Zone or No Zone?

Residents vocal in commission hearing on changing zoning rules

By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

Whether "for it" or "agin it," residents concerned about proposed changes to zoning regulations in Blount County got to voice their opinions at the Blount County Courthouse Tuesday night. Cheers and a smattering of boos were heard during the meeting.

There didn’t seem to be any middle ground on the issues. There was standing room only in the packed commission room, with crowd estimates of more than 300 people. Of the 25 speakers, seven spoke to support the changes, and 18 spoke against them. Regardless of the support they received, each speaker who addressed the full commission appeared very sincere in their views, whether for or against the changes.

The issues are:

  • A zoning change for the property along U.S. 411 South at Henry Lane near Loudon County, with a request that it be rezoned under a new Commercial Sports Complex zone. The proposed change is related to the desire by Jerry Simmerly of Blount County to build a Smoky Mountain Sports Complex on 200-plus acres at the site. The complex would have multiple softball and soccer fields, hotels, restaurants, rental condos and stores.
  • A proposed apartment complex on William Blount Drive to Dotson Memorial Drive, which would be changed from suburbanized to commercial.
  • A proposal relating to the proposed apartment complex requiring that all structures be no higher than 55 feet, 20 feet higher than the current 35 feet allowed in Blount County unincorporated areas.
  • Another proposal related to the proposed apartments calling for multifamily developments serviced by sewer or state-approved sand filtration systems be restricted to three residential units per acre, up from the current 1.5 units.

Former Blount County Commissioner J.C. Franklin was one of the speakers. "I’m not against sports complexes, but this one is in the wrong place," said Franklin.

Franklin said that if the special zone is approved, the county taxpayers may not benefit from it as much as they think. "I think Greenback would annex it before the first shovel of dirt was turned," he said.

Jerry Simmerly, who wants to purchase the property to develop the sports complex, said it would be a project of which county residents could be proud.

"U.S. 411 South is a commercial area, and it has the capacity. We’re doing everything possible to make this a complex that fits into the community," he said. "This is only a tax-generating machine. It will not tax the infrastructure."

Patricia Wells said she came before the commission with a heavy heart. "These rule changes are ill-conceived," she said. "I’m not against development. I’m for smart growth."

Robert Frink said it appeared the changes weren’t being made to streamline the zoning process but rather to circumvent it. "Listen to input; look long and hard," he said. "Don’t be intimidated by special interests."

Jim Lord said developers respond to demand for housing. He said that if the new zoning change allowing three units or houses per acre was approved, less land would be needed for subdivisions. "Land conservation starts with density, not the other way around," he said.

Linda King said the changes would bring more people driving on insufficient roads and taxing the infrastructure. "Once our county has been paved over, there will be nothing left," she said. "All that will be left will be shame and regret."

Realtor Darrell Tipton said zoning rules that would be changed are only two years old. "We’re not changing history," Tipton said. "We’re bringing it up to where it makes sense," he said.

Tipton echoed Lord’s sentiments. "Developers don’t develop and then growth occurs. It is the other way around," he said.
Kathleen Skinner with the Ravens Society, a local group committed to preserving the scenic rural character of the county, said the group is for development, but only where infrastructure already exists, she said.

Skinner said that unless growth was planned, rapid development of rural areas would leave the Great Smoky Mountains National Park the only green space in the county. "Let’s grow by choice, not by chance," she said.

Bob Reed of the Maryville Alcoa Home Builders Association said developers had been mischaracterized as locusts who cause harm and then move on to another community. "I resent that," said Reed. "I’ve been a developer all my life. We’re not here to rape Blount County and turn it into a concrete jungle."

Carol Ross said that if the commission is going to make major zoning changes, "I see no reason to have a planning commission and zoning department."

Planning Commission member Ed Stuckey said he disagreed with the proposed zoning changes. "I believe the planning commission simply rubber-stamped a set of zoning amendments and dumped a can of worms on the (county) commission," he said. "These amendments, if passed, will forever change the landscape of Blount County."

County Mayor Jerry Cunningham was on hand for the meeting and said in many cases, people on both sides of the issues claimed they knew what smart growth was. "The problem is there are so many definitions of smart growth," he said. "It’s a matter of processing all these ideas together."

Cunningham said he felt everyone was respectful of others during the meeting. "I think that it (the meeting) was good," Cunningham said. "Whatever decision is made by the commission, then I’ve got my marching orders."

County gets grant for truck filters to help air quality
If there’s smoke and soot coming from a dump truck on any given road in Blount County in the near future, chances are the truck isn’t a highway department vehicle.

Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham and Blount County Highway Department Superintendent Bill Dunlap announced Tuesday, April 10, that the department had received a $90,000 federal grant to replace current filters on six diesel dump trucks and six pieces of diesel equipment.

The Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Improvement Grant will be administered through the Tennessee Department of Transportation. TDOT will reimburse the county for retrofitting the equipment and trucks.

The department already has one of the $7,000 filters. The filter can be disassembled every 60,000 miles, vacuumed out and reused. The dump truck that is retrofitted with the filter has had it for two years and has performed well, Dunlap said.
Dunlap said that after he and Tony Abbott spent several hours writing the grant proposal late in 2006.

Dunlap said the biggest thing that swayed those making the decision on the grant was the fact that Blount County along with Maryville and Alcoa received a regional Clean Air Award in 2006 for their efforts to clean the air. Also having one of the filters on a current dump truck also helped Blount County’s case, he said.

Dunlap said another reason they won the grant was the county’s commitment to getting out of non-attainment status with the EPA as far as having too much particulates in the air. Another caveat was the fact the department is using 20 percent bio-diesel fuel in their vehicles. "That’s a 20 percent reduction in emissions," he said.

Cunningham said this is Dunlap’s 13th year as superintendent. "He’s the epitome of a good public steward," Cunningham said. "He’s worked extremely hard to obtain this EPA grant. There was heavy, heavy competition from surrounding
counties, including Knox County, for this grant, and Bill got it."

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