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Lark Street extension project inching closer to construction

Zach Vance • Dec 26, 2018 at 10:52 PM

A Johnson City street project in the works for almost seven years finally seems to be materializing.

Johnson City commissioners will hold a called meeting Friday at 11:30 a.m. to convey three pieces of property to the state for the Lark Street extension project.

The conveyance is needed hastily so the Tennessee Department of Transportation can initiate the bid-letting process on Feb. 8, City Manager Pete Peterson told commissioners at their Dec. 20 meeting.

“The state attorneys need to certify that we have the legal right to transfer them the title to the property and that the title of the property is clear,” Peterson said. “That’s going to take a little bit of time, and they want to get all of that done so that the transfer of this property does not delay or hinder the issuance of the request for bids in February.”

The properties being conveyed were right-of-way acquisitions the city made for the new roadway, but a TDOT final review determined a “portion of the acquisition must be conveyed to the state of Tennessee,” according to the agenda summary.

One of the property tracts is currently owned by the city, while the others were acquired from Jeffrey Schoondyke and Medical Education Assistance Corporation.

First discussed in January 2012, the project calls for extending Lark Street from North State of Franklin Road to West Market Street. The new Lark Street would weave through the now-defunct Optimist Park, across the former animal shelter property on Sells Avenue and come out beside the Boys and Girls Club on Market Street. Clinchfield Street would also be tied into the new Lark Street.

Through TDOT’s State Industrial Access Program, the state has agreed to finance the grading, paving and drainage for the road extension, while the city voted in March 2018 to appropriate $730,836 toward curbs, gutters, sidewalks and the drainage system.

“I’m excited about this project getting finished. It’s a long time coming, and it will be a great benefit to that area. It will open up some development of the property that’s up there on top of the hill. It’s a prime spot in town,” Mayor Jenny Brock said. “It will also help traffic flow at that (Market Street and State of Franklin) intersection, and it’s my understanding, there will then be a back way into that shopping center over there.”

In September 2012, the Johnson City Press reported that Guy Wilson, owner of Clinical Management Concepts in the nearby Franklin Medical Park, had requested the new access road to facilitate his company’s truck traffic. He also talked about expanding his business along the new road once the animal shelter relocated.

The significant delay on the road project can be attributed to at least three factors. First, city leaders had to wait on the animal shelter to relocate into its new building on North Road Street, which occurred in June 2015.

City leaders also had to figure out whether to relocate the Boys and Girls Club to another location or realign some of its recreational fields to make way for the new street. 

In April 2015, city commissioners ultimately decided on the latter by voting to fund $700,000 in renovations and new construction at the Boys and Girls Club, which entailed moving and rebuilding a football field and T-ball field.

The third and final impediment to the project was a federal designation placed on Optimist Park that required it be used for recreational purposes.

“One of the big holdups was getting the conversion of Optimist Park, which was built with federal money. So (the federal government) required us to have something of equal or greater value that we could transfer,” Brock said. “It just took, I don’t know, maybe three years. It just seemed like forever to get that transfer, and we finally did about six or eight months ago.”

The Keefauver farm along Hales Chapel Road now holds that designation, but city leaders are now trying to get that converted once again to property adjacent to Winged Deer Park.

Brock said the project’s timeline will depend on the contractor selected during TDOT’s bidding process.

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