Residents: National Register application contains inaccuracies

David Floyd • Sep 16, 2019 at 11:00 PM

Residents of a historic neighborhood in Johnson City say a 79-page application sent to the state contains inaccurate information about their homes.

The application was sent to the State Review Board for their recommendation on whether Johnson City’s Hillrise Park neighborhood should be included on the National Register of Historic Places.

“There’s numerous (inaccuracies),” Joe Hodges, who lives in the neighborhood, told members of the Johnson City Commission during their agenda review meeting on Monday evening. He was one of several residents of Hillrise Park who attended the meeting on Monday.

For example, Hodges said the application said that his home has wood under his windows, but the material is actually granite. He said the document also incorrectly lists his home as a one-and-a-half story house rather than one with two stories with a full basement.

He also said the application contains a reference to a home on Hillrise Boulevard being originally owned by a doctor. Hodges said the occupant was actually a businessman.

“That’s just a lot of hearsay,” he said. “This whole document has stuff like that put all the way through it.”

Hillrise Park — also known as the Gump Addition in recognition of the original landowner and developer, Harry Gump — was initially platted in 1927. It was the first landscaped residential subdivision in the Tri-Cities area, and represents a cross-section of architectural styles dating back to the 1920s.

After receiving about 140 notarized letters from residents expressing opposition to the inclusion of the neighborhood on the National Register, the Tennessee Historical Commission said last Friday that the neighborhood would no longer be considered for inclusion on the register.

The State Review Board will instead make a recommendation on whether the property meets a “determination of eligibility,” which means the district meets criteria for placement on the register but won’t be listed because of owner objection. They are scheduled to consider their recommendation during a meeting Wednesday. The item would then go on to the National Parks Service for final consideration.

Inclusion on the National Register makes certain properties eligible for tax credits, but those tax credits are only available for income-producing properties, which Hodges said aren’t present in the Hillrise Park neighborhood.

Senior Planner Matthew Manley said the consultant hired by the city, Thomason & Associates out of Nashville, left questionnaires at property owners’ homes. Manley said letters were mailed to property owners, and the consultant also walked around the neighborhood to take photos of the homes.

“They tried to knock on doors, see if anybody was home, engage with people to let them know about the process,” Manley said.

According to the city, the firm presented their findings to about 50 residents at a public meeting on June 10 at Watauga Avenue Presbyterian Church. City staff held a subsequent public meeting July 16 for residents included in a three-block area that was added to the study area. City staff said six residents attended that meeting.

Mayor Jenny Brock asked City Manager Pete Peterson to work with staff to come up with a process to audit the application to make sure the information about the homes is accurate.

“We owe the citizens of Johnson City an accurate record,” Brock said.

Hodges said residents want the determination of eligibility to be considered by the State Review Board, which he indicated would effectively kill the proposal to put the district on the register. They don’t want inaccurate information about their homes moving forward.

“We just don’t understand the benefit of this being documented if it’s inaccurate,” he said.

Commissioner Todd Fowler, who lives in the neighborhood, said the process of putting a neighborhood on the National Register should start with the residents.

“Communication has not been great, and I think that’s the biggest problem,” Fowler said. “It wouldn’t be bad to be listed as a historic home, but I really want to decide what I’m doing to my house.”

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