JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – After hearing significant opposition, Johnson City commissioners on Thursday denied annexation of three acres of a 35-acre Boones Creek property near the intersection of Christian Church and Boones Station roads.
Commissioners warned, however, that at some point development is coming to the area and said they support that development being orderly. The entire property could wind up as part of a prospective development district near a revamped Exit 17 of Interstate 26, and be eligible for tax incentives.
“I have concerns, reading our annexation policy, that annexing three acres in this huge swath that’s a half-mile from this interchange might be getting the cart ahead of the horse,” vice mayor Joe Wise said. “There may be a higher or better use for this property than is currently conceived.”
“Just to cut out this three acres when there’s a bigger parcel of land it really belongs to and almost do a patchwork type thing concerned me greatly,” Mayor Jenny Brock said. She, Wise and Larry Calhoun voted in support of John Hunter’s motion to deny the request, with commissioner Todd Fowler absent.
The prospect of a substance abuse treatment facility going on the proposed annexation initially spurred neighboring residents’ concerns. But those who crowded commission chambers for a public hearing on third and final reading for a proposal that had passed the first two readings learned commissioners were to consider only whether to annex the property and zone it B4 (planned arterial business district), not pass judgment on its specific use.
Some residents touched on the planned use in their comments. Others said they simply felt Christian Church Road was unequipped to handle significant commercial development, while still others spoke of the need to maintain at least some of the rural integrity of the area.
Kim Sillyman lives about a quarter mile from the proposed site. She and a colleague came to Thursday’s meeting armed with several hundred signatures opposing the annexation. Sillyman said the north side of Christian Church Road, which runs from Boones Creek Road to Boone Station Road, simply isn’t equipped to handle commercial development.
“The infrastructure is not built for a B4, it is not built for high traffic,” Sillyman said. “It’s the road in and out to our neighborhood. “Whether it’s a substance abuse clinic or a clinic for our veterans, we can’t handle the traffic.”
Gary Harrell and Becky Good Jones, both from the neighborhood, agreed. Harrell, who serves on the planning commission, said it’s naïve to think the $131,000 cost to extend water and sewer to the three acres is the only cost the city will incur.
“You’re being asked to vote on a finger annexation of three acres of land,” Harrell said. “You already heard how much it costs to run the sewer and the water. Nobody’s talking about how much it costs to fix the road.”
Jones said she and neighbors feel there’s plenty of land available for commercial development in the Boones Creek area closer to arterials. “We’ve discussed as a neighborhood and feel that the existing area of planned development on surrounding properties should be sufficient at this time,” she said.
David Slonaker lives near the property and said his young grandchildren live directly across Christian Church Road from it. “I’d like you to consider your children, your grandchildren living right there and this clinic coming in across the road,” Slonaker said to commissioners.
Calhoun urged the residents not to mistake a yes or no vote as “a statement either for or against these kinds of facilities.
“Substance use disorder is a disease and deserves treatment, and deserves to be treated as such, and I feel very strongly about that. There’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it and we’ve seen both of them, and we don’t know which one that is for this. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.”
Calhoun also pointed to the map surrounding the neighborhood. “Something’s going to happen there and hopefully it can happen in an orderly fashion,” he said. “Proper development is what we’re really looking for.”
He said the fact that the proposal only took in three out of 35 acres raised a lot of concern. “I think if it had been a different approach you may have heard a different result from the commission tonight… I hope people don’t look at this as ‘ok, we’re very supportive of nothing ever happening in that area.’ We’ve very supportive of the right thing happening at the right time in the right way.”