Van Brocklin honored, zoning request denied by City Commission

City Commissioners voted last week to rename Alabama Street after the late Ralph Van Brocklin (center). The street is located at the trailhead of the Tweetsie Trail, a project Van Brocklin was instrumental in getting completed during his time on the commission.

By A.J. Kaufman

The Johnson City Board of Commissioners approved recommendations to rename two roads last Thursday but struck down a rezoning project near Indian Trail Middle School on second reading.

After approving minutes from the Jan. 5 meeting, the Johnson City Young Professionals gave a year-end update and noted the ongoing local success, including the metro area’s recent placement as the Wall Street Journal’s No. 1 emerging housing market. Washington County as a whole has nearly 10% growth year over year, with a GDP rising from 4.8 billion to 7.4 billion since 2011.

As part of the consent agenda, items included a grant for FEMA assistance to firefighters; approving the removal of a Parks & Recreation Advisory Board member; and renaming the entrance road to the athletic complex expansion at Winged Deer Park.

One noteworthy new road naming is Alabama Street, soon to be renamed Van Brocklin Way. The name change honors late City Commissioner Ralph Van Brocklin, who spearheaded the Tweetsie Trail project and tragically died from heart attack while running on that popular route in 2018. The newly-named road runs adjacent to the trailhead.

Two public forums conducted in December recommended Van Brocklin, also a former Johnson City mayor, as the new namesake.

“I think it’s very fitting,” Commissioner Jenny Brock said.

Chamber Drive will be renamed Tannery Drive, since the Chamber moved its headquarters from its former location near Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park to the Model Mill.

The second readings of the two rezoning projects closed the evening, with one catching the lion’s share of attention.

Ordinance 4831-22 was rezoning land for the Coble Coffee Drive-Thru, located at North Roan and Woodbriar, near Indian Trail Middle School.

After showing landscape design and providing an architectural example, the land was deemed suitable future development and to attract future retail.

However, there was pushback earlier this month.

Multiple times in writing, school officials claimed they’re pro business, but with increased traffic in an already congested area, they wanted a signal light to be installed before the rezoning is considered.

According to Johnson City Supt. Steve Barnett, additional traffic generated by new business “will make it an even more difficult intersection for drivers to navigate safely during morning arrival and dismissal from school each day.”

Those urging commissioners to vote against the coffee shop mainly worry about children’s safety around vehicles because the potential store is a drive-thru. Others expressed concerns over property values or suggested alternate locations.

Andrea Coble, the applicant, spoke last and claimed there was a campaign against her, involving local news reports and radio stations to create fear over the safety of children. New to the area, she said she was not contacted by media and explained that she bought the space and met all necessary requirements. She noted all the weekends, holidays and summer months with no school in session. Having done additional research, she said in nearly four years, only one vehicle crash occurred in the area, with no injuries. Due to Johnson City’s growth and services struggling to keep pace, Coble believed her shop would be a positive and a convenience.

After voting 3-2 two weeks ago to advance the issue to public hearing, commission members changed their minds Thursday evening and recommended denial.

They said a true neighborhood business is one where customers can walk, whereas a drive-thru is the antithesis.


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