JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)—The Johnson City Planning Commission voted to send the Keebler annexation project forward to the city commission Tuesday.

Commissioners also unanimously approved two changes to the city’s zoning code, which were proposed after city staff opted to abandon a planned overhaul of the town’s zoning categories.

Planning Commission Chair Chris Dagenhart said taking time on the development was the right change.

“It takes time and energy to work together to find the best solutions for our community going forward,” Dagenhart told News Channel 11.

Rather than redesigning the neighborhood categories as they had initially planned, the town opted to make modifications to the existing zoning codes in two areas—lot size and open space requirements.

Flexibility and constraints

City staff said adding open space requirements will address a variety of the city’s goals.

“We wanted some environmental protections and we wanted to provide some gathering places to build community in Johnson City,” said city planner Peyton Voirin when presenting to the commission.

If passed by the city commission, single-family developments of 25 homes or more, 10 acres or more or that require new roads must use 15% of their total area for open space. Of that 15%, half of the land must include improvements like picnic tables, playgrounds or walking trails that allow residents to access them for recreation.

“There’s more to living in a community than just having your home,” Dagenhart said. “You need to have access to your neighbors and have places to breathe and places to relax and places to enjoy your family and each other.”

In addition to requiring open space, the city is also moving forward with an option to allow developers to vary lot sizes within a development as long as all lots fall within 80% and 120% of the mandated lot minimum and the average of all lot areas is at or above the required minimum.

City planners said this provision would allow developers to better build within existing landscapes.

According to a report produced by city staff predicts, “developments that rely on (the measure) would fit more naturally into surrounding landscapes, and would require less grading and vegetation removal, as compared to traditional strict minimum lot sizing requirements, without negatively affecting surrounding residential character.”

It could help developers build in curb appeal as well, said Dagenhart.

“We want to move away from communities that look laid out in blocks, that don’t look inviting, that don’t feel like home,” Dagenhart said. “So we’re trying to create some options that developers can choose to use if they want to, they will allow for more aesthetically pleasing communities to be built.”

Taking time to listen

Despite the many delays since developers first approached the city about annexation in the summer, developer Danny Karst said he thinks the project is shaping up well.

“Overall, (the city has) really got to a great place,” Karst said. “I think there’s enough latitude and freedom the way they use the passive space and so forth.”

He added that he hopes the process helped address concerns residents expressed about the project.

“We just hope that the general public, when they see what we’re hoping to accomplish, they will feel that it’s been real, a real process, and not just something that didn’t mean anything to them that live there,” said Karst.

All three measures—open space requirements, lot averaging and the initial zoning request for the Keebler annexation—will go before the city commission for three votes before adoption.

If there are no further delays, the Keebler annexation will be approved on May 4.