A group of homeowners and other community members known as the Buffalo Valley Community Group had hoped to reopen the now-closed Buffalo Valley Golf Course. However, the group was unable to raise funds for a legal retainer fee and the future of the course is unknown. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Kendal Groner

When the City of Johnson City failed to accept the Town of Unicoi’s $400,000 offer on the 124-acre, former Buffalo Valley Golf Course property this past winter, a group of concerned homeowners and community members called the Buffalo Valley Community Group was spurred into action.

In attempts to salvage the golf course, and at a minimum protect the value of the property surrounding many of their homes, the group has been raising funds to meet a $5,000 legal retainer fee to have an attorney look into their property rights to help facilitate their efforts to incorporate or become a stronger voice. However, due to the current state of the greens, some donors have now pulled their contributions.

“We don’t know what to do,” said Brandy Bevins, Buffalo Valley Community Group Member. “We’re just stuck. We got down to where we had the money and then a couple of people backed out because the greens are gone.”

The community group had previously presented a management plan for the property during a series of meetings leading up to the Town of Unicoi’s offer to purchase the property. However, Bevins said it was based on the principle that the property would be at least minimally maintained as a golf course.

“The amount of money it would take at this point in time, it would be ridiculous,” she said about restoring the property as a golf course. “I’m not sure anybody would even want to do that, and I know we don’t have the money to do that.”

JT McSpadden, a communications manager for the City of Johnson City, said that the city will continue weekly maintenance on the property to keep cleared areas at heights of four to six inches. Although, Bevins says the amount of maintenance being done is not enough and even mentioned that her husband has been mowing the fairway himself to prevent overgrowth.

“My daughter actually stepped on a snake a few days ago,” Bevins said “People have had foxes in their yard, people have had bears, raccoons out during the day … things that haven’t been here before because of mowers and golfers.

“It’s terrible to live out there and watch it just grow up … when you’re used to looking out your back door and used to seeing this beautiful manicured grass and now looking out and seeing nothing but tall unkempt grass.”

Concerns have also been voiced from homeowners about what they described as unsightly excavation work around the Lakeview Drive entrance which Johnson City representatives previously maintained was to mitigate drainage issues. According to community group members, much of their frustration on the matter stemmed from the fact that the city had not received an excavation work permit from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) or the Town of Unicoi prior to beginning the activity. Johnson City ultimately did receive a permit from TDEC; however, they have not received a permit from the Town of Unicoi and the excavation work has been halted.

“Now they have defaced the property … I don’t think it could be recovered. I heard it could be upwards of $50,000 each green to fix,” Bevins said.

Bevins also said the community group has heard rumors that the property could become campgrounds, a soccer complex, walking trails, a park or wetlands. Recently, the group sent a letter to Johnson City commissioners expressing their concern over the excavation work and future of the property.

“The immediate example of existing unsightly conditions left by initial excavation is the main purpose of writing this letter,” it reads. “The front portion of the property is the main viewscape entering into the subdivision offering tremendous curb appeal to the main residential properties within said subdivision, and is now referred to as the ‘crater’.”

The letter, which included signatures from about 60 residents around the golf course, went on to say that the “crater” has not been filled with any soil or alternative fill material, and implored the city to consider the detrimental impacts to the residential neighborhoods if the area is not returned to its pre-developed state.

“We honestly feel like they don’t want to tell us anything … all the digging and everything they said they would have a public meeting about, but they have not announced any of those,” Bevins said. “We just don’t even know what direction to go in at this point.”

McSpadden stated that there has been no recent interest expressed in the property; however, it is not being marketed at this time and there no immediate intentions to do so. Johnson City will also be applying through the Army Corp of Engineers for Streambank Mitigation Credits in the coming weeks to provide compensatory mitigation, a process that is intended to offset certain unavoidable disturbances to wetlands or streams from land development by enhancement, establishment, preservation, or restoration of aquatic resources. According to Tn.gov, components of compensatory mitigation include objectives such as: maintenance plans, performance standards, long-term management, adaptive management, mitigation work plan and financial assurance.

“Once approved, we will construct the proper streambank then monitor and maintain the site,” McSpadden said. “This will apply only to the existing streams on-site and the city will maintain ownership of the land. The remaining acreage adjacent to the streams and not included within its defined banks will remain available for other uses as yet to be determined.”