Sunday, May 18, 2008

Next Door To Riverview: What's Planned for An Old Neighbor?

City planners study rezoning of Kingsport Foundry site

Rezoning would help improve one of the gateways into the downtown area and prevent the owner of the foundry property from putting a metal reclamation facility on the site.



KINGSPORT — Mayor Dennis Phillips is still pushing for the Kingsport Foundry property to be rezoned and has sent a formal request to the city’s planning department to explore that possibility.

Earlier this month, the Kingsport Economic Development Board voted to ask the city to rezone several properties downtown from M-2 (general industrial) to B-2 (central business district). The properties are bounded by Main, Sullivan, Market and Unicoi streets and include the Kingsport Foundry and old Jack’s Restaurant property.
Phillips sent a formal request to the Kingsport Regional Planning Commission on Thursday, asking planners to initiate a study to determine the appropriate land use designation for the property in that area of downtown. During its regular meeting Thursday night, planning commissioners voted to accept the request and directed city planners to look at the industrial areas of downtown.
Alan Webb, Kingsport’s planning manager, said the department would treat the request as a rezoning request.
“We’ll notify all of the property owners and let them know their property will be discussed,” Webb said.
The study will look at the existing land use, changes in the area, and the recommended land use for the property. Webb said he hopes the study will be complete by the Planning Commission’s June meeting.

The reasons behind the rezoning — as discussed at the KEDB meeting — would be to help improve one of the main gateways into the downtown area and to prevent the owner of the foundry property from putting a metal reclamation facility on the site.
“If we’re looking at the downtown area we’re slowly seeing a change, manufacturing leaving the downtown area. In that block it’s not been used for its zoned purpose for quite some time,” said Larry Estepp, chairman of the KEDB. “We should try to start using it for a better purpose in today’s environment.”

Estepp said the KEDB plans to purchase the old Jack’s restaurant located on Main Street and would like to buy the foundry property and an adjacent 0.6 acre site, where the old E.J. Smith Oil Co. stood. The KEDB made an offer on the foundry property last year but never heard back from the owner.
Estepp said the KEDB has no plans for those properties, other than to clean them up and sow some grass on them.
Although the city can rezone a property without the owner’s permission, there is at least one unknown in regards to the foundry p r o p e r t y.
Webb said the city’s legal department is investigating whether or not the existing business would be grandfathered and not have to comply with the requirements of the new zone. Webb said if a nonconforming business stops operation for 30 months, it couldn’t be re-established.
“They would have to have a plan on what they propose to do and meet today’s ordinances with landscaping and paved parking areas or tear down what’s already there and clean it up,” Webb said. “(The owners) should not be able to haul something onto the property. They have to present a plan to the building department.”
Webb said he thinks the property should be zoned B-2, adding that the city’s land use plan, completed in 1998, shows the property as B-2.

“Our long range plan is basically to eventually turn the industrial part of downtown into the B-2 central business district,” Webb said.
Jeff Fleming, assistant city manager for development, said the city has had some discussions with the owners of the foundry property and will continue to try and forge a working relationship.
“We’d very much like to have a positive and productive relationship with the owners, and obviously there has been some miscommunication over a period of time. I just think we need to continue to talk and see where we can mutually benefit from working together,” Fleming said.
The foundry closed in late 2003 after failing to emerge from bankruptcy reorganization.
The New Shenandoah Co. LLC acquired the foundry property in December 2004 for an undisclosed amount. Since then, most of the building and equipment have been removed, but the frame of a large building still remains.

The Kingsport Foundry had operated on Main Street since 1927. A manufacturer of steel castings, the foundry ran into financial problems a few years ago when foreign competitors started dumping cheap steel imports onto American shores.