The speeches were impassioned, the vote quick and the applause loud Tuesday night at the Blount County Planning Commission.
By a vote of 8-2, the planning commission lifted restrictions on the number of lots developers could build on in areas where schools were labeled overcrowded. It deleted a subsection of the subdivision regulation of the Blount County Regional Planning Commission and lifted a moratorium preventing developers from building on more than four lots per year.
The regulation, subsection 6.01.2c, set school capacity as a
criteria for how the planning commission approved subdivisions.
The subsection was put in place in 2004 to deal with school overcrowding. The criteria prevented developers from building on more than four lots per plat or subdivision in areas of the county deemed to have overcrowded or intolerable schools.
Developers complained that the criteria had prevented them from getting new subdivisions approved throughout the county because so many of the schools were labeled overcrowded.
Chairman Jim Scully said that by removing the criteria, the planning commission is saying that they are not accepting the Blount County School systems criteria for an overcrowded or intolerable school.
"We all know William Blount High School is intolerable, Scully said. "Its the only school that is actually over capacity. But the core capacity of the school does not acknowledge the portables (classrooms), so when you have the portables, its not even part of the core capacity."
Scully said that it just doesnt appear the situation is as dire as the school system says it is.
"If you look in the dictionary, intolerable is defined as unbearable. Are these schools unbearable? If they are, why isnt the state fire marshal coming down and closing the doors?" Scully said.
Planning Commission members Rick Brownlie and Ed Stucky voted against lifting the criteria. "Weve got a lot of quality builders, but we have to think about infrastructure," Brownlie said before voting against the measure to lift the regulation.
Stucky said he opposed the measure simply because he wanted to
change the regulation, not lift it completely. "Its our job to
look out for the infrastructure (of the county)," he said. "By lifting
this regulation, were eliminating schools as an
Realtor and broker Jan Maness, who was one of more than a dozen citizens who spoke to the commission, said lifting the regulation was a good move.
"Its great thing," Maness said. "Weve got all kinds of people wanting to move into this county. Theyve been going to Monroe and Knox counties, and realtors in other counties are using it against us. Its real good news for people in the construction industry, which is about 40 percent of our economy."
Nina Gregg thanked Stucky and Brownlie for expressing their views on maintaining the criteria and for voting to maintain it. Lifting the criteria will mean more school overcrowding situations for students, said Gregg. "Im worried about our school kids, short term and long term," she said.
Blount County Jerry Cunningham said the decision was a smart move on the planning commissions part.
"I think the planning commission did their work and their homework and made a good decision. Its a shot in the arm of the economy," he said.
Cunningham said residents should understand that the school systems definition of a school that is intolerable is one thats 80 percent full. "Its not like the kids are sitting in each other laps. Theres still plenty of room. The school board is going to have to look at redefining the district and those kinds of things."
Larry and Faith Shore moved to Blount County from Memphis and talked about development there and how it is beginning to develop in the same way here.
"My thought is they made a mistake in not keeping some control on developers," Larry Shore said.
Builders are building homes without paying for the infrastructure to support those homes, he said.
"Theyre not holding up their end of it," Faith Shore said.
Larry Shore said he had no problem with land owners selling their
property, but if developers were going to put more homes
on property, they should have to pay to improve infrastructure.
"We wanted this regulation. This was another bad decision by Blount County," Faith Shore said. "The same things going on here brought Memphis to its deterioration."
Blount County School Board member Booty Miller said he didnt think there was a housing shortage in Blount County to justify builders needing to build new homes, adding that every week "there are a thousand homes for sale. Theres not a paucity of housing in Blount County," Miller said.
Commission member and Blount County commissioner Tonya Burchfield said she felt good about her vote to lift the regulation. "Weve got to grow. Weve got plans for new schools. Weve got new jobs coming, and were going to have to have affordable places to live," she said.
Scully said the school system officials could have done more to deal with overcrowding. "If they redistrict and move kids to make schools tolerable, I think it would be 78 percent (capacity) throughout the county (schools). Only one school would be overcrowded: William Blount High School," he said.
Joe Gallagher of Louisville was at the meeting and disagreed with the commissions decision. "Its sad," he said. "Theyre putting developers ahead of school decisions."
Linda King of Blount County said the move didnt bode well for
the countys future. "Im just afraid were going to see
our county bulldozed. The developers are going to develop until
theres nothing here and then move onto the next county," she
said. "There were good speakers but (the planning commission members)
had their minds made up before we spoke to
them. It was almost a waste of time."