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Zoning seeks community input for new site

Zoning officials are taking a proactive rather than reactive approach in seeking input from county residents regarding a proposed $12 million development on 50 wooded acres off of Sinking Creek Road.
More than 100 letters were mailed last week inviting property owners in the surrounding area to attend a neighborhood meeting on Wednesday, March 12, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. in the Zoning Office conference room, located on the first floor of the downtown courthouse.
Representatives from Stonegate Developers of Cornelius, N.C., will present their concept to build 150 apartments, which will require a reclassification of the property from R-1 Low Density Residential District zoning to R-2 Medium Density Residential District.
Rutherford said his office was approached by the developers for assistance. However, while the property on Sinking Creek lies outside of the city limits, Rutherford said it is still within Johnson City’s planning region, and state law requires the request to go through the city’s planning commission.
The first question from planning commission members, according to Rutherford, will be, “What do your neighbors think?” Being familiar with the process is the reason he suggested changing the order and holding the community meeting prior to approaching the planning board. “We’re not forcing them to do this,” he said. “We offered (an advance meeting) to them, and they will make a decision afterward.”
Rutherford said the developers met with Mitch Miller of the Washington County Economic Development Council before approaching his office. Additional sites were proposed by Steve Neilson, Johnson City’s development coordinator, who was invited to zoning’s meeting with the developers.
“Their verdict was they didn’t want to be annexed,” Rutherford said, noting the water and sewer would have to be provided by Johnson City if the project is approved.
“They wouldn’t be interested in 50 flat acres in Gray,” Rutherford said. “They are interested in attracting students and being close to city amenities.”
The property is topography challenged, according to Rutherford, but he wouldn’t expect decreased runoffs from the proposed development. The biggest change would come from a substantial increase in traffic along what is now a semi-private drive, he said.
Rutherford said citizen comments from the meeting and a recommendation from the Zoning Office will be submitted for the April meeting agenda of the Johnson City Regional Planning Commission. The final okay will have to come from the county commission.
“Most developers don’t like the community input process, so we are getting this request out of the way,” Rutherford said. “Instead of the developers hearing it from me, they’ll hear it firsthand.”