Mary Patton Highway Dollar General proponents lose first skirmish
Published 1:55 pm Friday, October 6, 2023
By Buzz Trexler
When Cortnie Dalton, who lives on Gap Creek Road, got a rezoning notification letter from Elizabethton Assistant City Manager Logan M. Engle, she and her family embarked on a battle to stop a general – a proposed Dollar General store on Mary Patton Highway (state Route 362).
Dalton and a room full of people who live near the proposed site of the convenience store won the first skirmish Thursday night when the Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission voted unanimously to accept Engle’s recommendation to deny a request to rezone 3.18 acres of a 5.57-acre parcel owned by Three Arrows LLC, from R-1 (Low Density Residential) to B-1 (Neighborhood Business). The full parcel fronts both Gap Creek Road and Mary Patton Highway, but the rezoning attempt would only be a parcel that fronts Mary Patton Highway.
A half-hour before the meeting began, opponents started gathering outside of City Hall with neighbors introducing themselves to one another by name, but also by address, or how close they lived in proximity to the site:
“So you live next to Beth …”
“I’m 600 Gap Creek. I’m the one doing construction …”
“I’m 624 …”
“You’re three houses down …”
Most of the residents outside could be heard complaining about what they viewed as the lack of notice, with several crediting Dalton with bringing the rezoning request to their attention.
Inside, Engle explains the process to a reporter: “The public notice requirement in state law is to notice the meeting, which our meeting is on the first day of every month, of course, at 6 o’clock. We send in a public notice to the (Elizabethton) Star every month noticing the planning commission meeting.
“There is actually no state law requiring letters be sent to adjoining property owners,” Engle said. “That’s actually something in our local ordinance. It’s a best practice that a lot of communities adopt as a means to get the word out amongst the people in the community most directly affected by a rezoning request, or a variance request, or anything of that nature. So, we sent letters out to everyone within 200 feet of the property, and that’s a normal practice for us.
“And I do know that many of those folks received letters, because they called our office and asked questions, or expressed some concerns.”
The contact listed on the rezoning request is Berry Engineers LLC, of Cleveland, and the reason why the property should be rezoned is stated this way: “This property is located along a state hwy (sic) and a commercial zoning would be compatible with this type of thoroughfare. Also, this site is located near a church and is less than 1,000 feet from other commercial zoned properties. This use is, also, beneficial as it is there to serve the surrounding community and cuts down on travel time and distance for essential goods.”
A primary reason Engle said the request should be denied was not due to a public outcry, but that Mary Patton Highway has been zoned R-1 (Low Density Residential) almost exclusively and should not be rezoned without a further study of the corridor from a future land use perspective.
Johnson City attorney Mark A. Fulks was there to represent the engineers and the company interested in developing the property and over the course of about 17 minutes presented his case for rezoning the property.
Fulks noted he had been before commissioners on a previous Dollar General project, located on Elk Avenue. “And based on that, I think that my client has shown that they are a good partner for the city. There were some concerns raised about how to develop that property, and security concerns, and various things, and they addressed every one of them successfully for the city, to make everybody satisfied. … My clients do have a record of working with the city,” Fulks said.
“My clients are in the business of economic development,” he said. “That’s what they do.”
Fulks said Dollar General has a nationwide track record of going into areas “just like this one, all over the country, and a lot of them are very rural areas, a lot of them are low-residential type neighborhoods, and they bring economic development to that area, but also the convenience of essentially putting a store in that neighborhood, where they don’t have to drive all the way into Elizabethton, or whatever direction they may go.”
As to whether the Three Arrows property is a good location to develop, Fulks said, “Somebody has to be first.”
Fulks pointed to what he said was a “very small number of people” that expressed their opposition to the rezoning request by way of emails and phone calls.
“Now, I know there’s a room full of people behind me. I bet even-money that every one of them wants to stand up and oppose this, and I respect their right to do so. But you don’t see all the people who are affected by it.”
After Fulks spoke, Engle made clear that at the time she wrote her memorandum recommending against the rezoning request – Sept. 28 – she had received no public comments from adjoining property owners.
“The planning commission has been given the responsibility to guide the future land use vision of this community, and there’s a balance there,” Engle said. “I know we heard a lot about economic development, and that’s a hat that I wear for this community. So, that’s near and dear to my heart as well.” Engle said that’s why her recommendation included the need for further study.
Several people spoke against the development, citing what they feared was the potential for drainage issues, pollution in nearby Gap Creek, dangerous traffic situations, and that there were Dollar General stores already within driving distance of Mary Patton Highway.
As for Dalton, she shared some of the same concerns; however, she emphasized her belief that the city needs to change its policy regarding public notice. “My letter came on the 29th (of September) and here we are on the 5th (of October) talking about it.”
Dalton said that was not enough time to learn “about what my rights are, about what the ordinances are, about any of it. It has been an insane amount of stress, to say the least.”
Dalton, her husband, and her son walked around the neighborhood and discovered some people did not know what was going on. “They wanted to know.”
“We should be able to have an informed decision, and time to make an informed decision about the growth in our community,” she said.
Also, the committee gave final plat approval of Gabriel Property Division and replat of Lots 1 & 2 of Ledford Gardens.
The planning commission’s recommendation next will be considered by the Elizabethton City Council, which sets policy, enacts laws, and adopts the budget each year. Regular meetings are held at 6 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month in City Hall Council Chambers, 136 S. Sycamore St.