Moratorium ‘preventing tax dollars’

One home is under construction in the Bella’s Landing subdivision just off U.S. Highway 321.

A week after Loudon County Commission approved a six-month moratorium on planned unit developments, local housing experts have fired back in opposition.

The county passed the measure Oct. 4, with Commissioner Bill Satterfield indicating he and fellow commissioners need feedback on what to do with further regulation. A county planning and zoning study committee meeting is set for 5 p.m. today at the Loudon County Courthouse Annex.

County regulation allows 2.5 housing units per acre for PUDs and requires at least 75 acres for consideration. An R-1 Residential District allows two units per acre.

“The bigger difference with the PUD is in the density, so you get to have an extra half a unit an acre, which helps, makes it more financially feasible to be able to develop and to have lots that are financially you can sell them,” John Cook, Cook Bros. Construction LLC president, said. “The PUD also allows lower setbacks, so you can keep the housing denser, which is what folks want. They want less yard to maintain, and you can have more green space or area outside of the lots for walking trails and amenity areas.

“I mean it’s going to depress those lots being developed,” he added. “In two units an acre it will make no financial sense for a developer to develop property in Loudon County outside of Lenoir City limits or maybe outside of Loudon city limits, depending on what their zoning regulations are.”

Cook said the decision will negatively impact any developer looking to buy land.

“They’ve really killed it for much more than six months because the six-month moratorium it’s going to add time to that to get things ramped back up after the fact,” Cook said. “Frankly, with the two people that are leading the talks about it, the two commission members leading the talks about it, the two that want to see development dead the worst, it’s not going to improve. They can have all the meetings they want to have, but if you’ve got the two leaders of the no-development party leading those discussions, what do you think is going to happen?”

Commissioners Adam Waller and Van Shaver comprise the county study committee.

“I don’t see a lot being accomplished, and then they announced it one week before they’re having it and starting it at 5 o’clock,” Cook said. “Well, I mean that’s one week’s notice and you want business people, people that run businesses to be there at 5 o’clock. If you really want my interaction, make it at time that I can make it and give me more than a week’s notice to get it on my calendar. I mean that’s clearly another step to trying to preclude the very people that this affects from being involved.”

Keller Williams Realtor Marcie Nichols worries the county didn’t do enough research before granting the moratorium.

“There’s a lot of resources available in our county — of course, Realtors, appraisers, title companies, builders,” Nichols said. “That affects quite a few jobs in the industry. Our goal as a Realtor is to put people in homes, not prevent them from getting a home. ... I just don’t think they’ve thought about all the ramifications of you’re affecting not only Realtors, builders and so forth, you’re talking about architects, interior designers, plumbers, electricians, brick masons, carpenters, floor installers, tile installers, sheetrock installers, people buying furniture. It’s preventing tax dollars from coming in.”

She pointed to her children and their friends who live outside Loudon County because “there’s nothing here.”

“Our market is short and we’re going to make it shorter,” Nichols said. “... The manufacturing facilities, they’re short on employees, hundreds. Take Denso for example. They need hundreds of employees. Well, we’ve got Smith & Wesson that’s going to be coming to Blount County and supposedly, according to the commission meeting, Loudon County was going to be a bedroom community for those people moving into the vicinity. It’s funny because I’m selling a lot of Loudon County residents homes in Blount County because there’s nothing available here.”

The moratorium followed a rezoning denial of 78 acres that would have resulted in 197 homes in the Glendale community. The property was slated for sale to Cook from co-owners Jim and Tammy Russell.

Cook has since filed a complaint against the county in Loudon County Chancery Court.

“It’s all of Loudon County that’s affected by this now,” Julia Hurley, commissioner and Realtor, said. “I didn’t see this community putting together a couple million bucks to help him out, but they’re all coming to the meeting and saying to us that they are a community. They want to stay a community as long as it doesn’t include him or his sick wife or his sick mother-in-law or his bills or his need to be able to retire from being a farmer because he’s admitting that he’s too old to do it. That takes vulnerability. He came and asked a hand for help and no one stepped up and they attacked him. That’s not a community, that’s a mob.”

Hurley said she didn’t blame Satterfield for representing residents in his district but emphasized a possible regulation change could “devastate the housing market.”

“It is going to inflate the prices of real estate in Loudon County and it could fall on either side of that sword,” Hurley said. “It could fall on the side of people will pay those prices regardless of what they end up being because they have to be here, or it could fall on other side and builders will say, ‘Screw this, I’ll go Monroe County and I’ll influx Monroe County with dollars’ — because they back straight down to (Highway) 411 right into Blount County — and Monroe County’s open for business.”

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 opposing the moratorium to commissioners Oct. 1. The letter stated the action will slow development, increase the cost of housing and lead to “deteriorating housing affordability.”

“To the extent that the demand for housing in Loudon County persists while the supply is effectively ‘frozen’ by the proposed PUD moratorium, developers will be incentivized to turn their attention to nearby areas where it is possible to obtain timely development approvals and meet demand,” according to the letter. “The result could be an increase in housing development just beyond the jurisdictional limits of Loudon County, sometimes referred to as leapfrog development. This combined with an overall undersupply of housing will force new and long-time residents alike to look for more affordable housing options to purchase homes just outside of the county. While these residents might live and work in Loudon County for all intents and purposes, the county will not be able to capture their tax revenue to compensate for the additional pressure they place on county infrastructure and services.”