Pictured is the recent excavation work done by the City of Johnson City to a portion of the Buffalo Valley Golf Course. According to Johnson City officials, this excavation work which has occurred around the tee box at the Lakeview Drive entrance, was started to address flooding and drainage issues. However, some homeowners involved with the Buffalo Valley Golf Course are concerned that the work is unnecessary and creating an eyesore on the property. (Contributed photo)

By Kendal Groner

The City of Johnson City has neither accepted nor declined the $400,000 offer the Town of Unicoi placed on the 126-acre Buffalo Valley Golf Course property on Feb.7. The original offer included a $200,000 down payment, with the other $200,000 being paid over the course of 10 years.

In the event that the Town of Unicoi’s bid is declined, the offer did include a request to return the Town of Unicoi’s $200,000 deposit within 30 days.

“The offer is still on the table,” said Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch. “This is one of those deals where you just have to wait for a response.”

In the meantime, the homeowner’s group that was formed during the series of Buffalo Valley Golf Course Committee meetings, isn’t dragging its feet as it waits for a response.

During the Buffalo Valley Golf Course Committee meetings, the homeowner’s group was tasked with forming their own corporation in order to enter into a lease-purchase agreement with the Town of Unicoi to be able to operate the golf course.

“We are in the process of forming our own corporation, and we have a lot of commitments for memberships,” said Steve Williams, member of the homeowner’s group. “We are actually up to 62 now, and we did that in just one day. Those memberships will generate $55,920 in revenue.”

During the sequence of Buffalo Valley Golf Course Committee meetings, the homeowners presented a sample business plan to operate the course. The homeowners proposed an operating budget of $373,502, with $382,820 in revenues and operating profits of $9,318. 

The group suggested the sponsorship of golf carts by local businesses to increase community engagement and start up costs. In exchange for sponsoring a golf cart, businesses would have a marketing logo displayed on the carts.

“We have already sold 12 sponsorships for our golf cart logo concepts, totaling $5,000,” Williams said. “Brandy Bevins led this effort, and our street marketing accomplished all of this in one day as well.”

However, Williams’ main concern is that while the City of Johnson City is deliberating over the Town of Unicoi’s offer, the greens are due to be treated for crabgrass by the first of March to ensure the course is playable this spring.

“We are going to approach the City of Johnson City independently once we get our corporation set up and see if we can enter into some sort of agreement with them,” Williams said. “I would rather deal with Unicoi, but it’s all about the timing of the greens.”

Williams is also concerned about recent excavation work by the City of Johnson City to a strip of the course’s fairway. He said the excavation was right around the tee box at the Lakeview Drive entrance, and believes the work is negatively impacting the aesthetics of the course.

According to the City of Johnson City, the excavation work was carried out to address a drainage problem that had existed for many years. 

“What they did out there makes no sense … there is no standing water issue right there,” Williams stated.

Williams also said he is concerned that the City of Johnson City hadn’t received a permit from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), or contacted the Town of Unicoi for an excavation permit.

“We have submitted information to TDEC to obtain a required SWPP (Stormwater Pollution Permit) necessary to carry out the excavation activity,” said JT McSpadden, community relations representative for the City of Johnson City.

McSpadden said that after that permit is received, most likely within a week or two, the city commission will have to approve plans to proceed. He added that TDEC is aware of the activity to date, and after meeting with them on site they did not take any issue with the work.

“We do not feel that any activity conducted to date has in any way affected the golf course,” McSpadden said. “When warmer weather comes, we will ensure the area that has been excavated has proper grass to mow.”

Larry Rea, interim city recorder for the Town of Unicoi, noted that the City of Johnson City has not approached the Town of Unicoi’s Planning Commission for an excavation permit, and according to state law, he said they are required to do so.

“We want to know why they didn’t get approval before they did this excavation project,” Williams said. “We may be wrong, but it appears that the City of Johnson City may be in violation of several local, state, and federal codes. We want answers…something just doesn’t add up. They have owned the property since 1993 and days after they closed the golf course they excavate and leave the entrance into our neighborhood a mess.”

Phil Pindzola, the director of Public Works for Johnson City, said he was not aware of any policies for excavation activity in the Town of Unicoi, and added that they are first pursuing a state permit.

Pindzola said he expects the timeline of completion for the entire project to be around two weeks.

“If excavation resumes, the target area is just over an acre,” Pindzola said. “We have excavated about 25 percent of the area being considered. I’m very open to meeting with residents to discuss further excavation activity if and when that occurs, in order to get input and adjust accordingly.”