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In split vote, county denies rezone

After lengthy discussion and multiple votes, Loudon County Commission denied Sept. 7 the rezoning of 78 acres on U.S. Highway 321 near the intersection of Unitia Road.

Subdivision developer Cook Bros. Homes hoped to have the land rezoned from A-1 Agriculture Forestry District to R-1 PUD Suburban Residential District with a Planned Unit Development to make way for a new subdivision of about 197 homes. County regulations allow for 2.5 units per acre.

Commissioners Bill Satterfield and Van Shaver motioned and seconded, respectively, to deny the rezoning in Satterfield’s third district. That vote failed 6-4, with Commissioners David Meers, Julia Hurley, Matthew Tinker, Gary Whitfield, Henry Cullen and Kelly Littleton-Brewster opposing.

Commissioner Adam Waller then questioned if some commissioners were confused on their vote, thinking they were voting in favor of Satterfield’s motion. Meers said he meant to vote in favor of Satterfield’s motion.

“Listening to Meers, I understood where he was going and there was obvious confusion with ayes and nays and what’s what, so after hearing Mr. Meers — I knew Henry (Cullen) mentioned he messed up talking to the recorder — so I wanted some clarification so everybody was on the same page,” Waller said. “... It’s Satterfield’s district and he understands the needs and the wants of his people so I support Satterfield and his community.”

Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw called county attorney Bob Bowman seeking clarification on how to best move forward. Bradshaw said the confusion looked “horrible.”

Reconsideration took place after Bowman told Bradshaw a motion could only be made by a member of the majority. Cullen and Waller motioned and seconded, respectively, to reconsider. That vote passed 6-4, with Hurley, Tinker, Whitfield and Littleton-Brewster opposing.

Tinker and Hurley then motioned and seconded, respectively, to approve the rezoning, which failed 5-5. Harold Duff, Satterfield, Cullen, Shaver and Waller opposed.

“I think you have several members of the body who seem to be confused about the way they were going to vote and then they didn’t correct themselves, they were corrected by other members,” Tinker said. “I don’t know why they would know they needed to be corrected, so that might be something. Maybe it was something they said during the meeting that led to them to believe they were going to vote a different way but that’s not the first occurrence.”

Tinker said he voted in favor of the rezoning because he backed Loudon County Regional Planning Commission’s unanimous vote in July for the development.

“We have developed these plans that we ask the planning commission to follow,” he said. “We’ve all agreed in the past. I think the PUD passed unanimously to go from five to 75 (acres) with all those new restrictions that are put in. It passed unanimously with the planning development and then we want to say, ‘No, we’re not going to follow the rules that we set and that we asked the planning commission to adhere to when sending stuff to us.’ That makes no sense. And like in other times they voted until they got the results they want.”

Satterfield said he motioned to deny because residents in his district largely leaned that way.

“They understand if it goes further that the chances are I’m sure that it’ll probably end up in court and everything,” he said. “... It’s two-sided. I know it’s tough, you decide whether to let somebody sell their property or not let them sell it, but the people that lived there didn’t want it. No citizen contacted me at all in the last month wanting them to build it other than the builder and the seller. Like I said, regardless, I live in the country, I would be a little more concerned if somebody wanted to come in and build almost 200 homes right beside me.”

A nearly hour-long public hearing took place prior to the vote.

Jim and Tammy Russell, owners of the property, said paperwork to sell the land to Cook Bros. Homes had been ready and simply needed rezoning.

“The problem in the last two meetings with some other board members’ comments was, ‘It don’t fit.’ That’s all this whole crowd heard. ‘It don’t fit’,” Jim Russell said during the meeting. “‘You can’t stick an agricultural farm, turn it into an R-1, stick it into agricultural farm. No set rule against but it just don’t fit.’ ... Four-tenths of a mile from the entrance of my farm, at my back south pasture, joins an R-1 subdivision, I already said that, so now it fits. Four duplexes. Now, that piece of the puzzle is a non-issue. Now we got to a problem looking to the water. It’s the Davis farm between my driveway and there. I can throw a rock and hit that entrance from my driveway. John (Cook) and I with two mattocks could dig the ditch and hook to the water. That’s not an issue. If you’re looking for an issue, you won’t find one with this.”

He said “there’s R-1s everywhere” around his property, along with commercial zoning.

“Change is already there,” Russell said. “This ain’t ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ There is already existing everything that we’re wanting today. It’s already there. We comply with everything.”

In a follow-up interview, Russell declined comment upon request of his attorney.

John Cook, Cook Bros. Homes owner, has said he would fight the county’s decision.

“I think ultimately, even with the denial tonight, the developer has that right to go in front of the chancellor and get a hearing,” Bradshaw said. “Ultimately to cover the county’s side and to make sure that we were very specifically clear on what the vote was from the commission, I felt like it was important to clean that up and really make sure we had it in black and white on what was the intention.”

In other news, Loudon County Commission:

• Reinstated a COVID-19 policy for employees.

• Approved floor plans for the Loudon County Courthouse.

• Passed the application and acceptance of funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for Lenoir City library of $25,000 with a 10% match, Philadelphia library of $20,000 with a 5% match, Loudon library of $25,000 with a 10% match and Greenback library of $20,000 with a 5% match.

• Approved the application and acceptance of a $3,000 no-match grant through the American Library Association for the Loudon Library.

• Passed a $4,915 salary supplement for the fiscal year 2022 for the road superintendent and sheriff.

• Amended County General Fund 101, Highway Fund 131, General Purpose School Fund 141, School Federal Projects Fund 142, Central Cafeterias Fund 143 and General Capital Projects Fund 171.

County remembers Sept. 11 attacks
  • Updated

Throughout Loudon County on Saturday residents took time to honor those who lost their lives and the courageous men and women who acted 20 years ago on Sept. 11.

Loudon hosted a remembrance ceremony and Tunnel to Towers Foundation 5K run and walk.

“We’re very honored to be able to do this,” Mike Brubaker, Loudon fire chief, said. “It’s our third year doing it and we plan to continue doing it every year. We need to remember this day and what it stands for and what happened to our nation 20 years ago today. We all that were alive know where we were and what we were doing. We’ve also got some young members who weren’t even alive during this time so we want to make sure they understand what took place this day and the significance of it and the sacrifices so many heroes made this day.”

Guest speaker was Alvin Wagner, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5150 commander, who wanted to reinforce that “freedom rings.”

He said the Sept. 11 attacks didn’t weaken the United States as intended but strengthened the country’s resolve.

“The smoking rubble of the twin towers of the World Trade Center has been removed, the scarred and scorched field in Somerset County, Pa., has been healed by time and nature, and the wrecked halls of the Pentagon have been repaired and rebuilt,” Wagner said. “The memories of the infamous events of that day, however, are just as clear today as they were 20 years ago, and although the years may pass, the memories of 9/11 will stay with us forever.

“None of us will ever forget where we were and what we were doing during those terrible moments in history,” he added. “And because we remember, we will continue to honor the memory of the men, women and children who perished by continuing on with the same determination and sense of spirit exhibited by so many of our fellow citizens that day, including heroic acts, moments of valor and courage beyond words shown by firefighters, police, emergency personnel and patriotic citizens.”

A bell was rung four times Saturday, first at 8:46 a.m. when Flight 11 crashed into floors 93-99 of the north tower, 9:03 a.m. when Flight 175 hit floors 77-85 of the south tower, 9:37 a.m. when AA Flight 77 struck the Pentagon and 10:03 a.m. when UA Flight 93 plummeted into a field near Shanksville, Pa.

VFW members presented Civil Servant of the Year awards to nominees from Loudon County Sheriff’s Office, Loudon Fire and Police departments, Loudon County E-911 Center and Priority Ambulance. Winners were LFD firefighter Luke Martin, LPD officer Kenny Ridings, LCSO Deputy Brian Smith, 911 center employee Heather Turbeville and Priority paramedic Donnie Haire.

Following the brief ceremony, several gathered in front of the Loudon fire hall to participate in the 5K run and walk.

Hopes were initially to have 50 people sign up, but Brubaker said as of Friday night 130 participants had registered. He hoped for 150 that morning.

“For a first-year event, that’s pretty big,” Brubaker said. “... Next year 9/11 is on a Sunday so we’re not sure what we’re going to do there yet, but the goal is to have both of these every year.”

Eight Loudon firefighters and Loudon Mayor Jeff Harris wore full turnout gear in honor of the late Stephen Siller, who died Sept. 11, 2001. The Tunnel to Towers Foundation was created in his honor.

Sisters Josie and Patti Kidd came after participating in another Tunnel to Towers 5K in June.

“There’s a lot going on in the world right now and I think it’s important for us to pause and remember,” Josie said.

Patti said participating in the 5K on Sept. 11 was a perfect way to help remember the brave men and women.

Steps to remember

Representatives of LCSO and Lenoir City Police and Fire departments gathered Saturday morning for a friendly competition at Gold’s Gym.

“I think that all the local first responders this is one of those days that’s a tough day and we want to never forget what occurred 20 years ago,” Don White, Lenoir City police chief, said. “Eddie Browder with the fire department and I think he talked to Carlos Espinoza from the police department and they got with the sheriff’s department and Gold’s Gym to have a little competition to run the flights of stairs, and so they just decided to do it here on a stair machine. They’ll do it in relays and do it in uniform. Again, just to keep that special thought of never forgetting the attack on 9/11.”

Rob Smith, Gold’s Gym fitness consultant, said first responders from each agency were asked to walk up 110 flights of stairs, which equated to 2,071 steps.

“We figured if we’re able to give back to the community, that’s really important, especially something as important as this,” Smith said.

Gold’s Gym also accepted donations for the 911 Memorial & Museum in New York.

Loudon fills city council vacancy
  • Updated

Loudon City Council unanimously Monday appointed retired teacher, coach and veteran Admiral “Bumper” Webster to fill a vacant seat through the November 2022 election.

Councilwoman Tammi Bivens motioned and Councilman Tim Dixon seconded Webster’s nomination during a special meeting following a regularly scheduled workshop.

Webster steps into the role following the resignation in August of Tim Brewster for health reasons.

Webster retired from Loudon High School in May 2020. He was a special education teacher, head softball coach and assistant baseball coach. He owns a floor cleaning business and works at Home Depot. He is retired from the U.S. Air Force.

“He’s very well-respected in our community,” Bivens said.

Under the city charter, council had 20 days to fill the seat or there would be a special election.

Bivens said she talked to many people about the possibility of Webster serving on city council. All of them said “that would be perfect.”

“Everyone that I talked to was very pro — for it,” she said.

Webster didn’t ask to serve, but he will.

“They approached me,” he said. “I will be honored. I’m glad to be doing it.”

Webster will be sworn in and start serving at the Sept. 27 city council meeting.

“I’ve known him all my life,” Dixon said. “We grew up together. ... He’s a real gentleman.”

Council had discussed possibly letting voters decide who should fill the vacant seat on the five-member council, but a special election could cost $10,000-$15,000.

“Welcome aboard, Admiral,” Loudon Mayor Jeff Harris said after the vote.

Council members said they had heard from potential candidates in the 2022 election and were reluctant to appoint any of those candidates to Brewster’s seat.

“I don’t want to give someone the upper hand,” Dixon said.

Although Webster doesn’t plan to run in 2022, Harris said the council can’t prohibit him from becoming a candidate. Webster said he does not plan to run.

Development ongoing

At the beginning of the workshop Monday, council heard a brief presentation from developer Rick Dover about potential mixed-use development along the downtown waterfront.

The development could be on about 12 acres owned by Loudon on both sides of U.S. Highway 11. Loudon could transfer the property to the industrial development board, which would work out the details, Ty Ross, Loudon city manager, said.

The primary focus would be building residential units downtown and adding density without sacrificing green space and walking trails, Dover said. The mixed-use project could add 230 new units and include commercial space, playgrounds, parks, walking trails, tree-lined streets and a cafe next to the water.

Work could start in the first quarter of 2022 and be complete in two to three years, Dover said.

Loudon officials plan to have a public meeting about the project possibly in the fall. The city purchased the riverfront property a few years ago and tore down the old Hutch manufacturing plant. Potential developments could include condominiums, apartments and mixed-use areas with retail shops on ground floors and apartments above.

Dover said he has financing lined up for the project.

LCHS flips to virtual learning

Lenoir City High School switched to virtual learning last week after numerous faculty and staff were out for illness.

The decision was made Sept. 8, going into effect the next day through today. In-person learning is expected to resume Thursday.

Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City director of schools, said 25% of staff at LCHS dealt with some sort of illness, and school officials had difficulty finding enough substitutes.

“We had teachers covering each other’s classes during their planning time and that’s just not sustainable,” Barker said. “It was due to staff illnesses, and it was due to a variety of reasons. Yes, COVID is part of that for sure, but we needed to do something. ... They had a day to get all of that communicated and get their plans ready with the kids and then those substitutes were free to go to the elementary and middle (schools) where we did not have nearly the number of people out.”

Barker said COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus, allergies and a stomach bug all contributed to the problem.

Students have also been ill, which Barker said has posed a challenge.

“The students have been sick, but we would continue to have school if we had our adults there in force,” she said. “We can handle more students out, and we’re seeing students that are getting sick this year versus last year. We were quarantining a lot of students and that was frustrating. This year the concern is they’re actually getting sick.”

Barker said Lenoir City Elementary and Intermediate/Middle schools have dealt with illness, but not at the levels of the high school.

“Our focus for these virtual learning days is on getting students caught up from being out due to illness and also ensuring students understand all previously taught content,” Brandee Hoglund, LCHS principal, said in an email correspondence. “Many of our teachers are able to hold Google Meets from home but are in quarantine until the middle of next week.”

This isn’t the first time illness has struck Lenoir City Schools in the new school year.

“We took last Friday (Sept. 3) off and the idea there was that we could get everybody well — or most of them could get well — over the long holiday weekend,” Barker said. “When we came back I was expecting the numbers to be a little bit better and they were not. They were heightened. That’s when we thought, ‘OK, this didn’t work taking the long weekend. We’re going to have to do something more extended.’ That’s what happened.”

Barker said the system has no intention of moving toward virtual learning.

“That didn’t work well for anybody,” she said. “But it was frustrating, and we really do want to have our kids in every day, and so we felt like we really needed to take time out, let our teachers get well. Soon as our teachers are well we’ll be back in business. Right now it looks like the bulk of our teachers will be back by the day that we open which will be the 16th.”