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County puts development on hold

Loudon County Commission voted Monday to halt future planned unit development in unincorporated areas.

Commissioners Bill Satterfield and Van Shaver motioned and seconded, respectively, to place a six-month moratorium on PUDs. The measure passed 7-3 with Commissioners Julia Hurley, Matthew Tinker and Kelly Littleton-Brewster opposed.

“I felt like that on those PUDs we already had the planning commission gave us their recommendations, they already had a meeting on it, they put everything in place,” Littleton-Brewster said. “I felt like that we did a good job the first time on the rules and regulations and we should stick with those instead of every time there’s an issue brought up we go back and put another six-month stop to it.”

Current regulations allow for 2.5 housing units per acre for PUDs. The last six-month moratorium was in 2016.

The decision comes after commissioners recently declined the rezoning of about 78 acres for a 197-home subdivision in the Glendale area near Greenback.

John Cook, the proposed developer and owner of Cook Bros Construction LLC, has since filed a complaint in chancery court for a declaratory judgment against Loudon County.

“I’m going to be active in my district and I hope the rest of the commissioners will to get some feedback from the people that live there,” Satterfield said. “I pretty much know how the majority of the folks in district three feel about it. It’s not anti-growth. Our (planning and zoning study) committee has been in place, we get some input, we’ll see what we can do. We may come back and say, ‘It’ll be fine the way it is,’ or whatever it is I wouldn’t see any big sweeping changes from what it is.

“Just when I look around and see how everything is just growing and growing and growing,” he added. “There’s some people who want that, and that’s fine, and then there are other people that don’t.”

Satterfield pointed to Blount County, which in September forwarded a resolution to the county’s planning commission designed to regulate rapid development.

With the moratorium in place, the county’s planning and zoning study committee comprised of Shaver and Commissioner Adam Waller will meet at 5 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Loudon County Courthouse Annex to begin discussion.

“The community, the builders, the Knoxville Area Realtor Association, whoever wants to come,” Shaver said. “We’ll take input from everybody.”

“I think it’s a great opportunity for the community to come out and voice their opinion of what they want to see their community end up like,” Waller added. “Growth is coming, what it looks like, in my opinion, should be up to the citizens that live here. I really encourage them to come out, and we need to talk to the utilities and the developers are welcome to come and give their 2 cents and the planning commission. It’s really about the citizens who live here and want their community to become.”

Loudon County Chamber of Commerce President Rodney Grugin presented commissioners with a resolution opposing the moratorium that was approved Monday by the chamber executive board. According to the resolution, PUDs are a “necessary tool to achieve cost effective and fiscally responsible growth within the county,” and the county has “more restrictive guidelines for PUDs” than surrounding counties.

“A moratorium on these types of developments will further negatively impact sectors of our membership that rely on positive housing growth, such as Realtors, home builders and other businesses operating in the housing industry,” according to the resolution.

Knoxville Area Association of Realtors, which represents more than 160 Loudon County Realtors, in conjunction with Home Builders Association of Greater Knoxville, sent a letter to commissioners Friday expressing opposition to the moratorium.

The letter, which was signed by builders association CEO Ashley Burnette and Realtor association CEO Lyle Irish, noted the moratorium would be “effective in slowing development” and could “drive up the cost of housing and lead to deteriorating housing affordability.”

“Data show the supply of available housing significantly lags demand and the demand for new housing remains high,” according to the letter. “This dynamic helps to explain why the median sale price in Loudon County has risen more than 29% year-to-date and at a faster rate than many surrounding counties, which is itself the result of similar development moratoria enacted by Loudon County in previous years.”

Pay raise given

Commission moved forward with a $16 per hour starting wage for county employees effective Oct. 1.

The move boosts the starting salary for full-time employees from $25,500 to $33,280.

Littleton-Brewster and Hurley motioned and seconded, respectively, which passed 8-2. Shaver and Commissioner Henry Cullen opposed.

“First of all, there hasn’t been anything done in 31 years,” Littleton-Brewster said. “They had a committee that looked at step raises for the elected officials to put in place. They couldn’t agree on it, so therefore something needed to be done. Our employees were making $12.26 an hour. They could walk out of here and go Hardee’s, Big Lots, they could anywhere else and walk and make $14, $15 and $16 an hour. I feel like our employees are good servants for Loudon County and we need to at least get them to the per capita income for Loudon County. That’s has been my goal. I’m happy and I’m excited for the employees now.”

The salary hikes add $266,288 to the county budget and impacts 53 employees.

“I just think we need to look at it in a bigger context,” Shaver said. “This had not been on anybody’s radar; it just kind of dropped on us tonight. I would have much rather it gone back to the budget committee and let’s evaluate it. We’re spending 230-something-thousand dollars, we didn’t know where we’re getting the money from, that sort of stuff. I just thought it would have been better if we could have taken it back and maybe improved on that some.”

In other news, Loudon County Commission:

• Tabled consideration of electronic voting equipment until further consideration at the October workshop.

• Authorized member renewals to the Animal Control Authority Advisory Board, Ethics Committee and Industrial Bond/Development Committee.

• Passed a resolution to oppose the federally proposed vaccine mandate.

• Renewed a Humana contract for county retiree insurance.

• Approved collecting 50% of Adequate Facilities Tax for new home construction up front and another 50% before certificate of occupancy.

• Agreed to not require county employees get the COVID-19 vaccine.

• Passed a resolution acknowledging the county’s population as certified by the 2020 census and authorized retroactive pay to county officials as a result of population change. The increases will cost the county an additional $150,631.

• Approved a resolution authorizing temporary reductions in county employees’ contribution to health insurance.

• Approved a resolution accepting Loudon County’s allocation of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

• Approved amendments to County General Fund 101, Public Libraries Fund 115, County Drug Fund 122, General Purpose School Fund 141, School Federal Projects Fund 142 and Central Cafeterias Fund 143.

Loudon planning waterfront housing
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An East Tennessee company has proposed a $40 million development on the Loudon waterfront that could include 270 new residential units, walking trails and commercial space.

Rick Dover, Dover Signature Properties president, unveiled plans showing site layouts and building exteriors during a community meeting Sept. 28 under the Highway 11 bridge in downtown Loudon.

“We’re here today to show this to the public,” Dover said.

He said the project would take an old waterfront with a classic street grid and redevelop the site in a modern way.

The mixed-use development, called Lakeshore Loudon, would be on 15 acres on both sides of the bridge. There could be a mix of rental townhomes, apartments and houses, along with commercial space such as a coffee shop, hair salons and water sports retail. A playground, walking trails and green space could also be available.

Jeff Harris, Loudon mayor, said the development would be a first for downtown and could positively impact the city.

“With a lot more density, a lot more opportunities for people to live and shop and kind of live downtown, and it just brings a lot more development to our waterfront that we’ve really been focused on for that last four years,” Harris said. “That was the main reason that we bought the property when we did because we had this vision of increasing our density downtown and also bringing in some more retail spaces and mixed-use development with retail and apartments. Plus, too, we’re going to enhance the greenway and everything.

“There’s going to be walking trails, walkways and we really stressed that with the developer that we want to preserve the green space and so he’s really worked hard to develop that into the proposed development that we maintain as much as we can green space, just living space and also recreation space as well,” he added.

Harris stressed the development could take a few years to complete.

“It’s going to be a work zone for a while,” he said. “I mean there’s about 15 acres of property that’s going to be developed and graded. It’s just going to be under construction for probably two to three years so people just need to be patient knowing that in the long run it’s going to be something they can really be proud of. We’ve worked really hard with Rick Dover, he knows the importance of how we want it to look, and it’s got to be first class development and he understands that.”

Construction is privately financed and could start the first quarter of 2022, Dover said.

There are still steps to complete before then, including a land transfer, master plan approval and zoning change. The project must include approvals by Loudon City Council, Loudon’s Industrial Development Board and the City of Loudon Planning Commission.

“We’ll be walking the council through those steps at the Oct. 11 workshop,” Ty Ross, Loudon manager, said.

The planning commission will consider amending the zoning code for this type of mixed-use development.

The property was previously home to factories, including a creamery, a chair factory and Hutch Manufacturing, which made fireplace inserts. The factories had dated back to the 1800s but had fallen into disrepair. Buildings were demolished on the land now owned by the city.

The development would reactivate the former working waterfront space, Dover said, adding that his company has been working on a site design for months with help from DK Levy Design, a Knoxville architectural firm that has helped Dover with other developments in Knoxville and Oak Ridge.

Rental units could be marketed to a mix of people, including young professionals, young families and retirees, Dover said. Homes could range in size from 700-1,800 square feet.

“I think it’s fabulous,” Leigh Wisham, county resident, said. “... Everyone can enjoy the waterfront.”

“We don’t know much about it but it looks like it would be good for the town,” Mark Wisham, county resident, added.

Loudon County projects developed by Dover are Carmichael Inn, Lakeside Village, Lakewood Senior Living, Loudon County Senior Center, River Oaks Place and The Grove Building in Loudon and Lenoir Cotton Mill Warehouse in Lenoir City.

Road projects make big strides
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Local drivers have likely noticed roadwork that is slowly but surely getting done.

Other than some touch-ups, the East Simpson Road widening is “essentially complete,” Amber Scott, Lenoir City administrator, said.

“They’ve got some thermoplastic work to do with the arrows and I think the thermo guys are coming in the next week or so, but yeah, they’re pretty much done there, too,” Scott said. “There’s a little small correction that needs to take place there just past the Habitat area — there’s a little hump — but ... they’ll repair that little area. It was just a hump in the asphalt.”

Both lanes opened to traffic flow Monday.

The $1.6 million project has taken years, but Scott believes the wait has been worth it.

Work included widening the road from 18 feet to 26 feet, adding a sidewalk opposite First Baptist Church in Lenoir City and fixing a hill coming from Shaw Ferry Road. The project was financed through an 80-20 split with Tennessee Department of Transportation’s Local Programs Surface Transportation Program.

Loudon County Road Superintendent Eddie Simpson, who also serves on Lenoir City Council, said he hopes to soon focus on widening the intersection onto Shaw Ferry Road a little more and adding a turn lane. Those improvements weren’t included in plans with the state.

“We’ll be redoing that entire intersection there and what we’re probably going to do immediately is to make it an easier turn to the right or left there,” Simpson said. “Kind of put a widened shoulder because a lot of people, especially when they take trucks through there, they can’t quite make that turn. The state had already calculated all of that and we have enough funding in it to be able to do that intersection, because eventually what I want to do is to make a turn lane there on Shaw Ferry where they can turn left to go down Simpson Road without blocking traffic.”

A start date is undetermined.

Work on the Old Highway 95-Town Creek Road intersection is also nearing completion. Scott said “loose ends” were being tied up.

“There’s potentially a guardrail that would take place along Kingston Street and they’re widening out the driveway there at the church,” Scott said. “All things considered, I would say it’s substantially complete. As you can tell, the sight distance is much, much better.”

Both lanes were open to traffic over the weekend.

Signalization begins, traffic light coming

Drivers on U.S. Highway 321 within months should notice a more smooth traffic flow after Stansell Electric Company makes signalization improvements to several traffic lights in Lenoir City.

Scott said Stansell began work Monday, which should take 9-12 months to complete. Improvements will involve Highway 11 from G Street to the intersection of Highways 321 and 11 and on Highway 321 to the Interstate 75 exchange.

“The short of it — just to simply improve upon the traffic congestion that we see on Highway 321 and Highway 11,” Scott said. “Improve and flow the movement of traffic, allow more interconnectivity between the signals and a smarter way of moving traffic through the town. Hopefully that will make people happier and moving about more expediently.”

Lenoir City Council approved the $1.3 million project in June.

Council approved in April a contract with TDOT to install a traffic light on Highway 321 at the intersection of Elm Hill and City Park drives. The city has since learned work could take until fall 2023.

“Of course, we’ve been staying on TDOT on why in the world it would take that long to install one intersection traffic signal,” Scott said. “They explained they have to go through an intense design process, an environmental process, and those things can take a year or greater. I even brought up the question of TDOT recently just went through and put a bridge in and widened that whole corridor, why couldn’t they build upon the environmental document that they had to do for that and their answer was that they just couldn’t do that, that it was expired and it’s a different type of project because it’s a traffic signal project and not a roadway project, it’s a different process, which I get it, but still. Two years is quite a while.”

County paving

Simpson hopes to soon pave about seven miles in the Martel area utilizing $1.3 million of state and federal funds through Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization.

“It goes all the way up Dunn Ridge and all the way to the end and then we paved the rest of it in-house just a month ago, so it’ll all be paved all the way to the lake,” Simpson said. “Then we’re also going to take a left there, take Martel, after you go under the underpass, all that goes all the way to the Knox County line. Then we go down the next road and do the same thing there. We’ll be doing that all way to the lake at Lakeland is where it’ll end.”

Simpson hopes to start soon before asphalt plants close for the season.

“If everything works out and we go to bid on it in the next two weeks, and that’s what we think’s going to happen, then we’re going to do our best to get it done before they close the plants,” he said. “Our goal is to try to get it done before fall gets real bad.”

Committee OKs new districts

Loudon County Redistricting Committee voted 8-3 Thursday to approve a new legislative district map that moves about 900 people west of Highway 444 from District 7 to District 1.

Loudon County Commissioners Bill Satterfield and David Meers motioned and seconded, respectively, to approve the new map called “Plan C.” Commissioners Julia Hurley and Matthew Tinker and Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw opposed.

Redistricting takes place every 10 years after the U.S. census. The idea is to give each commissioner a roughly equal proportion of the county’s population.

“It’s the one that moves the least amount of people,” Henry Cullen, county commissioner, said of Plan C, one of four potential plans. “It involved the least amount of voter movement and it made, to me, the most sense.”

Of the 17 members on the redistricting committee, 11 are voting members, which includes the 10 county commissioners and Bradshaw.

Cullen is chair of the redistricting committee and represents District 7 on commission. His district includes Tellico Village, which has the highest deviation from the ideal population for a district and the highest projected growth rate.

“We had to move some into District 1 in order to balance it out,” Cullen said, noting he will lose some constituents who support him. “A lot of the voters are my friends and neighbors.”

Plan C was developed during a Sept. 22 committee meeting.

Jim Davis, Loudon County Election Commission chairman, said the move of those 900 voters was the biggest change in the new legislative map.

“We have too many voters in District 7,” Davis said.

Meers, the committee’s vice chairman, agreed with Cullen that Plan C was a good option.

“We wanted to try to move as few voters as we can,” Meers said.

But Hurley said the committee should have discussed Plan C and Plan D on Thursday before members voted.

“We didn’t even get to talk about it,” Hurley said, emphasizing discussion of the plans took place after the vote. “That’s not what our jobs are.”

After opposing Plan C, Tinker said Plan D included Plan C with additions. He said he would like more residents that pay city taxes to move out of District 5 and into District 2, his Lenoir City district, which would have been a few thousand voters.

“Plan D was a late arrival to the party,” Tinker said. “C turned out to be the one most people liked the best and that’s the one we will go with for the next 10 years.”

Meers said Plan D would have “shuffled the deck” in Lenoir City.

“That would have caused the most changes in the county,” he said. “To me, out of the two plans, C would have made the sense.”

There are other changes between Districts 1 and 4 along Stockton Valley Road and Callaway Drive. District 4 had the highest negative deviation below the ideal population after the 2020 census.

Redistricting plans must be voted on by Loudon County Commission. The new map approved by the committee will be discussed during the Oct. 18 county commission workshop and considered for a vote Nov. 1.

The committee had sought complete work by Nov. 1. Redistricting plans for all 95 counties in Tennessee must be adopted by Jan. 1.

Loudon County has seven legislative districts. Districts 1, 2 and 5 have two commissioners while Districts 3, 4, 6 and 7 have one each. The three districts with two commissioners have more than 10,000 people living in them, while the four districts with one commissioner have about half as many.