Opposition voiced to growth plan
Article Author: Emily Dilbeck
Chaos erupted at a public meeting in Benton discussing the Growth Boundary extension proposed by the City of Ducktown.
Chaos erupted at a public meeting in Benton discussing the Growth Boundary extension proposed by the City of Ducktown. The meeting, held in Benton last Tuesday was the second meeting held concerning the extension. Ducktown was required to have one forum on each side of the county in order to give all Polk County citizens a chance to express their views.
The meeting was filled with citizens from East Polk neighborhoods that would be included in the new Growth Boundary. Mayor James Talley of Ducktown explained to all present an Urban Growth Boundary Extension is not an annexation, but simply a boundary line that allows a City to apply for grant money and help maintain areas not included in the City limits. He also said that this action would encourage the future economic growth of Ducktown and the surrounding area. Any area must be included in an Urban Growth Boundary in order to be annexed. Mayor Talley said that there were no plans to annex at this time, a sentiment Ducktown City Commissioner Doug Collins seconded. Collins also said he would be fine with decreasing the size of the Urban Growth Boundary.
Talley said that in the late 90’s the State changed legislation concerning annexations and Growth Boundaries and this series of public meetings was one of the new requirements. He went on to say that annexations previously could be done without any notice to the public and at the City’s discretion, and that this process was more favorable to the public. Now, a City that plans to extend its Growth Boundary must create a committee with representatives from throughout the county.
Talley said Ducktown’s last annexation, which occurred four years ago, had exhausted their previous Urban Growth Boundary. Jordan Clark, Southeast Tennessee Development District planner, explained the majority of the property included is currently owned by Glenn Springs Holdings, and not by private citizens. Talley added that he has continuously heard complaints from people in East Polk concerning the lack of restaurants and businesses, as compared to Fannin County. He feels that increasing the Urban Growth Boundary would be a way to encourage economic development.
Jerry Leonard, a citizen of East Polk, stood up to ask, “How can we stop [this]?”
Talley replied, “By being at meetings like this and letting us know your complaints.”
Leonard asked again, “But what do we have to do to actually stop this process? You aren’t going to listen.”
Talley then explained this extension is just a plan, and any annexation would require a completely separate process, with more public meetings, but they currently weren’t planning to annex anything.
Bob Kessler asked what to do if his area didn’t want to be included in the Urban Growth Expansion. Talley answered that the addition of Kessler’s neighborhood would allow Ducktown to provide services like a fire department, police, water and sewer, and road maintenance.
Several citizens then piped up saying that they didn’t want to pay any more taxes, and that they had been making it without Ducktown’s help for years and certainly didn’t need it now.
Talley said that in the past, Ducktown, under a different Mayor and Commission, had bought and replaced water lines in Isabella, a process he said was illegal since it was not included inside the Urban Growth Boundary. Many citizens asked why the City was doing things illegally. Later in the meeting Talley said he never had said the word illegally, but several audience members refuted that statement.
Talley went on to say that helping surrounding areas like this was unfair to the citizens of Ducktown, because money that should be spent solely on them was going to aid others in the County. He said by including the surrounded areas in the Urban Growth Boundary, Ducktown would be better able to help them in the event of a disaster. Several citizens said if their water lines went out, they would just fix it themselves.
James Proctor said he thought the Urban Growth Expansion was a terrible economic plan, since as he believed “there had never been industry in Ducktown and there never would be.” Proctor said he thought the town should focus on renovating Ducktown School, but Talley explained he has nothing to do with the school, as it is in the care of the 4th Fractional Township.
Proctor said they weren’t utilizing the industrial park, either, and that Ducktown could do nothing for Cherokee Hills. After he finished, he received a standing ovation from the audience members.
Several people asked why Benton had any sort of say, since it was nowhere near Ducktown. Jordan Clark explained that although Polk County is uniquely divided by a forest, it is a state requirement that all cities have a say in any expansion. He added, “It may not really apply here, but it’s what we have to do.”
One woman said she had worked in County Government in Fannin County for years, and knew how the grant process worked. She said she thought Ducktown would annex the same way as Fannin had done. County Commissioner John Hoyt Pippenger replied that this was irrelevant, as Polk County was not Fannin County, and different laws applied in Tennessee.
April Trantham asked why the date of the Benton meeting was not published in the paper and accused the newspaper of not doing its job. Talley said he didn’t know anything about that. A notice was published by the County Executive in the August 15th edition of the Polk County News, announcing the meeting would be held on August 23rd. Due to a conflict, the date was changed to September 18 at 5 p.m. and a second notice was published in the August 29 edition.
Trantham went on to say that she had a petition signed by over a hundred citizens who did not wish to be included in the Urban Growth Boundary. The petition was then passed to the Coordinating Committee members, who were also present at the public meeting.
The Coordinating Committee is made up of various officials from all across Polk County. It is mandated by the State that such a Committee to approve any Urban Growth Boundary extension, that way all cities and municipalities in the County can have a say. The Committee is comprised of: from Polk County County Executive Hoyt Firestone-elected official, Davis Milen- at large appointment (Environmental, Construction, Homeowner Interests), John H. Pippenger- at large appointment (Environmental, Construction, Homeowner Interest); from the Town of Benton Mayor Jerry Stephens- elected official, Deborah Swigert- largest municipally-owned utility representative, Robby Hatcher- at large appointment (Environmental, Construction, Homeowner Interests), Rocky King- at large appointment (Environmental, Construction, Homeowner Interests); from the City of Ducktown Mayor James Talley-elected official; from the City of Copperhill Mayor Cecil Arp-elected official; from the Polk County Chamber of Commerce (County’s Largest Chamber) Jan Beck- Polk County Chamber of Commerce appointment; from Volunteer Energy Cooperative (Largest non-municipally-owned utility serving most people) John Selvidge- Volunteer Energy Cooperative; from the Polk County Soil Conservation District Bill Trew- Polk County Soil Conservation District. The 13th and final member has to come from the School Board. The School Board has not yet appointed a representative.
Of this Committee, Pippenger, Stephens, Swigert, Hatcher, King, and Talley were present. The Coordinating Committee met immediately following the public meeting, in order to decide how to move forward in this process.
After viewing Trantham’s petition, one of the Committee members remarked that he didn’t think the petition was valid, as several of the signatures appeared to be written by the same person.
Committee Member Rocky King said that he thought Ducktown should reconsider this plan and get more input from the public, as there was obviously a lot of contention.
John Hoyt Pippenger proposed that the Urban Growth Boundary plan be sent back to Ducktown for further revisions and more input from the public. The motion was seconded by Benton Mayor Jerry Stephens and unanimously approved.
Before any plan can be put in to action, it must first be approved by the Coordinating Committee, then be approved unanimously by all cities and municipalities in the County. After this, it must be approved by the County. If approved by all the above, the plan will be sent to the State for review.
Jordan Clark announced that the Ducktown Planning Commission will revisit the proposed growth boundary at their meeting at 6:30 pm on Monday, October 22nd at the Ducktown City Hall. He added, “The public is welcome and encouraged to attend. The Planning Commission normally meets on the third Thursday of every month, but scheduling conflicts necessitated moving the October meeting. As with all meetings of public entities, the Planning Commission meetings are open to the public.”
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