Dry Hollow Rezoning Decision Postponed
I drove to the City County Building last night wondering how many people might even brave the cool temperatures and heavy rain to attend a zoning hearing. I did not have to wonder long. While there were many proposed rezonings on the agenda and nearly all were approved, one stood out.
I had not cleared building security when I was met by a large crowd citizens carrying red signs that read “No Rezone”. The group had already overfilled the Small Assembly Room and were now being moved, of necessity to the building’s largest space. The group was polite, cheerful, orderly and organized; their goal was to once more prevail upon the County Commissioners to preserve their historic rural community.
The Dry Hollow community is comprised of mostly farmland, woodland, a high ridge shelters it. There are scattered homes (fewer than 25), some historic, most old, as well as a large church and cemetery and a limited light manufacturing area. The community is not supported by public sewer, water or improved roads. On one side it adjoins Chapman Highway, long regarded as the most dangerous road in the state. The valley is bounded on the opposite side by Sevierville Pike, a road that except for paving is little improved since pioneer days when the stagecoach originated there in Dry Hollow and served travelers to Sevierville. At least one home is of particular historic significance, many are older and have remained in the same families for generations.
Opening the meeting the Commission Chair, Ritchie Beeler told those in attendance that eleven citizens had complied with the rules and signed up in advance for the opportunity to speak. He read a statement which promised to punish any citizen who was disorderly or who falsely testified before the Commission. That was, through my eyes, an unfortunate opening insult to a group of modest people, many of whom were elderly, speaking from their hearts to and of a community they clearly love.
Ultimately, only two were allowed to speak. They told the commissioners of homes their families had inhabited for generations and they pointed to their children behind them who hoped to do the same. They spoke of the wildlife and streams, of memories, of their lifestyles, the sadness and anxiety the potential change was causing. When others of their group stood to be recognized or tried to speak out in response, Commissioner Jay told them, more than once, to “speak through your leader!” They were also cautioned by the chair to “be respectful” or he might clear the room. No other citizens were given the opportunity to address the Commission.
The citizens had wisely, and I suppose, of necessity, retained the counsel of Dan Sanders, formerly of the Knox County Law Department and recently the former advisor to the Commissioners.
It is interesting and important to note that earlier in the meeting the current representative of the County Law Director’s Office, Mike Moyers informed the Commissioners that his Office was now reversing it’s previous position and would after all, uphold the state-mandated Knox County Growth Plan that he had told the group last month was no longer valid.
Mr. Sanders had argued, accurately (if one believes numerous opinions of the State Attorney General) last month that the Plan was valid. Last night he again proceeded under that assumption. He told the Commissioners that the developers’ proposal did not adhere to the Growth Plan and he outlined the many ways that it did not. He also told the Commissioners the developers were already injuring the historic community by starting preparatory work before any permitted rezoning. He also said that the developer had made little or no effort to meet with or work with the community to ease tensions or to possibly find a compromise. He told the commissioners, that already, Thunder Mountain Properties was in the process of bulldozing, of removing trees, of pushing down fences, forcing debris into the steams and destroying wildlife habitat.
Much of the meeting was consumed with the district Commissioner, Carson Daily outlining how South Knoxville was growing and the residents should embrace the changes as new residents flow into the area and demand housing. Mr. Daily ultimately offered a motion – a proposed compromise that would allow the developer 180 rather than the 255 homes being sought. The Dry Hollow residents answered in unison “No!”.
For some time after Mr. Dailey’s proposal no other commissioner offered a second to the motion. Finally, another commissioner, Mr. Busler seconded the motion, but it did not advance. Finally, a third commissioner, Mr. Jay moved to postpone the matter for sixty days. That was met with applause.