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West Walnut Street taskforce creating master plan for development

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More than two years ago, a taskforce was created to figure out how to bring life back to a specific area near downtown Johnson City. On Tuesday night, the West Walnut Street taskforce started to develop its final master plan.

Tucked between a reviving downtown and a busy college campus, community members believed the West Walnut Street corridor wasn't getting enough attention, until recently.

"The area evolved in a haphazard manner," taskforce chair Joe Wise said. "It was kind of a weird crossroad of old industrial, old rail bed, downtown."

Now the West Walnut Street taskforce plans to give the neighborhood a new identity, including the former General Mills building.

"It's hard to see Walnut Street and not notice the Model Mill as a significant part of it," Wise said.

He added its on track to be repurposed. Wise said they want to give this area a more urban feel. That means adding more bike lanes, wider sidewalks, more parking and fixing a lot of roads.

It's a long list of changes that city leaders don't want to tackle alone so they called in Nashville-based consultants Kimley Horn for advice.

"This allows us an opportunity to kind of look at the community as a whole, get our boots on the ground per se," consultant David Coode said. "And see what the real physical conditions are."

One of the big goals is to promote economic growth.

"Those represent new dollars in our community that come without having to have a property tax increase," Wise said.

And consultants said everyone in the community seems to be on board.

"Residents, public, business owners and all have really formalized a plan together of what the vision should be," Coode said.

The taskforce hopes to finalize its master plan by April. The plan will need to be approved by the planning and city commissions. Wise said you won't see construction in the district until Spring of 2020.

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