from the city to use ribbed metal siding for the top portion of the reconstruction project.

After a tie vote over denying the city’s request, Brand said the commission decided Tuesday to adjourn the meeting without taking any action, which maintained the commission’s prior decision to use EIFS or traditional stucco for the top portion of the project.

Staff intended to place the item on Thursday’s City Commission agenda, but Trivette said he decided to pull it because the bids for rebuilding the wall with brick and EIFS came in at a higher cost than he anticipated.

“I wanted to pull it until we could do some more investigation exploring other options,” Trivette said.

City Manager Pete Peterson said in January that the city has owned the breezeway property since crews tore down the building that previously occupied the space.

Brand said the body’s guidelines for materials in the downtown historic district mention two desired features: Traditional materials and durable materials.

Metal siding, Brand said, is not traditional and only appears on two structures in the downtown historic district. He said only one of those cases, where it appears on the In Stitches building at 408 S. Roan St., is permanent. Metal siding would, however, have high durability, he said, and the city has maintained that the material would have a lower maintenance cost.

“I certainly understand the fiscal constraints, but fiscal constraints is not under the purview of the Historic Zoning Commission,” Brand said.

Trivette said the metal siding is a light-weight material and can be cut to fit the location.

“Putting that styrofoam and EIFS up there, it would look good when it’s first installed, but after a while it weathers really bad and stains and then you have to repaint it,” he said.

Trivette said the Johnson City Development Authority is looking at adding benches, more shade and outdoor eating space in the breezeway to make it more friendly for visitors.

“So I want to get a lot of bang for our buck,” Trivette said, which would involve avoiding the need to re-caulk or repaint the wall every few years.

He mentioned that one option for the project could involve filling in the voids on the existing wall with brick before painting or spraying on a solid-colored waterproofing material to weatherproof the wall.

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