Heating Up: Talk gets personal, zonings get nixed at commission meeting

No one can say the April 19 Blount County Commission meeting was uneventful, that’s for sure.

In front of a packed room, commissioners logged close votes that threw up roadblocks to a William Blount Drive apartment complex and sent organizers for a new sports complex back to the planning commission. They moved forward on animal control and voted to take $350,000 out of debt service and put into the capital fund in order to move forward on a new Blount County animal facility on county property in Alcoa.

In discussing the sports complex zone, commissioner Brad Harrison criticized community activist Linda King for "bashing" commissioners "week-in and week-out." That brought a loud response from several of her supporters.

It was during commissioners’ discussion of the sports complex that Harrison made comments about King, founder of the group Citizens for Blount County’s Future. The group’s efforts focus on keeping taxes low and monitoring county spending.
Earlier during public input of items on the agenda, King had called for anyone with a conflict of interest on the commission to recuse themselves on the vote for the new sports zone. During discussion about referring the new zone to planning commission, Harrison mentioned King by name.

"I’d like to know about what percentage of Blount County citizens you represent," Harrison said. "You’ve lost all credibility with me. I’m tired of you week-in and week-out bashing us."

This was greeted with applause from some in the crowd and shouts of disapproval from others. Radio host Harry Grothjahn slapped the banister in front of him and shouted at commissioner chairman pro-tem Steve Samples for not stopping Harrison. "My sense of fair play and chivalry could not be contained by the abuse that was heaped upon Mrs. King," Grothjahn said later.

Jim Folts, a friend of King, was upset about Harrison’s comments. The commission rules prohibit anyone from personal attacks and Folts said that rule wasn’t applied to Harrison. "It’s a violation of commission rules. When someone else from the public starts, they’re cut off. He was allowed to continue."

King later said she wasn’t talking about Harrison but was referring to commissioner Mike Lewis, a former colleague of Simmerly’s at American Fidelity Bank (Green Bank). She was also upset that Harrison was allowed to continue to criticize her from the commission seat and wasn’t called down by Samples.

"If a citizen had done that, he would have stopped them immediately. I have not bashed them. I tell them what the citizens would like to see happen. I’ve never bashed a commissioner," she said. "I didn’t mention his name. He shouldn’t have mentioned mine."

The commissioners first addressed zoning changes connected to a proposed apartment complex on William Blount Drive, a two-lane commercial corridor between West Lamar Alexander Parkway and U.S. 411 South. This property is in the suburbanized zone and the urban growth boundary where Maryville can eventually annex if they wish.

Planners said the complex would be similar to the Camellia Trace apartment complex on West Lamar Alexander Parkway.
The commission addressed changing zoning resolution section 9.1 and 9.4H to change the maximum heights of structures from 35 feet to 55 feet. Commissioner Scott Helton made the motion and commissioner David Graham made a motion that the changes only affect William Blount Drive and not the rest of the county. Helton accepted Graham’s amendment o his motion.

Commissioners voted 10 to nine against the change. Things didn’t get any better for the next few resolutions aimed at that specific development.

Helton made a motion to amend the zoning resolution section 9.1l1 for the road frontage requirements for high density, multi-family developments. This had to do with the fact the stretch of road is a two-lane versus a four-lane artery.
Again Graham made a motion for an amendment that would restrict this zoning change just to William Blount Drive in areas with municipal sewer. Helton accepted the amendment into his original motion.
Graham also said that schools wouldn’t be adversely affected by this complex because not many students would be coming from the apartments, which would be very similar to Camellia Trace and doesn’t house many students. The facility also would have units for retirees, he said.

Helton said that if this project didn’t get built, then another one would. "I see different parcels being sold off every day," he said.

Commissioners John Keeble and Steve Hargis didn’t agree with the proposed changes. Hargis said he travels William Blount Drive and often has to wait at the traffic light at either Dotson Memorial Drive or Morganton Road for three light changes before he can proceed. "That tells you it’s overcrowded," he said. "Do we need more? I think not."

Keeble said it was a matter of not having infrastructure. "I feel we do not have the infrastructure in hand at this time to serve this development," he said.

Commissioner Gary Farmer said he didn’t understand what else the developer could do. "This is in the suburbanized area, they’re going to run sewer to it," he said. "I don’t know what else we can ask them to do."

The motion failed again with a 10-9 vote. The next vote to raise density from 1.2 units to 3.0 units per acre also related to the apartment complex. Without discussion it failed, as did a motion to omit the last sentence of subsection F of zoning resolution section 9.10 Rural Arterial Commercial.

The next issue was creating a new sports complex zone for a proposed Smoky Mountain Athletics. The 250-acre facility would have soccer, softball and baseball fields and a wetland preserve.

Helton made a motion to send the resolution for the new zone back to the planning commission and commissioner Joe McCulley seconded it. Graham said he was for putting the motion to vote then. "They had time to study it," he said of planning commission. "I’m for voting on it here and now."

Commissioner Tonya Burchfield said the proposal to put a sports complex on the property would not be on the table forever.
"We need to keep in mind the people who own it are going to sell," she said.

The commission voted to 11-8 to refer it back to the planning commission. Roy Montgomery of South Knox County co-owns the property where the complex would go. He said there is still time for Simmerly to do something with the property. "The gentleman has an option to buy until the middle of July," he said. "We won’t be making a decision until that time."

The commissioners also voted 16-3 to allocate $350,000 for an animal facility. According to Rick Yeager with Smoky Mountain Animal Care Foundation, the money will be repaid over time through revenues at the facility, which he hopes is built by February of 2008 on county property on Currie Avenue in Alcoa adjacent to the Boys and Girls Club.
Yeager said

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