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City ordinances paving way for reconstruction of Haven of Mercy thrift store

David Floyd • Updated Nov 8, 2019 at 9:32 AM

The Johnson City Commission is setting the stage for the reconstruction of a ministry-operated thrift store decimated by a fire earlier this year.

Commissioners approved on first reading Thursday two ordinances that would give Haven of Mercy the ability to redevelop property on North Broadway Street. The organization used to operate a thrift store at 218 N. Broadway St., which was gutted by a fire in March. The original building is now gone.

Commissioners approved the rezoning of two parcels at 218 and 222 N. Broadway St. from heavy industrial and high density residential districts to planned arterial business. They also voted to abandon a right-of-way that runs between the two parcels, which are both owned by Haven of Mercy.

The changes would need to be approved two more times by the commission before they become official.

The ministry has indicated to the city that it plans to rebuild the thrift store and put 20 residential units on the second floor. Grant Rockley, pastor and CEO of Haven of Mercy, said before the meeting Thursday that plans for the development on the land are still tentative, but if units are constructed on the top floor, he anticipates they would be dedicated to women with children.

“There will be a new thrift store on it, and whether we put apartments above it or not, I’m not sure, yet,” Rockley said. “It depends on funds.”

Rockley said the ministry typically hears up to five requests a day for help for money to pay for gas, food or stays at hotels. He said both of the ministry’s shelters are full right now.

When the thrift store was destroyed, Rockley said the ministry lost 60% of its income. It’s been operating out of the property’s parking lot to maintain a source of income, but he said the ministry is looking for a place to rent while they wait for the construction of a new brick and mortar location.

The ministry’s previous store on Broadway was grandfathered in as a nonconforming building in an industrial district. The new property would have to abide by the current zoning rules, which is what necessitates the rezoning.

The parcel at 218 N. Broadway, where the former thrift store was located, is also situated in a flood plain. New construction in the flood plain would have to be raised above the base flood elevation, which would make constructing the thrift store in its previous location more expensive. The ministry would be able to construct a store on the property at 222 N. Broadway without elevating the structure.

Other business

Roughly five months after casting their first vote on the issue, commissioners approved a new mobility sharing ordinance on second reading with a significant change: It would not permit scooter-sharing as a business in Johnson City.

The ordinance does create a regulatory framework for bike-sharing in Johnson City.

Johnson City Development Services Director Preston Mitchell said commissioners recognize the importance of bike sharing and multi-modal transportation, but because of public health, safety and welfare concerns associated with scooters, they were not in favor of moving forward with scooter sharing. However, this change doesn’t completely shut the door on that mode of transportation.

Mitchell said the city believes the revitalization of West Walnut Street will be a game-changer in how residents view multi-modal transportation. The road is being designed to accommodate bikes, cars and transit simultaneously.

“We also hope that in that time ... the scooter industry will have figured some of this stuff out,” Mitchell said.

The ordinance would place no limits on private individuals who want to purchase their own electric scooters.

Commissioners also approved on first reading changes to city codes that would ensure short-term rentals in Johnson City are paying occupancy taxes, which currently apply to hotels and motels. Staff have informally determined that there are about 50 short-term rentals in Johnson City.

Short-term rentals are any properties, excluding traditional hotels or motels, that are rented as overnight lodging for fewer than 30 days. Property owners typically make the lodgings available through online brokers like Airbnb, HomeAway and FlipKey.

Vice Mayor Joe Wise said after the meeting the ordinance aims to create a level playing field.

“We have hoteliers who have invested tens of millions of dollars in facilities here in our community that are by law compelled to collect the hotel, motel tax on their guests, and we want to ensure that others that are offering a similar or competitive services are being treated equally,” he said. “We don’t want there to be a situation where the hotelier is disadvantaged because they’re following the laws as they’re currently written.”

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