Commissioners at Lookout Mountain, Tn. on Tuesday night voted to table a controversial proposal to sell Verlenden Park for use as a medical office. Residents living near the property came to ask the commissioners to consider other options for the building for Dr. Bill Moore Smith. Several alternative locations in Tennessee were mentioned at a town forum held last Thursday, as well as the town center that is planned for Lookout Mountain, Ga. On Monday, a proposal for that new development may be presented to the Georgia town council.
These citizens thanked Mayor Carol Mutter for moving quickly once it was realized this proposal was an issue of contention, and for giving the community the forum last week to express their opinions. A petition to deny the requested zoning change was presented to the council with 137 signatures. The collected sentiment of those speaking was the appreciation and importance of the green spaces that exist in the town and which contribute to “the quiet serenity and solitude on the mountain”. Once a green-space is lost to development, it can never be reversed, was said repeatedly by those speaking in opposition to the proposal. It was also pointed out that the zoning map on the town’s website shows that currently there is no residential (R-1) property abutting commercial property anywhere in Lookout Mountain, Tn.
Teddy Caldwell said he was not taking a position, but that the process that is necessary to rezone property had not even begun when residents jumped to the conclusion that it was a “done deal”. He asked Town Attorney Brian Smith to review the procedure necessary for rezoning.
The process begins with filing a petition with the Regional Planning Agency to review the requested change, said Mr. Smith. Then the Planning Commission makes a recommendation to the town which can accept, deny or accept the recommendation with conditions. The town commission then sends out notices for a hearing where citizens can comment. A zoning change requires two readings by the commission for approval. This entire process would take from four to six months to complete. Additionally, at this site, engineers would need to determine if the soil has sufficient stability to support a building. Also, because there is a graveyard on part of the property, ultrasound testing would be needed to establish how far into the property graves may exist.
Mr. Caldwell said that there have been a lot of misconceptions about the entire project and that the procedure for rezoning land would supply the answer to a lot of the issues under speculation.
Police Chief Randy Bowden said that the crowd gathered at Lookout Mountain School for the forum was the largest citizen turnout that he has seen. Commissioner Joe Hailey spoke next, saying that he has been trying to keep an open mind and has gone back and forth concerning the development proposal but keeps going back to the fact that it would be irreversible. He said that he had decided that he would prefer for the land to remain a park, and made a motion to table the matter indefinitely.
Commissioner Ernie Minges seconded the motion, saying that he understands the urgency Dr. Smith feels to increase the size of his office to accommodate government regulations, however, his emergency shouldn’t cause the town to rush and make a decision.
Commissioner Don Stinnett asked those opposed to the development if in the event that another location is not found on the mountain for the doctor’s office, would they still consider the greenspace the highest and best use of the land, to which the answer was yes.
The motion “to defer action on the proposal regarding Verlenden Park, until such time as the matter becomes appropriate for future review” was passed unanimously.
In regular business, Dwight Montague town consultant, gave the financial report which showed finances to be “right on target”. He said that there were three pay periods in August which caused the salary numbers to be high for the month. The town has bought two new dump trucks which now are in the process of having the beds built and attached. He explained a new method of accounting for gas consumption, now will be that each department will show actual costs of fuel as they occur versus the prior procedure of using estimates per each department. He also told the commissioners that there is $1,079 remaining in the account for Natural Bridge Park which has been fully funded by contributions. The largest donor has been the Lookout Mountain Garden Club.
Commissioner of Fire and Police Ernie Minges gave the monthly statistics for that department, which showed 91 police calls, 15 false burglar alarms, seven assist citizen calls, four “911” calls, one auto accident with no injuries, 50 traffic stops and 5,903 miles patrolled. There was one attempted burglary at the Café’ on the Corner, where the suspect turned himself in, and one theft of letters from a mailbox. Twelve medical calls were answered and five fire alarms, all false. Commissioner Minges commented that everyone should be mindful of the stop signs and speed limit on the mountain.
Joe Hailey, commissioner of parks and playgrounds, reported that both football and soccer at the elementary school have started. He said the grant for repairing the tennis courts is still pending. The next project being considered is replacing drinking fountains at the commons.
Don Stinnett, commissioner of schools, introduced Ruth White, principal of Lookout Mountain Elementary School, who gave an update to the commission. The school has been named “A Reward School in Tennessee”, which places it in the top five percent in the state, she told the board. There are eight new staff members at the school this year, and she said that the school has a newly developed website, www.lookoutmountainschool.net that is very user-friendly. The outcome of pledges from the fundraiser “Boosterthon” will be known next week, and coupon books are now being sold. A “White Elephant” sale will take place this Saturday from 9-1 at the skating rink. She said that the school carnival is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 25 with a rain date of Sept. 27, and the next PTA meeting will be Tuesday, Sept. 18.
Walker Jones, commissioner of public works, reported that the new single-stream recycling program has been very well received. He said the cardboard baler is being repaired, and that the leaf collector had been taken out of storage, and is “ready to roll”.
Ruth Oehmig, proprietor of Café on the Corner, informed the commissioners about preparations for the fall festival “Oktoberfest”. It is being planned by the town’s merchants for Oct. 27. She said that so far, there are 12-13 vendors consisting of artists or artisans that live and work in the community, and invited others to participate. They are in the process of looking for folk and bluegrass musicians. She said it is planned around the idea of being a fun day for families on Lookout Mountain, and urged everyone to invite friends that live off of the mountain to come.
The next meeting of the Lookout Mountain Commission will be Oct. 9 at 5 p.m.