Sports complex zone:

Mayor, commission say choice is sports fields or septic fields

By Lance Coleman
Blount Today

There’s a storm brewing over more than 200 acres of land near Vonore. Blount County commissioners may become lightening rods at the full commission meeting Thursday, April 19, as they consider whether or not to allow a new zoning designation called a sports complex zone.

If commissioners choose not to clear the way for developer Jerry Simmerly by creating a sports complex zone, the property owners have a contract that could turn that land into a subdivision with more than 250 homes, said Blount County Mayor
Jerry Cunningham and commissioner Scott Helton.

"I knew this property," Cunningham said regarding the 200 acres. "The Montgomery family had a backup contract to sell this, and it was going to develop. I knew there would be 256 houses allowed to be built on that piece of property. Knowing that and hearing this athletic complex proposal, I thought, ‘We can keep it open and keep 256 houses with septic fields out of there."

Knowing the options, Cunningham said that when Simmerly came to him with the idea for a sports complex, he felt he couldn’t kill the idea in his office, but felt the commission needed to decide whether to allow the zoning that would develop it into a sports complex.

Helton said he has talked to the Montgomery family, and they have told him they’re selling the property. "They have another contract on hold if the sports complex fails. The brother and sister who own the property, they are going to sell it to a developer to develop a subdivision," said Helton. "As far as roadway stipulations, you’ve got an entrance on a five-lane road. That would not be able to stop them. Road access would not be able to slow down such a large project."

Helton said that is why he went to the planning commission, asking them to develop a sports zone. During this time, Helton said he also started asking friends and neighbors involved in traveling soccer or softball what some of the amenities for those sports are. "About all of them said they’re looking for somewhere to stay close by, a restaurant or couple of places to eat. They’re looking for somewhere to purchase small items," he said. "They’d like to have somewhere to get uniforms cleaned and a sports doctor or paramedic to take care of any injuries."

Helton said they tried to be specific with the zoning request so the new zone wouldn’t allow other development. For instance, there wouldn’t be any residential, single-family dwellings for day-to-day living allowed in a zone designated as a sports complex zone.

Helton said he listened to what people had to say during the April 9 public hearing at the Blount County Courthouse. There was concern about the 55 foot height allowance and the 3.0 structures per acre density limit, which is higher than the current 1.2 unit per acre in the county.

Helton said he researched the issue regarding raising multi-family homes height restrictions that could usher in a new apartment complex on William Blount Drive. Raising the limit from 35 feet to 55 feet would only apply in the suburbanized or urban growth boundary areas of the county and not in other rural parts of the county.

"I can see they have a concern with the density of 3.0 and the 55-height. The 55-foot high is only for the commercial portion of this project, which is up on 411 South. As for the actual density of 3.0, I’m open to accept an amendment of decreasing the density to 1.2 for that sports complex zone," he said. "The important thing is if there’s something the commission wants to discuss and change, delete or reduce, we need to do that instead of whipping out the project."

Helton said the new sports complex would be a major benefit to Blount County and would bring in out-of-state residents spending money in Blount County, thus generating tax dollars. The facility could hire its own security and not be a burden on the sheriff’s office, he said.

Cunningham said it was clear to him the sports complex dovetails with the Hunter Growth on smart development in Blount County. "It’s a choice between open spaces creating huge amounts of revenue versus 250 roofs creating (sewage) in field lines in septic fields," Cunningham said.

Helton said the commission has the choice of letting Simmerly build here or watching him go elsewhere and build. "He is going to build this facility, whether in Blount County, Loudon County, Monroe County or Knox County," Helton said. "He’s already resigned from his position at the bank, and he’s been contacted by Loudon County and Knox County representatives. He is going to build the facility."

Helton said it’s a question of whether the commissioners were going to take hold of this opportunity for a money-generating complex or let it go "over the county line in Loudon. "They’ll be thanking for us if we give it up," Helton said.

Regarding zoning changes involving height, something that’s been misunderstood is where the height change would occur.

The change would allow a developer to build an apartment complex on William Blount Drive. The complex would be similar to Camellia Trace on West Lamar Alexander Parkway, Helton said.

One thing that has to be understood is the area on William Blount Drive is within the suburbanizing area of the county and urban growth boundary of the city of Maryville, Helton said.

"What I really would like to get across is this only affects regulations within the urban growth / suburban zones of the county, not the outside areas. It’s a five-mile radius from the city hall of Maryville," he said. "There are different standards for developing in the suburbanized zone versus a rural area."

In a suburbanized area, there are 6.2 houses per acre allowed on public sewer, and 13 apartments per acre on public sewer in a suburbanized area.

"The infrastructure can not handle this type of project outside urban growth areas and suburbanized area," Helton said. "In suburbanized and urban grow area, sewer is available within the majority of that area."

Commissioner Bob Proffitt said he didn’t know anything about Simmerly, but had heard good things about him.

Commissioners are curious about his silent partners.

"I think many of the commissioners are concerned we don’t know the other parties involved, but that’s their prerogative," Proffitt said.

Proffitt said a sport complex appeared to be something that would encroach on the rural area. "I think from an environmental standpoint, the light and noise would concern me quite a bit if I was living in that area," Proffitt said.

Proffitt said he wasn’t aware of another contract being held on the property. While there is enthusiasm now, he wondered if the facility would be a success. "No matter how good the idea may seem to the people whose idea it is, it might not (be successful)," he said.

On the other hand, Proffitt said he could see a developer coming in and tearing down trees for homes if the sports complex zoning isn’t allowed. "I think that’s my concern," he said.

Kathleen Skinner with the Raven Society, a conservation group, said this situation of choosing between a sports complex and a subdivision is exactly why a comprehensive land use and development plan is needed.

"We should not have to choose between appropriate growth in rural areas and undermining existing zoning plans," she said.
The commission needs to follow the recommendations of the Hunter Group, she said.

The Blount County Economic Development Board released figures that show it will cost $10.5 million to buy the property and build the sports complex. The analysis also showed that similar complexes in South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee hosted 25 non-local teams in the first 37-week season and up to 130 non-local teams within four years. Figures also showed a
difference of between $208,000 to $1,081,600 in economic impact when 25 teams visit versus when 130 teams visit.

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