Citizens want downtown district preserved

  By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com
  Recognized as the cradle of the democratic form of government in America, Elizabethton's historic legacy frequently gets overshadowed by another nearby historic town that draws tourists and dollars.
  Several Elizabethton residents residing in proximity of the city's downtown historic district want the district's integrity to remain intact, and the city to capitalize on its heritage.
  "Elizabethton was founded before Jonesborough," Casey Eryasa told members of the Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission at its meeting Tuesday night. "Who has marketed that history for its dollar value?"
  Eryasa was one of a group of Elizabethton citizens that urged the Elizabethton Planning Commission to keep the city's downtown historic designation unspoiled. Citizens requested the commission rezone a portion of the downtown along Hattie Avenue and Riverside Drive from R-3 residential to R-1 residential. The rezoning to R-1 would prohibit multifamily dwellings such as apartments.
  At the heart of the issue is a proposal from the city government to the Elizabethton City Council to buy three tracts of property identified as 212 S. Sycamore St., 609 Hattie Ave., and a parcel at the corner of Sycamore Street and Hattie Avenue. The city has proposed a price of $199,500 to buy the property.
  City Planning Director David Ornduff recommended the purchase at the proposed amount. He told citizens attending the meeting the city has no plans to demolish existing historic structures on the properties to turn the land into a parking lot.
  "That is not the intent whatsoever," he said.
  A significant portion of downtown Elizabethton was designated as an historic district in the early 1970s. A capital improvement plan created in 1989 regarding the city government's future expansion identified and recommended the purchase of some properties near City Hall's location on South Sycamore Street.
  "The city of Elizabethton is not in the preservation business, but we are very aware of the need for preservation," Ornduff said.
  City Manager Charles Stahl said at the meeting that the city has not discussed demolishing existing structures on the properties for parking lots. He said that if the council chooses not to purchase the property, the land remains up for another buyer to purchase it and use the property at their will.
  "If we did back out, it is open for anybody to purchase it," he said.
  Eryasa told commission members the city has the planning people and resources to develop the city's downtown history into a beautiful and bankable historic area.
  "Make a moral commitment to this," Eryasa told commissioners.
  Other residents living nearby voiced their support for the rezoning.
  "There are houses there that were built at the turn of the century," said Alberto Ceffalo, a Riverside Drive resident.
  Ornduff acknowledged the city was forced to demolish homes in the near vicinity because the structures became severely dilapidated.
  Jenny Wetzel, another Johnson Avenue resident, said those two homes suffered damage because the existing R-3 zone essentially allowed them to become board houses.
  "We already had to tear down two homes because they were allowed to be multi-dwelling," she said. "I'm talking about 15 to 20 people in one house."
  Peter Hampton spoke out in opposition of creating an R-1 residential zone north of Hattie Avenue. He told commissioners he used a parcel of land owned by Security Federal Bank and opposed zoning that would block future business uses.
  "I feel like this is an awkward place to draw the line," he said.
  After the meeting, Ceffalo said residents planned to submit a written request to the city to rezone the property to R-1.
  In other business, commission members also voted 6-1 approving street names commemorating the town's pioneer and Revolutionary War legacy around the new Wal-Mart and Lowe's superstore developments off West Elk Avenue. Commissioner Nancy Alsup voted no.
  The city Department of Planning offered street names of Overmountain Drive, Patriot Drive, Militia Court, and Frontier Avenue as names for public streets at the commission's October meeting. Ornduff said the street names honor the historic Watauga Settlement and the muster of the Overmountain Men.
  The street names received approval for designation with the U.S. Postal Service office and the Carter County 911 Communications District.
  The commission also voted 7-0 to recommend a proposal creating a right-turn-only entrance on West Elk Avenue to access the Save-a-Lot supermarket.
  The new entrance will be a six-inch buffer and two marked lanes that only permit vehicles to turn right into and out of the market at the West Elk Avenue entrance.
  "It would be constructed in a way that you could not turn left and come in," Ornduff told the commission.
  An elderly North Carolina couple was killed at the entrance last month when a sport utility vehicle struck their car while it was turning left across two lanes of traffic on West Elk Avenue into the Save-a-Lot parking lot. The city placed a do not enter sign at the entrance shortly after the accident.