Rezoning request to house Kingsport homeless denied at BMA meeting

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KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – An attempt to offer dormitory-style housing to the Kingsport homeless population at 1100 Oak Street was denied by the board of mayor and aldermen Tuesday night after the Kingsport Regional Planning Commission advised against it.

A rezoning application was filed by the non-profit group Hunger First was filed to rezone it’s Oak Street building from B-3, a highway oriented business district to R-3, a low-density apartment district.

Kingsport Planning Manager Ken Weems represented the planning commission advising against the rezoning application.

“The R-3 zone allows them to conduct a dormitory use on the property, which they’re wanting to use for several, you know, individuals there in the community,” he told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais. “They check for things such as spot zoning and make sure that the area that has been has for rezoning can accommodate things such as like parking for the proposed use and so subsequently they sent a negative recommendation to the board.”

Weems said he received 17 phone calls and six emails about the rezoning request – only one being in support – saying there needs to be a place for the homeless population to sleep at night.

These concerns were echoed at the meeting Tuesday by nearby residents and a Kingsport City Schools teacher.

“We’ve got two great-grandsons, that come down to our house two or three times a week and it’s so bad that their mother and my wife, they refuse to let the kids play outside because of people walking by,” said nearby resident Jackie Wilson.

Wilson’s sentiments were shared with others who also believed in providing dorms to the homeless.

“I think a dormitory is a good idea, but not at that place right there,” said nearby resident Rhonda Dingus. “I think that’s the most busiest traffic, it’s a business district, and it’s an eyesore when you’re coming in from downtown, that’s where people enter in an out, you know they’re travelling, and the first time you come into our city you don’t want to see something like that.”

Richard Brown has been an educator for 31 years, even one teaching at Sevier Middle School near the Hunger First building in question.

“The situation about the homeless first, and the loitering and the drug-use, and the poor behaviour and the littering and the sanitation, that really hits home for me as a representative of the students of the City of Kingsport,” Brown explained at the meeting. “You have a lot of foot-traffic of students coming up from the neighborhoods going to Sevier Middle School, in particular. It is very bothersome to me as an educator to see that our city would allow an ongoing infestation of poor behavior and poor sanitation right in the very area where our most precious resource, our students, are walking to school each day.”

Members of the board also spoke out against the rezoning.

“I personally feel that, with all due respect to the Hunger First and the homeless people, that place up there has become an eyesore,” said Alderman Tommy Olterman.

Operator of Hunger First, Michael Gillis, said nothing had been done about the homeless situation in Kingsport, so he stepped up to the plate.

“In more than five years, in more than 20 years, nothing has been done in regards with our homeless situation, absolutely nothing, so when somebody steps up to the plate, as I had heard over a year ago, and ask for somebody to step up to the plate and ‘do something,’ instead of nothing, that’s what I did,” he said at the meeting Tuesday. “It’s going to take the city, including the entire BMA, along with all of its residents to come together for a resolution.”

Gillis left right after addressing the board during the public forum segment of the meeting. Alderman James Phillips said he was disappointed to be unable to address Gillis in return.

“Unfortunately, over the last two or three years, this situation has got bad because the solution there that they have is not working,” he said.

The measure failed with seven negative votes.

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