JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Some neighbors of a proposed townhouse and duplex development behind East Tennessee State University (ETSU) hope Johnson City’s planning commission will deny a rezoning request for the 3.3-acre property on Tuesday.

Kenny Suit, who’s lived in the wooded neighborhood at the top of a ridge for 22 years, told News Channel 11 on Monday he learned about the request from neighbors who live within 200 feet of the property.

College Heights resident Kenny Suit looks at a map showing a proposed rezoning near his home that would result in 16 new townhouses and three duplexes. (Photo: WJHL)

“We got copies of the letter from our neighbors who were really concerned and who were trying to gauge the opinion of other residents in the neighborhood,” Suit said while standing in his sloped yard with Buffalo Mountain beginning to show fall colors in the background.

Suit and a number of other neighbors attended a neighborhood meeting Friday, where they asked the developer, Randy Beckner, questions about stormwater, road improvements and density. Beckner wants a rezoning of one small property from R-2 (low density residential) to R-4 (medium density residential) and a larger 3.2-acre property from R-3 (medium density residential) to R-4.

R-4 allows more units per acre than R-3.

Suit said neighbors remain unsatisfied and opposed to the request, which envisions the construction of three duplexes fronting on Narrow Lane and 16 townhouses just across from where Galen Drive dead ends into Southwest Avenue.

Neighbors have a petition circulating.

“Everybody that reads it is just totally opposed to this,” Suit said. “It really would destroy the kind of intimate family qualities of this neighborhood to plop a bunch of townhomes and duplexes, which are going to be student housing. It would just really mess up the neighborhood.”

The recommendation from Johnson City planning department staff views it differently. It refers to the site’s proximity to ETSU and “major commercial areas along State of Franklin (Road),” and calls the location “appropriate for higher density residential development, as shown on the concept plan.”

The recommendation lists four elements of the city’s “Bridge Plan” that are met by the proposal. They include:

  • A focus on “infill development” of tracts already within city limits and already served by water, roads, school and other infrastructure.
  • The proposal providing “quality multi-family development.”
  • Development of “inclusive and economically-integrated neighborhoods that allow a diverse mix of residents and affordable housing types.
  • Providing greater housing choices and offering greater incentives for developers to provide affordable housing.

Suit said he thinks the cons outweigh the pros in this case, citing the property’s steep slopes and the narrow, curvy roads in the neighborhood. Southwest Avenue, which empties into Cherokee Road about a quarter mile from the property, is wider and has fewer curves than the rest of the roads atop the hill.

“We are concerned about traffic. We’re concerned about the runoff because it is on a hill. We’re concerned about light pollution, noise pollution; because everyone’s pretty much sure that this is going to be student housing.”

This 3.2-acre hilltop property (1305 College Heights Road) with one home on it could be converted to townhouses and duplexes if a rezoning request passes the Johnson City Planning Commission and then the City Commission. (Photo: WJHL)

Suit also said even though some apartment complexes aren’t very far from the proposed project, it’s generally ringed by single-family homes on three sides and ETSU’s observatory and golf complex on the other.

“I’m actually in favor of this bridge plan,” Suit said. “In general, I think it is a good idea to prevent urban sprawl and to try to use the land within the city limits in wise ways.”

“What the city is calling infill trying to find vacant, unused parts of the city that are just empty — this isn’t that. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about two or three plots that already have homes on them. Now one of the homes has a large yard, that’s true, but that’s not a vacant, undeveloped property.”

Property records show Beckner purchased the smaller of the two properties from the Robert and Pauline Cross Living Trust for $325,000 in late July. That property contains a duplex that can’t currently be rented because it is zoned R-2 but would be rehabbed and rented under the plan. The Cross Living Trust is also listed as owning the larger property.

Beckner’s site plan actually calls for subdividing the larger property and leaving the home and 1 acre around it untouched. The planning staff’s summary notes that acreage still would allow for up to 14 townhouses under R-4 zoning and seven under R-3.

Members of the public who sign up can voice their opinions on the recommendations for up to three minutes each Tuesday.

Planning commissioners will have four options regarding Beckner’s request. They can recommend approval, “with justification,” recommend denial “with cause,” refer action and send to a committee for further study, or defer action to a future, specified meeting date.

If approved, the request would still face three readings at the City Commission, with the second of those including a public hearing.