Two issues dominated the Signal Mountain Town Council’s November meeting Monday night. There was much discussion about an ordinance that would allow residents in the city limits to keep and raise goats and the concern of citizens about the increasing coyote population.
In October, an amendment to the town’s livestock ordinance that would allow property owners with two or more acres to keep goats was passed on first reading.
The second reading, which was on the meeting’s Monday night agenda, ran into opposition that was fueled by citizens telling their concerns about coyotes on the mountain. Some felt that keeping goats would be the equivalent to baiting coyotes.
Other issues cited included a speaker who wanted to know how many lots in the town would be affected by the ordinance and how many people had requested to keep goats. Another said she just did not want to live next door to a farm. People whose property has been annexed into Signal Mountain since it was originally purchased lost some property rights by the town putting more restrictions on it than were allowed when the property was merely in Hamilton County. One of those residents spoke in favor of allowing the practice. She feels that livestock next to neighborhoods is just part of the mountain.
Along with the amended ordinance, in October the council passed a nuisance ordinance that would allow, under certain conditions, the town to revoke a permit for goats. That was seen as a way to address problems and complaints that could arise with the new law. If the problems became too great, the ordinance would sunset in one year.
Speakers at the meeting claimed that the passage of the ordinance “snuck up on them.” The process, however, was far from random, officials said. Keeping goats had been requested multiple times over the years, said Town Manager Boyd Veal. The request that initiated this amendment to the ordinance came at a planning commission meeting. It was decided that the matter was a codes issue, not a zoning matter. Because of that, it was not necessary to take the question to the planning commission for approval or recommendation, "but we did that anyway,” said Mr. Veal. He added, “We went through more process than was necessary." The city’s planner from MTAS was given all the information that the planning commission would support regarding goats, and she drafted the ordinance.
Agendas for the planning commission meetings are advertised, so the topic should not have been a surprise, said Councilman Dan Landrum. And, he said that it would have been helpful to hear these concerns up front, and that the planning commission, on which he serves, had heard none of the complaints that were brought to the council meeting Monday night. He said, “I’m uncomfortable with the temperature in the room, but not with the ordinance.” Councilman Landrum made a motion to table the second reading until the next council can hear it. The vote to table was four to one, with Councilman Robert Spalding voting against.
The concern with the growing number of coyotes is not new, said the town manager, it was going on when he first came to work for the city in 1983. What has changed, said one speaker, is that so much new development has and is taking place on Signal Mountain. The coyote population may only appear to be getting larger because of the increase in people and so much development, which could be responsible for causing the coyotes to move closer to people. “Without a doubt, developers are taking their habitat,” said Police Chief Mike Williams.
Packs of coyotes joined by wild dogs have been observed attacking a chicken in one case, and are routinely seen and heard in most every part of town, residents told the council. It seems they are becoming more acclimated to people, said one speaker, and there is a concern they may attack a human if hungry. A conflict in the town’s law was noted. The ordinance says that a firearm cannot be shot in town limits, but it also says that a person has the right to defend themself, on home territory. The speaker asked how to apply those conflicting laws relative to coyotes. Town Attorney Phil Noblett recommended updating the ordinances. A warning was given to not try to control them by putting out poison or traps because there is a danger of hurting children or other animals. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, (TWRA) has helped the town in the past with raccoons. Chief Williams said that he would arrange for a representative from TWRA to come to the next meeting for suggestions about dealing with coyotes. Tish Gailmard, director of wildlife at Reflection Riding, would be another source for information, suggested another speaker.
The town applied for and received a LPRF (Local Parks and Recreation Fund) grant for making improvements to Marion and Driver Fields. After the application was made, the town was informed that the state requires all electrical connections to be underground, which will increase the cost of the project. The increase, however, can be added to the original amount of the grant, said Mr. Veal. The town will receive $440,000 and must match that amount for a total $880,000 that will be used for the improvements. A preliminary quote, not just an estimate, was done prior to making the grant request, so Mr. Veal said he felt comfortable that the amount available will cover the costs of the entire project. The council gave approval for the additional funds needed for electrical work. Construction is expected to begin soon, he said.
An agreement with Adams Contracting was also authorized for the water line replacement and temporary connections needed in order to replace the Shoal Creek Falls Bridge, in the amount not to exceed $109,550.
The removal of some trees on municipal property brought representatives from the town’s tree board to the last council meeting, asking for an explanation and for replacement of the trees. Mr. Veal said it was about potential property damage and the potential for large insurance claims that could occur with falling branches and nuts and exposed roots. The city’s guidelines recommend removing trees that are in conflict with their environment, he said. The trees that were removed will be replaced with redbuds and red maple trees.
Councilman Brandon Anthony has seen the need for a new position to the town’s staff, a Community Development Liaison. His idea is to integrate business operations and the desires of the community members, to determine what the town will become in the future. He requested that Mr. Veal include money in the 2019-2020 budget for an intern position.
The revival of Hodgepodge, a fall festival that used to be an annual event on Signal Mountain, is being discussed by the MACC board, the council was told.
A water study would need to be done by an ordinance that requires two readings, so any decisions to undertake a study will be made by the next council.
The town passed three resolutions Monday night. The first honored the town employees who are veterans. The SMHS men’s golf team was honored for winning the state championship and the SMHS women’s soccer team for winning the state championship.
Mayor Chris Howley presented a “State-of-the-Town Report” from the past two years when he presided over the council as mayor.
At the last meeting serving as mayor, Council member Robert Spalding thanked Mayor Howley for his service and leadership. He said that the state-of-the-town report was a reminder of all the work that he had undertaken.
Vice Mayor Amy Speek echoed the praise, thanking Mayor Howley for “the countless hours he poured into the town, with a happy heart,” noting that mayor is a volunteer position. She said that the controversial issues dealt with during his term were handled with grace. Despite the fact that he was attacked personally, she said he showed up for every meeting with the purest motives of having the best interests of the town of Signal Mountain at heart. “I have tremendous respect for you,” she ended.
It was an honor to serve the town for four years, said the mayor, and he said he had been happy to do it.