JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - Johnson City commissioners decided on Thursday night, after months of debate, to re-zone the old General Mills site.
Commissioners Jeff Banyas and Jenny Brock voted to pass the ordinance, along with Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin. Vice Mayor Clayton Stout and Commissioner David Tomita voted against it.
The decision gives the chamber of commerce a green light to go ahead with a redevelopment project that puts an apartment complex where the old mill now stands.
It's an $18.5 million project, paid for by the re-developer.
Jodie Jones, president of the Southside Neighborhood Organization, told us she's unhappy with the decision.
"I think we're all just really disappointed," said Jones. "I think we really had hoped the commissioners would step up to what the people want."
Residents in the Tree Streets neighborhood wore stickers to Thursday night's meeting that said "Save the Mill." They have spoken out against the project since the proposal reached City Hall. About 300 residents even signed a petition against the construction.
Jones told us re-zoning the property, to allow a 216-unit complex to go up, could increase crime and traffic.
Those were concerns Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin acknowledged at the meeting.
"Without a doubt each one of these re-zonings is difficult," Van Brocklin said. "We're looking at placing a large apartment complex on the edge of an existing neighborhood, there's always going to be questions about it."
Van Brocklin said, despite issues raised about the project, he decided it makes sense to allow a residential unit to be built on that property. Commissioner Jeff Banyas agreed.
"I honestly think this will help enhance West Walnut, encourage growth and development of both West Walnut and our downtown," said Banyas.
Resident Les Nelson told us that could also be done by renovating, and saving, the mill.
"A convention space, it can be satellite space for other colleges and universities in the area," he explained. "We can put in a small restaurant, micro breweries."
Those ideas do not have a developer in place.
Nelson told us they won't be giving up the fight. The Chamber of Commerce owns the site. Residents plan to raise the issue again before the Chamber finalizes a deal with the developer.
The Tennessee Historical Commission has also asked for the mill to remain standing. They say it's eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
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