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Keefauver land still holds promise

Johnson City Press • Jul 11, 2018 at 8:15 AM

Johnson City officials are doing the right thing by pursuing property near Winged Deer Park for more recreational space.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board hopes to use the 36-acre plot to build additional rectangle and diamond athletic fields to accompany the heavily utilized park area off the Bristol Highway along Boone Lake. Outdoor activities present this city’s greatest opportunity for economic growth, and adding capacity can only enhance the city’s potential.

We agree with City Commissioner Todd Fowler, though, that diligent negotiations are in order with property owner Joe Wilson, given the difference between the $600,000 paid for the property five years ago and the $1.4 million maximum the commission approved last week. The city has been strict about spending on other projects — including recent “value engineering” changes to reduce costs in the Langston High School renovation — and the park expansion should be held to the same standard.

The park plan also presents an interesting dilemma for commissioners. The staff hopes to see the 36 acres designated as a recreational area by the state and federal governments. More than 30 years ago, the city received federal funding for athletic fields at what was Optimist Park on State of Franklin Road, but that funding came with certain deed restrictions requiring recreational use.

After wading through years of bureaucracy, the city successfully transferred designation to the Keefauver farm property just outside city limits on Hales Chapel Road, where the city planned to establish a new park. As Staff Writer Zach Vance reported in Saturday’s edition, changes in annexation laws have limited the city’s ability to expand in that area, so officials hope to again change the park designation from Keefauver to the Wilson property.

Such a scheme makes perfect sense. The city has to be practical in maintaining that designation.

Not far from the Keefauver land, the city also is exploring the possibility of a partnership with Washington County to build a joint sports complex at the property where the county’s new Boones Creek school is under construction. Great. The two government entities should be working together for such mutual benefit.

But we would hate to see the city give up on the Keefauver property as a recreational space over the long haul. Mayor David Tomita mentioned the possibility of selling the land once the park designation encumbrance is lifted.

While annexation may be stagnant, the city’s limits already have expanded that direction enough to warrant a park west of Interstate 26 in Boones Creek. Thousands of existing city residents in northwest Johnson City would benefit from a nearby park. A full-service park comparable to Winged Deer and Willow Springs also could improve the potential for infill residential growth within the city’s existing boundaries. Parks and schools are among the chief amenities homebuyers, developers and businesses consider for location.

The city should hold on to the Keefauver property at least until a clearer picture emerges about the Boones Creek-Gray area’s prospects.

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