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County Mayor Tim Burchett's First Big Test - Metro Pulse - Wednesday, October 6, 2010 (full story here)

County Mayor Tim Burchett is involved in one of the first major tests of
his term. He is using a 60-day delay by Knox County Commission to try to
resolve the thorny problem of the Midway business park. Burchett is in
sympathy with East Knox County residents who do not want the
development, but he also has to figure a way for the county to recoup
millions already spent.

Burchett is soliciting ideas from East Knox residents, developers, and
others to try to resolve the situation and will hold two more public

Burchett was critical of Knox County industrial policy during his
campaign, which did not endear him to the Chamber of Commerce. Residents
have objected to the property simply being sold to a private developer
because of the uncertainty of what would replace the business park. A
key objection for residents is that a sewage plan for the park would
also open up surrounding areas for development, though the Chamber says
the sewage plan is totally on-site and would not be available for other

The solution is likely to be a compromise that causes heartburn for
residents and the Chamber. Whatever Burchett proposes has to be approved
by County Commission in the East Knox Sector Plan.

What’s right about Midway? - Halls Shopper, Larry VanGuilder (Second in a series) (full story here)

The Development Corporation would answer the question of what’s right about the proposed Midway business park very simply: “Everything.” With more than $10 million dollars and 10 years of courtroom battles behind them, you’d expect nothing less.

Ask a Thorn Grove resident, a geologist, a judge, a Knox County commissioner, maybe even an average citizen of Knox County the same question and you’ll likely get a different response.

Let’s start with the judge. In June 2008 Chancellor Daryl Fansler ruled that the Metropolitan Planning Commission – not County Commission – has the authority to amend a sector plan, and then only if “a substantial change in circumstances” can be shown.

Fansler’s ruling came in response to a lawsuit which contested a 2006 vote by MPC to amend the East County Sector Plan and the subsequent vote by County Commission to rezone the roughly 380 acres along Thorn Grove Pike. The plaintiffs alleged that in fact County Commission, not MPC, amended the plan, and Fansler agreed. We’ve now come full circle and approval of MPC’s sector plan amendment and rezoning is once again in County Commission’s lap.

Thorn Grove residents who had no property to offer or who refused to sell to TDC at any price also take a dim view of the proposed development. The community is one of the least developed parts of the county, and most who live near the planned business park want to keep it that way.

Taylor and Grace Brooks are two residents who were approached by TDC. “But I can’t sell this farm,” Taylor said. “Why, you’d have to take Grace – and you sure don’t want her!”

Taylor’s “don’t go away mad, just go away” response was funny, but there’s been little to laugh about in the way the Midway project has unfolded.

Elaine Clark heads the French Broad Preservation Association and is one smart cookie. When TDC tried to push construction of an $11 million sewage treatment plant to be located on the French Broad, Clark didn’t mince words:

“The real estate developers who have already dragged TDC and County Commission into a cesspool of scandals and lawsuits continue to risk taxpayers dollars for their own financial gain with costly new development infrastructure where it is not needed.”

The hubris demonstrated by the sewage treatment plant proposal was breathtaking: the lawsuit before Chancellor Daryl Fansler was still pending.

Putting the karst before the horse

What might a geologist not in the pay of TDC think of the proposed development? Most of East Tennessee is characterized by karst geology, land underlain by soluble rocks such as limestone.

In a University of Kentucky geological survey, James S. Dinger and James R. Rebmann wrote: “Uncontrolled urban development on sinkhole fill and areas adjacent to sinkholes can lead to significant economic loss to developers, local government and property owners. Funds may have to be provided for remedial engineering construction for foundation stability, flooding or sinkhole collapse.”

A more recent Indiana study says this about karst topography:

“When ignored, karst terrain poses a natural hazard that can damage private and public buildings and infrastructure and threaten environmental quality and human health. Urbanization or development and other types of land uses can increase the natural hazard risks associated with karst by affecting natural geo-hydrologic processes negatively. These activities can result in sinkhole subsidence or surface collapse, sinkhole flooding (and) groundwater contamination.”

The Midway site contains more than two dozen sinkholes.

In less than 60 days, County Commission will take up the East County Sector Plan again. Some commissioners have told the Shopper-News confidentially that they are being questioned about the Midway development by West Knox County residents, who are far removed from the scene of battle.

Every county resident needs to question this project. You can e-mail questions to your commissioner at (first name).(last name)@knoxcounty.org.

Sweet home Nashville

These days, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett may be longing for the relative calm of the state Senate floor in Nashville. The severance package fiasco is the gift that keeps on giving to the media, and just two weeks ago the mayor stuck his toe in the Midway morass by requesting and receiving 60 days to hold two more public hearings before County Commission votes the East County Sector Plan up or down.

The severance pay dustup is rooted in some less than “open and transparent” behavior by the Burchett team. It’s now obvious that the new mayor was aware of the severance deals Ragsdale made. Because of possible litigation, Burchett’s office won’t comment, but the feigned outrage that led to seeking Joe Jarret’s legal opinion looks uglier by the minute.

Former Knox County Sheriff Tim Hutchison’s erstwhile supporters must be seized with hysterical laughter at Burchett’s predicament, but they’re the only ones laughing.

Considering what’s known, the situation has grown far beyond the point where clinging to principles – or even learned legal opinions – is a prudent course for the mayor. Whether one “believes in” severance payments to government employees or not, stonewalling won’t work. The real story is out and needs to be dealt with before it destroys the mayor’s credibility entirely.

What’s to be done? Pay the man the $2, prepare a statement designed to save face to the extent possible and move on before the goodwill evident in an 85 percent election majority begins to seriously crumble. Let commission and the law director deal with crafting an ordinance addressing severance pay and walk away – quickly.

Although opponents of The Development Corporation’s plan for a business park at Midway have said they welcome the extra time to get their message out, it’s not obvious how the mayor could benefit from involving himself in the discussion. Some have said that Burchett has found it difficult to transition from campaign mode to governing. Maybe, and considering the rough words Burchett had for the Chamber and TDC during the campaign, he may feel the need to mend some fences.

But commissioners have heard it all before, several times over. At last month’s meeting, Commissioner Richard Briggs opined that most had their mind made up.

The mayor will have to tread these waters cautiously. No matter where he publicly lands on the issue, a lot of people won’t like it. And off-the-cuff remarks such as the recent suggestion that the county could “escrow” funds for a new Carter Elementary School won’t help.

So, why stick your head in the lion’s mouth when you can watch the circus from the bleachers? As a state senator, Burchett learned that the compromise is the essence of politics – let’s make a deal.

But TDC has too much money and prestige on the line to agree to any compromise that would please Midway’s opponents. Perhaps the best the mayor can do is echo the words of “Marvelous Marv” Throneberry, former New York Met and light beer spokesperson. Of the “tastes great/less filling” argument, Throneberry said, “I feel strongly both ways.”

Contact: lvgknox@mindspring.com

The Battle of Midway - Halls Shopper, By Larry Van Guilder (First in a series)

As a founder of the 8th District Preservation Association, Bob Wolfenbarger has fought The Development Corporation’s plan for a business park in East Knox County’s Thorn Grove community for a decade. In court and out of court, Wolfenbarger and his allies have wrestled the money and political clout of TDC and the Knoxville Chamber to a standstill.

Wolfenbarger is also waging war on another front. He’s in the fight of his life against a deadly cancer, a tumor that originated in the hormone-producing cells of his body’s neuroendocrine system.

“Statistics would say that I’m going to succumb to this thing,” Wolfenbarger says, “whether in two days, two weeks or two years, no one can say.”

Faced with this prognosis, County Commission’s approval of Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s request to postpone for 60 days a vote on the East County Sector Plan (which includes the Midway project) is hardly good news for Wolfenbarger.

But the tireless activist views the delay through the same optimistic prism with which he confronts his disease. Wolfenbarger says that Burchett’s call for two more public meetings during the 60-day window can only “further demonstrate” how wrong-headed the Midway plan is.

“We’re intimately familiar with it, having dealt with it for more than 10 years,” Wolfenbarger says. “It’s not fiscally sound or environmentally sound. We consider this (the public hearings) a plus.

“The history of this thing is so long and so complicated, even Todd Napier (TDC’s executive vice president) and Mike Edwards (TDC’s president and CEO) don’t know all of it. It started under Tom Ingram in 2000. The space it would take in a newspaper is too long for anyone to read.”

Wolfenbarger has a point. For a society addicted to sound bite news, the Midway story is one that’s hard to digest at a single sitting. But with County Commission apparently poised to approve the project, and a newly elected mayor hedging on campaign rhetoric, time grows short for not only Midway residents, but all of Knox County to understand the implications of this ill-conceived plan.

Back in July, during the heat of his campaign, Metro Pulse asked Burchett about Midway:

“We have areas that are brown fields that we can get tax credits for developing. They’re not owned by people on the inside track, but they’re properties that are available that we ought to look at – that have infrastructure in place. And is the best use of prime farmland to pave it? I don’t know. … There’s a lot of land out there that, because it doesn’t have a ‘For Sale’ sign on it or isn’t owned by an influential person, isn’t being considered.”

With his talk of brown fields that could be developed, his questioning the wisdom of paving over farmland and a not so subtle reference to property owned “by an influential person” (possibly Harry Sherrod, who sold multiple tracts at Midway to TDC), Burchett hardly sounded like a gung-ho advocate for the business park. You could fill an encyclopedia with the reasons he shouldn’t be, starting with the cost, roughly $10 million dollars for a little under 400 acres of sinkhole-filled pasture.

“They overpaid for the property to start with,” Wolfenbarger says. “If they had paid $5 million for it, we could probably get out of this mess.”

Maybe. Wolfenbarger recently attended an auction of a farm located about one mile from the Midway site. It sold for $3,200 per acre, or about 12 percent of the per acre price paid by TDC, calling into question – at the very least – TDC’s negotiating skills.

Wolfenbarger and others dispute TDC’s claim that the business park will create 2,200 direct jobs and another 5,000 or so indirect jobs. With other business parks in Knox County going begging for tenants, and a limping economy which may never regain its old form, “build it and they will come” looks increasingly like a wish-fulfillment fantasy.

“Whatever happens out there, it will never meet its stated expectations,” Wolfenbarger says.

And about those sinkholes?

“They talk about sinkholes as if they’re benign,” he says. “They’re caves that drain directly to the underground aquifer, which drains directly to the French Broad.”

In short, anything that reaches the sinkholes, sediment, a septic spill or industrial waste, eventually makes it way to the river and ultimately into the drinking water of every resident south of the site.

Wolfenbarger also points out that private development dollars haven’t followed the false trail sniffed out by TDC. Why, he asks, didn’t private investors jump on the opportunity years ago if the land is as ripe for development as TDC claims?

“There’s nothing about this story” he says, “if it all could be told, that remotely makes sense.”

Burchett Opposes Midway, Public Funding for Chamber - Metropulse - 07-28-10
By Frank N. Carlson (Contact), Jesse Fox Mayshark (Contact)
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
SHOWDOWN: Democratic candidate the Rev. Ezra Maize and Republican candidate state Sen. Tim Burchett are both vying for the title of Knox County mayor. Consequently, they had no choice but to answer questions we gathered from Metro Pulse readers. (Full story here)

...Do you think the county should re-examine its funding for the Chamber? Would you ask for more openness or accountability of the Chamber in return?

Burchett: Absolutely. There is a penny [on the tax rate] of the taxpayers’ money going [to the Chamber], we’d better have complete transparency. A lot of people don’t even realize the investment they’re making. I’ve let it be known that I’m not happy about that. They know.

Maize: That’s a good question, and I’ll tell you why it’s such a good question, because I’ve not specifically taken notice of its funding for the Chamber. So I want to leave it there.

Do you support the plan for an East Knox County business park on the Midway Road property?

Maize: I do not.

Burchett: Never say never, but I don’t like what has preceded that. Eight million dollars of the taxpayers’ money invested out there right now, eight to 10 million, something like that. Something’s going to happen out there, but it would have been better for the community if they had some input on the front end instead of being told afterwards. Realize, too, I don’t have a vote in that. The public needs to know that, too. I can express my concern, and I have expressed my concern over the entire process. But I think what we need to do is regroup and talk to the community about, yes, we know something’s going to happen here. Just letting it be a field, is that the best use for that property?

I’ve often found in Knox County that homeowners’ groups and generally landowners are very cooperative if they are brought in on the front end instead of at the ribbon-cutting of some new structure which may or may not be detrimental to their property values or their way of life. People move out to the country and live in the country because that’s where they want to live. They don’t want to run into their neighbor as they walk out their back door into somebody else’s front door. And too, we have areas that are brownfields that we can get tax credits for developing. They’re not owned by people on the inside track, but they’re properties that are available that we ought to look at—that have infrastructure in place. And is the best use of prime farmland to pave it? I don’t know. It’s just something we really need to address. And those are questions that need to be asked on the front end. There’s a lot of land out there that, because it doesn’t have a “For Sale” sign on it or isn’t owned by an influential person, isn’t being considered.

Do you think the county and/or school system need to sell off some of their property inventory (i.e. underutilized buildings or buildings that could be better used for private development)? Any in particular?

Burchett: I think generally governments are very poor stewards of their property. And historical structures that need attention. Obviously, old Knoxville High School. And I think, too—and I’ve said this before, and they don’t like it—but the Andrew Johnson Building. Is that the best use for that? We’re laying off 19 teachers, and you’ve got one of the most valuable, historically significant properties on Gay Street. Elvis stayed there. Hank Williams Sr. probably died there. We had presidents stay there. And wonderful things are happening downtown and in that whole area, the synergy is incredible—in this economy, the prices they’re getting. It seems to me that that could be some kind of mixed use. As condos, that could really be some valuable use. And back on the tax roll. Even if it was a break-even proposition; right now it’s not creating any tax revenue. And I would prefer that we look at some of these schools that we have in some of these other neighborhoods that are falling down, boarded up. The Sears building, is that the best use for that? Central Avenue, it’s starting to develop, you can really feel the energy down there.

You have to look at, is there any possibility that property we sell could be a new school in the next five or 10 years? That’s something you’ve got to evaluate. But for government to fix up these old buildings, it would cost more than it would just to tear it down. And a private developer could understand the historical significance of it and keep it as a traditional part of the neighborhood. I know a lot of people in the school system don’t like that, when I say those things. But go back to our priorities. We’ve got 40 percent of our fifth-graders are reading below grade level.

Maize: I can’t speak of the school system itself because of course school system is a separate entity from the county itself. Once the money is released, that would be a decision that the board of education alone has to make. Do I think there are some properties here within the county that we can sell? Yes.

From the Halls Shopper:


Betty Bean
Midway ruling a ticking time bomb
Knox County Commission has a long, and well-earned, reputation for being a

And one of the saddest things a reporter covering county government has to watch is the endless parade of citizens - usually (but not always) unrepresented by legal counsel and unschooled in how things work - who get their neighbors and their facts together and believe that sector plans and the representatives they elect are there to protect them.

More often than not, they leave disappointed and worried about their property values and quality of life. At some point in the process, a commissioner invariably informs them that sector plans are suggestions, not law.

Silly citizens.

But this way of doing the people's business is history, if Chancellor Daryl Fansler's recent bench ruling in the Midway Business Park case stands.
Boiled down to it essence, Fansler said that the Metropolitan Planning Commission cannot amend sector plans (something that must be done before a piece of property can be rezoned) unless there's been a substantial change in circumstances. He obviously didn't believe that the Development Corporation's desire to plunk an industrial park down in the middle of a rural residential/agricultural neighborhood and a bunch of developers who'd acquired options on surrounding property constitutes enough "change" to warrant MPC's amending the plan.

This is just the first step in a two-part process, says David Buuck, the lawyer who represents the Thorn Grove community. Buuck, who is an unsung hero to little guys fighting the power all over the state, whether in land use, eminent domain or zoning issues, is pretty confident the ruling is going to stand, in part because it is based on an opinion authored by a well-respected appellate court judge.

"I tried something that hadn't been tried before," Buuck said. "I filed a two-part lawsuit, and this decision comes from the certiorari action. MPC had absolutely no legal authority to do what they did. The law requires a substantial change in the property to warrant an amendment of the sector plan.

"And Chancellor Fansler told them, 'The only change I see in the record is the Development Corporation had a pocket full of options.'"

But Fansler's ruling is only step one, Buuck said.

"If that finding is carried forward into the rezoning, it means the property's not rezoned. It's still agricultural and residential, which means that the county's on the hook for an $800,000 commission to Pat Wood (as a finder's fee) and a purchase price of $12 million. That probably comes to about $38,000 an acre, which makes it the most expensive agricultural/residential property in the state."

Development Corporation lawyer John Valliant vowed to appeal Fansler's ruling and commented that, "These lawsuits are never won by the property owners."

Buuck doesn't seem too worried, maybe because the Appeals Court judge upon whose opinion he relied is William C. Koch Jr., who has been appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

So what do Buuck's clients want as a remedy?

"We don't want the zoning change. It's going back to agricultural and residential. The Development Corporation will be able to pasture the land - or it could be a beautiful, wonderful park."

And if this case isn't trouble enough for Knox County, another Midway lawsuit is waiting in the wings until this matter is cleared up - a sunshine law action.

"A bunch of the commissioners all met together and got their checks from the Board of Realtors for their campaigns," Buuck said. "And the Development Corporation put on a dog and pony show. This was the 'old' commission - the one that operated under the Pinkston Theory - 'You can meet with anybody you want to, talk about anything you want.'"

Anyone with zoning matters requiring sector plan amendments should watch and see how MPC and County Commission conduct business in the next few months.

Copyright © 2008 The E.W. Scripps Co.

The Saturday Tailgate Market at Riverdale will be at H&H Service Mart near the corner of Kodak Road and Thorn Grove Pike every Saturday starting in the morning at 9-ish till 12 or sellout. Bring your home grown produce to sell or bring your cash to buy local food.

Knox Heritage's Fragile 15
Knox County’s Most Endangered Historic Places

Scenic Vistas and Ridgetops
5501 Martin Mill Pike – Childhood Home of Cormac McCarthy
Vacant Historic Knox County School Buildings:
- South High – 801 Tipton Avenue
- Brownlow Elementary School – 1305 Luttrell Street
- Oakwood Elementary School – 232 E. Churchwell Avenue
Maplehurst Neighborhood
The McClung Warehouses – 501- 525 W. Jackson Avenue
Historic Resources at the University of Tennessee.
- UT Conference Center (formerly Rich’s) – 600 Henley Street
- The Eugenia Williams House. 4848 Lyons View Pike
- Hoskins Library
- Cherokee Farm
French Broad River Corridor
Cal Johnson Building – 301 State Street
The Pickle Mansion. – 1633 Clinch Avenue
Williams-Richards House – 2225 Riverside Drive
Knoxville College – 901 College Street
Mid-Century Modern Residential and Commercial Buildings:
- Former Bearden Bank Branch Building. Kingston Pike
- Lustron Houses
Former Park City Presbyterian Church - 2204 Linden Avenue
J.C. Penney Building – 412 S. Gay Street
Edelmar – 3624 Topside Road

News Release:

Midway Business Park in Limbo, Development Needs Unproven, Community in Opposition

Despite a pending case before the Knox County Chancery Court, The Development Corporation of Knox County(TDC) is moving full speed ahead with a sewage treatment plant for the controversial Midway Road Business Park. At a meeting at Carter High School on September 13th at 6pm TDC will promote an expensive 11 million dollar sewage treatment plant on the French Broad River as a means to serve the business park. Area residents and local community groups such as the French Broad Preservation Association (FBPA) and the 8th district association will deliver arguments against the sewage treatment plant and for maintaining the environmental and historical integrity of the French Broad Watershed.

TDC justifies such a large expenditure of taxpayer dollars on a project that may not even happen by arguing that the new sewage plant would open up a large portion of Knox County to intensive real estate development, thus increasing County tax revenues. However past experience and research shows that greater revenues can be realized by encouraging development in Knoxville's many already built-up areas which are cheaper to provide with the necessary sewer, road, police, fire, schools, and other services. A recent study by the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University estimates that in the Nashville area, which has a similar development pattern as Knoxville, it costs 30% less to serve already built-up areas than new sprawling areas that require more new construction. That translates into 24 billion dollars in revenue for Nashville over the next twenty five years.

Click or copy this address to your browser for more info: http://www.islandpress.com/media/PDF/Burchell%20PR.pdf

"The real estate developers who have already dragged TDC and County Commission into a cesspool of scandals and lawsuits, continue to risk taxpayers dollars for their own financial gain with costly new development infrastructure where it is not needed." says Elaine Clark President of the FBPA.

Clark also argues that even if the legal status of the Midway Road business park is resolved in TDC's favor, that development should wait until a comprehensive sector plan for the French Broad watershed is completed by the Metropolitan Planning Commission(MPC). County Commission should also be briefed by MPC on a workshop held by TVA in July regarding best practices in land use planning and water quality protection.

The September 13th meeting is also not the right forum for discussing a new sewage treatment plant, says Clark. "They did virtually nothing to publicize this public meeting, putting a tiny notice in the paper and informing only property owners adjacent to the proposed business park. This is inappropriate for a discussion that may saddle Knox County taxpayers with huge burdens and threaten the fragile and historic French Broad watershed."

The FBPA and the 8th District Preservation Association both oppose any decision on the Midway Business Park by County Commission until all of its members are elected, rather than appointed under illegal circumstances as is currently the case.

If you would like more information on this topic, or want to schedule an interview with someone from the French Broad Preservation Association, please call Wayne Whitehead at 521-4215 Or email him at waynewhitehead@comcast.net

End Press Release

June MPC Actions Bales Road, 70 acres. A request for rezoning from Agricultural to Planned Residential is being considered by the Metropolitan Planning Commission on Thursday, June 14, 2007. The location is east side of Bales Road, south of Curtis Road, north of Kodak Road. The MPC staff recommendation is to approve.

May River Clean Up— On May 19th the French Broad Preservation Association sponsored a clean up at Huffaker Ferry. Ten volunteers showed up to pick up garbage at the ferry landing that is used by the public as a boat launch and fishing hole. Six pickup trucks were filled with refuse that included a washer, 15 car and truck tires, a car door, gas tanks, and loads of household garbage. Residents are urged to report any suspicious activity on this private property.

French Broad River Corridor on Fragile 15– Knox Heritage has named the French Broad River Corridor as the second most endangered asset in Knox County. The preservation group Knox Heritage released its annual “Fragile 15” list of endangered historic properties and places in Knox County. Number two on the list is the French Broad River Corridor, nominated by the French Broad Preservation Association.