Planners green light calming devices

By Thomas Wilson
The Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission voted Tuesday night to recommend the installation of "traffic calming devices" along portions of six city streets, but stopped short of mandating the devices be speed bumps.
City Director of Planning and Development David Ornduff said he had received petitions signed by the required 67 percent of residents along a designated street who wanted the devices to slow traffic in their neighborhoods. Commissioner Nancy Alsup said the city's creation of speed bump devices along West Mill Street had slowed traffic but hadn't reduced the number of vehicles.
"It has slowed the traffic down and people don't mind it because people are still down there bumper to bumper," Alsup, who resides on Mill Street, said.
The commission voted 7-0 to recommend installing traffic calming devices on the streets up for consideration. Street areas where petitions were approved and recommended by city officials are:
* West C Street between Bomber Avenue and Eisenhour Street (one device)
* West Riverview Drive between Ash Street and Roan Street (two devices)
* Locust Street between Brandon Street and Race Street (one device)
* Bluefield Avenue between Carriger Avenue and Siam Road (two devices)
* Race Street between North Pine Street and North Lynn Avenue (one elevated cross walk)
* Riverview Drive between Ingram Street and Siam Road.
The city installed speed bumps along West Mill Street to neutralize speeding. "It was a race track until they put the calming devices on it," said Charles McQueen, Hemlock Street, of the Mill Street speed bumps.
While city officials believe the installation of speed bumps, aka "traffic calming devices", boosts safety, some residents feel it only makes more painstaking the task of getting from point A to point B in areas with minimal traffic. Sid Hodge, 406 W. Riverside Dr., adamantly opposed the creation of speed bumps along Riverside citing the diversion of traffic to Riverside Drive since the Mill Street devices were installed. Hodge recommended more four-way stops at neighborhood intersections and more police patrol along the Riverside Drive area.
"If they'd keep a man down there I believe the city would make some money," he said.
Ornduff said petitioners had complained of motorists speeding through neighborhoods, reckless driving and loud music. He said the calming devices could take the form of more four-way stops at intersections, pedestrian cross walks, increased police patrols or speed bumps. The commission's recommendations now puts the decision of placement and types of devices in the hands of the city council.
Prior to convening as the planning commission, the commission convened as the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to hear variance requests connected to several high-profile commercial developments.
The commission voted 7-0 to recommend the city grant an easement to Elizabethton Federal Saving Bank to accommodate an expansion project of the bank's North Sycamore Street branch. The bank had requested BZA grant a variance. However, the variance came up against the city's right of way rather than a private property owner's property line, necessitating the easement recommendation. Ornduff said after the meeting the commission effectively recommended that the council grant the easement with documents drafted by the city's legal department.
The commission shot down a set back variance request submitted to develop popular storage buildings on a portion of the former General Shale property at 629 N. Sycamore St. Gary Tysinger of Tysinger, Hampton & Partners engineering in Johnson City appeared on behalf of the property owners requesting a variance allowing a side set back of 7.5 feet rather than 10 feet from the development. Property set backs listed in zoning districts require a structure built on property inside city limits to be 10 feet from the side and 25 feet from the rear of an adjoining property line. He also said a lack of drainage on the property caused the development to require a set back.
Stan Harrison of the state's regional planning office said state law specified that variances were granted if a topographical issue prevented a building from meeting existing set back requirements.
Ornduff said city staff felt the 1-acre property gave the developers enough space to build the units without requiring a variance. "It is pretty much flat as a pancake," he said. Attorney Charlton DeVault representing the commission concurred that owners did not have a strong reason to have the variance granted.
"Wanting to maximize profit on a piece of property is not a criteria," he said. BZA denied the request 4-3 with board members Manual Bandarra, Haynes Elliott, Ken Markland and Sam Shipley voting no while Victor Deloach, Nancy Alsup and Jack Cole voted yes. The members acting as the planning commission voted 6-0 to approve the site plan for the development with a contingency that developers submit a revised plan adhering to set back requirements.
BZA voted 7-0 to grant a side set back variance to Bob Brumit, owner of the 920 Broad St. property where Food City operates. Brumit said the supermarket chain planned to expand their Broad Street store by 10,140 square-feet and modernize the building similar to newer Food City stores. He also claimed the expansion could add up to 100 new jobs at the location.
Harrison advised the commission that to remain consistent, he did not recommend granting the variance because no issues forced the variance except how the building was to be constructed.
Deloach said "due to jobs" he moved to grant the variance to Brumit. BZA members voted 6-0 to approve the variance. The planning commission also voted 6-0 to approve the site plan for the Food City expansion.