West Walnut Street rezoning proposal advances, causes concerns

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JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) –  Johnson City Commissioners will soon take up a second reading on a proposed rezoning ordinance to the West Walnut Street Corridor.

While commissioners say there won’t be a big change, some business owners are upset about the proposal.

The mission of the West Walnut Street Task Force is to look back at what has been, is now, and what can be.

Joe Wise, Chair of the West Walnut Street Task Force, said “what we’re trying to do is envision that this area really has greater potential in the future as a linkage between downtown and East Tennessee State and a lot of good things that are happening in both places.”

Before moving forward with some bigger plans, there are some first steps.

“What we were trying to do is sort of rectify the fact that there were 4 different zoning classifications being used between Buffalo and University Parkway,” Wise said.

Some of the changes on the proposal would include no outdoor and sidewalk dining after 11 p.m.

“It’s not a curfew,” Wise explained, “it’s just to recognize that at some point at night those types of activities need to come inside. It’s really about being a courteous neighbor.”

During a first reading last week, the proposal passed.

While commissioners say this is a step in the right direction, not everyone is happy about it.

Jim Benelisha owns three businesses on West Walnut Street, including The Acoustic Coffeehouse.

On Wednesday, he submitted a letter to commissioners showing his disapproval of the proposal.

“This talks about what you have to go through to let your customers sit outside at all,” Benelisha said.

“I think in any college district, probably about a third of college businesses are going to be food and drink related the restrictions that are being put in this zoning overlay are going to deter people from investing in this area.”

But Wise disagrees. “I think a district like this becomes an attractive consideration for the kinds of businesses we want to see locating Walnut Street and in Johnson City generally.”

Businesses like the Acoustic Coffeehouse will be grandfathered in with the new regulations, if approved.

The public will have the opportunity to speak at the next commission meeting, which is set for Thursday, October 6th.

Copyright 2016 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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