For nearly a year, officials, city staff, business owners, residents and potential investors have honed the coming look, feel and function of the thoroughfare adjacent to State of Franklin running from Buffalo Street to University Parkway.
City commissioners unanimously approved guidelines for the new district following a discussion to clarify the rules for outdoor dining.
“The people who own businesses on Walnut Street, residents and the Southside Neighborhood Organization have come forward and had a say in this,” Commissioner Jenny Brock said. “I think it will really be a great move for Johnson City.”
The thoroughfare is rich with established businesses, such as The Firehouse Restaurant and Shamrock Beverage and Tobacco. But JRH Brewing is a new arrival, as will be Summers-Taylor’s new headquarters when the Model Mill changes hands.
Overall, the intent has been to promote a compact urban corridor with a mix of commercial, office and residential uses that encourages bicycling and pedestrian movement and supports East Tennessee State University, downtown Johnson City and the surrounding area.
On Oct. 19, following two readings by city commissioners, the plan went back to the West Walnut Street task force to tweak its plan at a public workshop. The consensus from that workshop was to remove a Board of Zoning Appeals special exception for sidewalk dining and move that to a city-staff level decision.
“When a business has outdoor dining on their own property, they do not have to go to the BZA,” said Angie Carrier, Development Services director. “The only time they will have to is if they want sidewalk dining on public property.”
Joe Wise, task force chairman and newly elected city commissioner, said this week this was the most significant tweak, and that the City Commission wanted to make it the process smoother.
Created in December, the 10-member task force of business owners, residents and city officials have attempted to create a zoning code based on public input that would enhance and add appeal to the West Walnut Street corridor. West Walnut Street is currently made up of three different zoning districts.
Technically, the move deletes a zoning ordinance that had designated the area an Urban Commercial Overlay and replaces it in its entirety with the zoning regulations for the new district.
The task force also agreed to leave the 11 p.m. time limit for alcohol consumption in outdoor dining areas and to better define the illustrations of these areas for commissioners. The Johnson City Regional Planning Commission later approved these changes in a unanimous vote.
Outdoor dining, drinking, music, entertainment and general gathering areas would be allowed along the north side of West Walnut. Outdoor dining would be allowed on the south side, but only if the areas are directly in front of buildings and an eight-foot tall masonry or wood fence exists between the outdoor dining area and rear of the property.
The district will stretch from Buffalo Street to University Parkway. All current businesses in the district will be grandfathered under the current conditions, but all new businesses will have to conform to the new regulations.
There will be a wide range of permitted uses, including theaters, churches, banks, liquor stores, parking garages and hotels.
All new buildings must have at least 50 percent and at most 70 percent of its street-level facade be made of transparent glass, and openings above street level at the primary frontage must be at least 25 percent and not more than 50 percent of that level’s wall area.
The maximum height for buildings along the south side of Walnut will be two stories. There is no height limit for buildings along the north side. All signs must conform to the B-2 (central business) requirements.
Off-premise parking must be approved by the BZA, and certain landscaping requirement apply when on-site parking adjoins State of Franklin Road.
Special use permits must be obtained from the Building Division and approved by the City Commission for outdoor events lasting past 11 p.m. Events include festivals, music/entertainment and similar activities.
Commissioners also approved bids for inspection services on two major road projects.
The first bid is for oversight of the nearly $5.2 million Indian Ridge/North State of Franklin roads project by Smith Seckman and Reid is about $515,736. The second bid for oversight of the roughly $1.4 million roundabout at Browns Mill/Mountainview roads by Mattern & Craig came in at $128,600.
Commissioners also approved an agreement with the Tennessee Department of Transportation for construction of new traffic signal at Harris Drive and West State of Franklin Road in anticipation of East Tennessee State University’s new performing arts center.
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