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County development fight on horizon

Loudon County Commission will consider in October a six-month moratorium on planned unit developments.

The decision was made Monday following Commissioner Bill Satterfield’s recommendation. During a three-hour workshop, a bulk of discussion revolved around PUDs and future county development.

If the county moves forward, this would mark the second time in five years a moratorium has been placed on PUDs. The county halted PUDs in 2016 for several months and ultimately agreed to allow 2.5 units per acre.

“Evidently there’s not going to be much middle ground on this topic, it’s pretty well divided, but I think we can do a better job outlining what we want Loudon County to look like 20 years from now or 25 years from now,” Satterfield said. “We can’t just turn everybody loose and let them build willy-nilly, but we’re not for closing down the borders. We need to come in and live, but we still want to maintain some of what people enjoy about the county.”

During a Sept. 7 meeting, commissioners denied rezoning of 78 acres that would have been transferred to Cook Bros. Homes for an eventual PUD with an estimated 197 homes in the Glendale community.

Jim Russell, land owner, said during the meeting that paperwork to complete the sale required rezoning. The county’s decision could end up in court.

A recent meeting involving residents opposed to the rezoning was the “final straw or extra straw on the camel,” Van Shaver, commissioner, said.

“We’ve had these little things pop up all around the county at different times, but the Glendale was the first really big turnout of group of people that … I think for the rest of the commission to get to see what the impact of this sort of thing could be in the community,” Shaver said.

Satterfield said the Glendale project and an uptick in residential development in and near Lenoir City played a role.

“It is scary as heck to see all the houses that are being built out there and then the economic impact,” Satterfield said. “It’s not going to be just a city problem, it’s going to be a county problem.”

Emphasizing residential density, Shaver hopes a moratorium will allow commissioners to give some “breathing room.”

“I think part of that conversation will be if we want to continue to allow a 2.5 or where we might allow a 2.5,” Shaver said. “There may be some places OK, there may be some places it’s not. We have the ability to say, ‘This area is going to do this. This area is going to do this.’ So we have that authority to do that. We’ll come back in less than six months most likely and hopefully have a recommendation and say, ‘OK, in places where it’s not a fit for the community you can’t do it.’ I know we can tailor this for community fit, and again, the harmonious (requirement) is a big one.”

Gary Whitfield, commissioner, thinks all options should be on the table, even doing away with PUDs.

“Maybe we look at just going to two homes per acre or one home per acre and look at changing some of that and just eliminate a PUD,” Whitfield said. “I don’t know if that’s the answer, but I think it’s up for discussion.”

Whitfield said conversation on the subject is essential.

“Where is the line and how do we handle these PUDs, especially in our rural parts of our county for our farmers and long-term families, third- and fourth-generation farming communities? They just don’t want those 190-, 180-home subdivisions,” he said. “Do we concentrate more on trying to get those more toward the cities where those developments are already happening and figure out how to slow the growth down in our rural communities? There’s a fine line and how we get there I’m not sure, but I’m glad we’re having a good discussion.”

Shaver has encouraged commissioners to speak with residents from their districts.

Mark White, who has two developments in the county, said he believes the county needs more affordable housing for residents. He said he had “no dog in the fight,” as he is nearing retirement, but wanted to give insight.

“If you reduce the number of lots, the kids in this county and the workers of this county will not have any place to live,” White said.

Mandate opposition

Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw said he is writing a letter to President Joe Biden expressing opposition to requiring vaccines.

Commission in October will vote on a policy to prohibit vaccine mandates.

“Hopefully we will pass something,” Shaver said. “I hope to have a document of some kind that we can share with our employees to say we will never do that. We’re not going to expect our employees to have the vaccine mandate regardless of what federal or state agencies hand down such measure.”

Bradshaw said he believes whether to get a vaccine is an individual decision.

“There are some people that have a medical condition that cannot take that vaccine, and that’s a decision a person makes with their doctor. Period,” Henry Cullen, commissioner, said.

State recognizes county schools

Two Loudon County schools have again been recognized by the Tennessee Department of Education as Reward schools.

Designations for the 2020-21 school year were announced Sept. 14. Highland Park Elementary and North Middle schools were two of 188 state institutions awarded.

“This last year has been especially difficult considering the pandemic,” Mike Garren, Loudon County director of schools, said in an email correspondence. “The way the accountability determinations are structured is primarily student growth, absolute achievement and/or meeting achievement targets. With the pandemic and no testing the year before, that makes achievement targets and student growth very difficult to achieve. I’m extremely proud of North Middle School and Highland Park to achieve these designations during the last year.”

Garren said this makes the third time in a row NMS has earned the designation and the fourth straight for HPES.

Loudon County Schools in recent years has also received Reward designations for Fort Loudoun Middle and Philadelphia, Eaton, Greenback and Steekee elementary schools.

“I’m most proud that as we work through the pandemic we are not only caring for kids and providing them with various services to meet their educational and emotional needs, we are also outperforming 90% of the state in the process, while having less resources than many others,” Garren said. “This hard work and dedication to the students by our staff and the efforts and participation of the parents and students is what placed Loudon County in the top 10% of the state out of 146 districts.”

Garren went to NMS and HPES on Sept. 9 to congratulate teachers before the announcement was officially made by the state.

The state recently amended laws regarding school and district accountability, which provide the chance to remove negative consequences associated with accountability for the 2020-21 school year. That includes using student growth or student performance data from the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program administration to assign letter grades, or assigning ratings for schools eligible for accountability protections in the state report card.

Since all districts had a minimum 80% participation rate on the TCAP, all districts are held harmless for the 2020-21 school year.

“In other words, districts and schools will not use student achievement and student growth data to assign letter grades or any other summative ratings in the 2021 State Report Card, which will be released later in September,” according to a state release. “These data will not be used to identify Priority schools, nor to assign a school to the ASD. LEAs will still be responsible for performance goals, even though performance goals will not be determined using student achievement or student growth data from 2020-21 TCAP assessments.

“’Held harmless’ refers to schools and school districts for whom student performance and student growth data from the 2021-21 school year cannot be used to assign letter grades or any other summative ratings in the 2021 state report card,” the release added. “These data also cannot be used to identify a school as a priority school, not to assign a school to the Achieved School District.”

Jodi Lowery, NMS principal, said the designation was “really special” for staff and students.

“Especially for our staff that’s worked so hard, especially during the pandemic, but just in general,” Lowery said. “They really love our kids and it shows and they love each other and it shows. I think this is just a perfect representation of their hard work and our kids’ hard work.”

Kathy Winsor, HPES principal, said the recognition involved a team effort.

“We’re on a roll,” Winsor said. “... You get Reward school for two things. You get it on growth — you have to have two years worth of data to show that you have growth so that you’re growing kids the right amount of way, but we couldn’t show growth because they didn’t do the testing the year before that so we got ours just on achievement, which is really hard to do because you have to have enough kids that are on track and mastered and that was really difficult to do in the middle of COVID quarantine and all that stuff. The fact that we made it on achievement for this year was even higher; I was even more proud of that. We couldn’t show growth because we didn’t have two years of data. The fact that we made it on achievement alone, I wonder how many schools made it on that. ... I was super proud of our folks.”

Teachers are responsible for knowing what students must learn, Winsor said.

“You have to know what your kids are expected to know to be on track on that test and our teachers do know that, so it’s just keeping those two things together,” she said. “Your families have to have buy-in with you. We set goals with our kids. Every time we do the common assessments and stuff we set goals with kids on always doing their personal best. So we make it matter to kids and to their families and I think that makes a big difference for us.”

Still no timeline on courthouse project
  • Updated

Loudon County has interior design plans and a layout approved by Loudon County Commission for courthouse renovations.

The next sub-phase of the project is shell and masonry repair, Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw, Loudon County mayor, said.

Work on the historic 150-year-old building has been ongoing since significant damage from an April 2019 fire. A total estimated cost is still not available, and the expected timeline for completion remains unknown.

“We’re doing it in phases in order to keep moving,” Susan Huskey, Loudon County purchasing director, said.

The rebuilding of the courthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, requires approval from the insurance company, Bradshaw said. There have been discussions about what work would be covered by insurance in estimates, with some of it disqualified.

There have also been questions to resolve about fire-related damage versus age-related damage, which has caused a delay in the project, Huskey said.

Bradshaw said officials have been frustrated with the project’s timeline.

“We’re going to get there,” he said. “Let’s do it right and get something that will last another 150 years.”

He credited Huskey and the county purchasing department for work on the project while also completing a $17 million jail addition.

“I just can’t praise them enough,” he said.

Detailed courthouse plans will now be presented to county commission, Bradshaw said.

The building has been stabilized as part of phase one of the renovation project, which included a temporary roof and wall supports. Work was delayed by rain and other factors, including COVID-19, but was completed about 6-8 months ago.

Phase two includes getting back into the building. The rebuilt courthouse will have brick inside instead of plaster that can chip.

“I think the inside will be incredible,” Bradshaw said.

Placement of non-load-bearing walls in the building may change, allowing the court clerk’s office to operate more efficiently, Bradshaw said. Inmates in the building for court proceedings will be separated from others involved in criminal cases such as victims and witnesses, and video arraignments might be possible, although trials will still be in person.

The stairwells might be exempt from building codes, although the building will comply with the American with Disabilities Act, Bradshaw said.

A more detailed plan will now go to commissioners, he said, adding the insurance company will also have a say.

Companies involved in the project include architect Brewer Ingram Fuller Architects Inc., and construction contractor Johnson & Galyon Construction.

Tourism director resigns
  • Updated

Loudon County Visitors Bureau will soon be looking for a new executive director after Rachel Harrell decided to take a new career path.

With 16 years experience in tourism, Harrell replaced interim director Clayton Pangle in 2015. Her last day will be Sept. 30.

Harrell will try something new in customer service at Buckeye Corrugated in Loudon.

“I was ready for a change of scenery,” she said. “I have had a wonderful time promoting tourism in Loudon County, but I was ready for a new adventure. ... I’ve gotten to travel to some amazing places to let them know about the counties that I’ve lived in and I certainly would have not gotten to do that and meet people all over the state and the Southeast through all the networking and the events that I’ve gotten to do.”

Harrell hopes to finish up some projects and ensure people she’s worked with have contact information for Rodney Grugin, Loudon County Chamber of Commerce president, who will oversee the program until a successor can be found.

“Any time a valued employee such as Rachel leaves a position, they are missed,” Grugin said in an email correspondence. “Her dedication and love for Loudon County was evident in everything that she did. ... Rachel’s performance as director of tourism has been excellent and her skills and knowledge will be missed.”

Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw agreed. Harrell joined the county shortly after Bradshaw was elected.

“She brought new ideas, fresh ideas and she’s done an outstanding job for Loudon County and our cities as far as promoting the tourism here,” Bradshaw said. “She’ll be missed, but you never fault anybody for taking a better opportunity, and we wish her all the best. Somebody’s going to have big shoes to fill, no doubt.”

Grugin said a timetable hasn’t been set for finding a replacement.

“The chamber leadership will be formulating a path forward as soon as possible,” Grugin said.

Harrell said her successor will continue to wrestle over funding local tourism efforts.

“Funding is always a challenge and being able to prove what you’re doing is working is not an easy task, but we always strived to make sure that we were showing a return on investment and making sure those funding bodies were not only aware of what we were doing but what their return was,” she said. “Any dollars is greater than the last so, again, funding is the most important thing. That is the biggest challenge.”

Uncertainty with COVID-19 could also continue to pose a challenge.

“Of course, as people continue to get vaccinated, the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the government would hope to prevent any future shutdowns,” Harrell said. “But the occupancy rate at the hotel has been over 70% for the months April, May, June and July. So we know that people are traveling and continue to travel, so hopefully again staying safe they’ll be able to continue with that.”