Downtown restroom construction to begin soon

Published 10:00 am Friday, April 8, 2016

Contributed Photo  This digital model of the restroom shows how it will be designed to blend in with other structures downtown.

Contributed Photo
This digital model of the restroom shows how it will be designed to blend in with other structures downtown.

Those shopping and dining downtown, attending to the Cruise-in or biking along the Tweetsie Trail can plan on having some added comfort on their outings in downtown Elizabethton.

Planning Commissioners approved plans for a public restroom to be built downtown at their meeting Thursday.

The concept of the project came out of the Carter County Car Club, which has also acquired pledges for more than half the funds needed for labor and materials. The facility will include three bathrooms and is estimated to cost $87,000. The Car Club’s donor pledges exceed $50,000. Last month, the City Council approved contribution of up to $40,000 for the remainder of the expenses.

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Randy Payne, a contractor and the member of the Car Club overseeing the project said they first began considering the project last May. After approval by Planning Commission tonight, he said they should begin work in about a week and be done within six weeks.

The restroom will be located in the parking lot behind Cannon’s and The Coffee Company near East F Street.

“It’s exactly where we need it,” said City Manager Jerome Kitchens. “There are folks who would like to stay downtown longer but they can’t because they need to relieve themselves.”

Payne said Summers-Taylor is supplying the concrete for half price; General Shale is supplying the block and brick, Lowes offered materials at cost, Big John’s Closeouts is providing discounted materials, Churchill Plumbing is doing the plumbing and Osborne Electric will connect the electric. Tennessee State Prison in Roan Mountain has agreed to provide some labor, said Bob Livingston, Car Club president.

Though the restroom will occupy three parking spaces, Payne said the trade off is well worth it.

“Look at the Tweetsie Trail and Tweetsie Treats, downtown parades, 4th of July, Christmas; we need a place for people to relieve themselves,” said Payne.

The restrooms were professionally designed to match the style of the War Memorial, Payne said.

“We wanted something the city would be proud of,” said Kitchens.

Parks and Recreation staff will manage the bathroom and keep it open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. from Spring through Fall and at other appropriate times that will be discussed in the future, Kitchens said.

To further accommodate Tweetsie users, the plan includes the addition of sidewalks to extend from the Tweetsie Trail to the restroom.

In other news, commissioners voted against approval of the 2016-2021 capital improvement plan for all city departments by a 4-2 vote with Commissioner Vicky Manuel absent.

Commissioner Melanie Sellers expressed concern that the capital improvement plan is not based on a comprehensive plan and that it lacks a vision for the overall improvement of the city.

“There’s no data or reasoning with the proposal as to why we should approve these plans,” said Sellers. “State law envisions a process based on a plan, not a piecemeal department plan. We should have a comprehensive plan for the future.”

Elizabethton Director of Planning and Economic Development Jon Hartman agreed, saying that one should be created.

“But they take time to put together,” he said.

Hartman said the plan would consider housing, transportation, education, economic development plans and goals for what the community will become.

Sellers said she couldn’t answer why a canopy project would be a higher priority than connecting sewer to Milligan area residents.

Kitchens said the city pays for the two out of separate budgets and that water and sewer must be paid from rates, while the canopies are paid from taxes.

“That’s state law,” he said.

Sellers said she appreciated the hard work of departments to submit their requests, but said that without a comprehensive plan for the city, she felt the Planning Commission was being asked to “rubber stamp a wish list of numbers without supporting data.”

“We have to get a comprehensive plan done and then when departments are asked how it matches our plan and encourages those goals, they can answer,” said Sellers.

She said they have discussed moving in a more pedestrian-friendly direction and said that having safe walkways and water and sewer for residents were basic infrastructural improvements that she considered major priorities.

Kitchens said the city has been working towards more pedestrian-friendly additions and that they were working within their means to provide utilities.

“We have struggled to work with what we have and to keep rates at a liveable point for residents,” said Kitchens.

Hartman said the city worked on a visioning project a few years ago, but it was never approved by City Council.

“That’s what we should be using to help craft our plan but it’s not been adopted by Council,” said Hartman.

Prior to the Planning Commission meeting, the Board of Zoning Appeals met, which has the same members, and discussed a variance on a property to be developed for Dollar General.

Blackburn Holdings is in the process of developing 130 W. Elk Ave., the former location of Tennessee Transmission Technicians. They want to level the building and construct a new one for a new Dollar General.

The plan requires two variances, once for setbacks and one for parking. Prior to the previous Planning Commission meeting, public notice had been given regarding the setbacks variance, but not for the parking variance. At the meeting, it was not discussed, and no vote was taken regarding the parking variance.

David Blackburn of Blackburn Holdings was present at Thursday’s meeting and said they thought everything was approved and they have already made investment in moving forward.

Board member Dena Bass said they were requesting a reduction of 19 parking spaces.

“I have a problem with that,” she said.

She said the reduction in parking could leave too few spaces for customers, especially when trucks are making deliveries.

Blackburn insisted that trucks would deliver to the back and that parking would not be an issue.

“We wouldn’t be in business if we had no spaces for parking,” said Blackburn.

He referenced the more than 15,000 business locations they have developed and said they have high consideration for parking as it is vital for business.

Hartman said Blackburn Holdings would have to apply for the parking variance again through the Board of Zoning Appeals, and then the final site plans would still have to be approved for the project by Planning Commission.

The final site plan approval was on the agenda for the Planning Commission meeting afterward, but it was deferred when the parking variance issue arose.

The next regularly scheduled Planning Commission meeting will take place on May 2 at 6 p.m. in City Hall.