Planners OK seeking $4.8M federal grant for downtown streets

Published 9:45 am Monday, February 5, 2024

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By Buzz Trexler
Star Correspondent
Elizabethton’s new planning director, Richard L. DesGroseilliers, said he was used to hunting down grants and brought a $4.8 million application for the Regional Planning Commission to consider supporting during Thursday night’s meeting, and commissioners gave unanimous approval.

The Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) Grant would be used to fund the Downtown Elizabethton Complete Streets Improvement Project, which is part of the 2023 Downtown Mobility Plan. The project would make East E Street and East Elk Avenue bi-directional with on-street parking and bike lanes. It would also involve utility improvements, signage, striping, and improvements to sections of sidewalks.

The project cost is estimated at $4,824,778 and RAISE grants are generally matching, with 80% federal funding and a 20% local match. However, DesGroseilliers said the project is within an Area of Persistent Poverty and a Historically Disadvantaged Community, according to the U.S. Census. The city is also within the Johnson City Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), which is a small MPO with a population of less than 200,000 and is thus designated as Rural. “Because of that, we can ask for 100% of federal funds,” he said, explaining that it is a “very competitive grant” nationwide.

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However, the U.S. Department of Transportation can come back later and ask if the city would be willing to put up the 20% local match, which would amount to $964,955.60. Planning Commission Chairwoman Dena Bass asked about that possibility, to which DesGroseilliers replied that if awarded, chances are it would be the full amount. Yet, he acknowledged there is a possibility the city would be asked to come up with some local funds, in which case it would be brought back to the commission for consideration.

“But we are going after the 100%,” DesGroseilliers said.

During a question about whether the grant proposal could include an area of about 1,200 to 1,500 feet that is between the current TDOT improvement project and the project addressed in the RAISE grant, or be considered at a later point, DesGroseilliers said the grant application is based what’s in the existing plan, but planners may need to look at the other area later.

“I’ve been going after grants. That’s what I did with my previous job in Morristown, and I plan on doing the same thing here,” DesGroseilliers said. “But what I do know is when going after these types of grants, whether state or federal, they’d like to see a plan in place before it. So that would be something we would like to do: try to get as many plans in place and go after grants right afterward.”

Assistant City Manager Logan Engles, who was also serving in the role of planning director until DesGroseilliers began work the second week in January, noted the plan addressed by the application was in place before the new director came on board. She said according to the schedule included in the packet, the process is lengthy and construction would not begin until sometime around 2028, thus giving planners time to address the unimproved section.

In other action, planning commissioners:

— postponed action until the March meeting on filling the vacancy on the Elizabethton Historic Zoning Commission left by the resignation of Planning Commissioner Bill Schooley, who resigned as of Jan. 31. Schooley was the commission’s representative on the historic zoning board and served as chairman. The bylaws mandate that a member of the Planning Commission be included on the board.

— approved the replat of Lot 1 of the Elliott and Allen property on West C. Street, which more clearly defines the location of the sewer easement. The property is split-zoned R-2 (Medium Density Residential) and B-2 (Arterial Business.)

— approved for a second time the replat of C&M Solutions property on Ledford Street, subdividing it into two tracts: Lot 1, which is vacant, and Lot 2, which contains a single-family residential home and detached garage. The property is currently zoned R-1 (Low Density Residential). The Planning Commission approved the replat in September 2021, but the property owners did not record the plat at that time.

Rich DesGroseilliers-mug
Rich DesGroseilliers