MSHA sues City of Johnson City over rezoning issue

By Thomas Wilson

   JOHNSON CITY -- Mountain States Health Alliance (MSHA) has filed a complaint against the City of Johnson City after the City Commission voted in December to deny a request to rezone a portion of property located on State of Franklin Road and West Market Street.
   Filed in Chancery Court of Washington County on Friday, the complaint names the City of Johnson City as defendants against plaintiffs MSHA and Blue Ridge Medical Management Investment Company (BIC).
   The complaint reads that the plaintiffs had made an agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in Aug. 2001 to establish an 8.6-acre easement on the property. MSHA had sought to have the tract rezoned from R-4 residential to MS-1 allowing medical use.
   The commission had approved an ordinance to rezone the property by a 3-2 vote on the first two readings held in April and June 2002. Commissioners Peter Paduch and Ricky Mohon had voted no to both readings.
   Mohon opposed the rezoning citing the property was not owned by TVA, but by the U.S. Army, and therefore could not convey the property's interest to MSHA. He also felt the entire 68-acre property should be zoned to a designation appropriate to the Med-Tech Corridor concept, according to the complaint.
   Paduch had noted the property could be acquired by the city, and it was not in the city's best interest to rezone the property and let MSHA have it, according to the MSHA complaint.
   MSHA legal counsel Frank Anderson said the organization had satisfied every objection made by dissenting commissioners, and the body still failed to rezone the property.
   "Based on the requests of the city and the compromises offered by MSHA, we can only conclude that the city either wanted the property for the municipality itself or simply didn't want MSHA to have it," said Anderson. "We simply think that is not a rational basis for denying that request."
   Mountain States later submitted a new concept plan for the property that did not include a pharmacy after the June 6, 2002 meeting.
   Commissioner Rev. Charles Charlton voted against rezoning the property at the commission's Dec. 19, 2002 meeting. According to the complaint, Charlton stated at the meeting that he had no problem rezoning the 6-acre tract but wanted to see the 2-acre parcel become a park.
   To offset costs of purchasing the property, MSHA leased a portion of the property -- roughly two acres -- to a third party for the construction of a pharmacy. That agreement was conditioned upon the property being zoned MS-1.
   The lawsuit alleges the commission acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in denying the request to rezone. MSHA also avers in its complaint that TVA, as a federal corporation, is not subject to the city's zoning code and is free to remove the beech trees without approval from the City of Johnson City or any other entity.
   The suit requests the court approve, or require the commission to approve the ordinance rezoning the property from R-4 to MS-1 and determine that the property is not subject to the zoning code and other municipal requirements. The complaint also requests costs of the cause be taxed to the City of Johnson City.
   MSHA officials do not expect the complaint to be heard until sometime in May.