It’s been a little more than a year since the West Walnut Street Task Force began digging into an improvement project for the street, and that year has produced a series of guidelines for development that will soon be on its way to the Johnson City Commission for three rounds of approval.
Through the task force’s progress, business has developed through the last year on West Walnut – Slammin’ Sammy’s Sandwiches took over the space left vacant by Alley Kat Sandwich Shop, construction began on the defunct Model Mill after a fire damaged the building in September and the task force assigned to the project produced a five-page zoning code after thousands provided feedback through several public hearings.
“It's been a slow process, but it's been a very actively participated-in process,” task force chairman Joe Wise said.
The overall goal of the task force has been to develop Walnut Street into a pedestrian-friendly urban corridor that encourages commercial, residential and office uses. Residents living in the nearby Tree Streets neighborhoods have been a part of the process every step of the way during the public hearings.
It took about a year to hash out and develop the zoning code for the district, which would stretch down Walnut Street from Buffalo Street to University Parkway.
The final draft of the code requires that 50 to 70 percent of a building’s street-face facade be made of transparent glass, and limited to two stories tall on the south side of Walnut Street. The north side will be able to host sidewalk entertainment, dining and drinks.
Now that the zoning code is headed to the City Commission for approval, Wise said attention will now turn to some more complicated issues surrounding the project, like how to develop traffic flow so that the district is bicyclist- and pedestrian-friendly.
While development plans have been underway for about a year, West Walnut Street businesses have sustained a couple of setbacks in the past year, too. Both the old Model Mill and The Library nightclub sustained damages from fires over the past year.
Despite damages from the fire, which authorities later determined to be arson, the sale of the mill to Summers-Taylor was sealed late last year and construction began early this year on renovation work for the old building.
“This has been the right time for this project, so I think there's been a general level of support from the West Walnut Street businesses and property owners and surrounding community that is adjacent to it,” Wise said.