Awaiting a waterfront showdown

By Josh Flory

No one knows exactly what's in store for the old YWCA campground in Loudon County, but the neighbors are already keeping a watchful eye on the spot.

About a year-and-a-half ago, Charles Hicks bought the 31-acre tract at the end of Beals Chapel Road for $1.56 million. The property overlooks a cove on Fort Loudon Lake and last month Hicks transferred ownership to an LLC, which he said consists of himself and two partners who were already involved in the deal.

Hicks, the founder of an Oak Ridge company called Instrument & Technical Systems, said he doesn't have any concrete plans for the property, but that hasn't stopped neighbors from gearing up to oppose development.

A group called the Beals Chapel Committee for Conservation has gathered signatures and written to public officials, arguing that the Tennessee Valley Authority had restricted the property to a recreational use and declaring the group's intention to fight any commercial or residential development. While TVA voted in 2006 to stop selling land for residential development, the Beals Chapel property is a good reminder that the battles over waterfront acreage may not be over yet.

Krystee Ervin-Conaway lives on more than four acres of nearby land, and said there is no water or sewer service in the area. Conaway said the land is one of the last stands of undeveloped lake property in Loudon County and that opponents of development worry about the potential impact on wildlife and the lake itself.

"That's why we said we would be so happy to hear four, five houses (are planned)," she said. "You could probably do that without making a huge impact on the environment and the community, but nobody's going to build a $2 million house next to a farm and be happy because some farmer's cows are coming down to drink out of the lake next to them every day."

Dorothy McElyea has owned nearby property since 1983, and pointed out that when TVA sold the property to the YWCA in 1969, the deed stipulated that the land must be used "solely for recreational purposes," and said she was concerned that the contingency would be violated.

For his part, Hicks said his group doesn't have a final plan for the property, but said that "whatever I do, I would definitely do it with the neighborhood in mind."

And while the original deed did have limitations, it also included what some development-minded observers might consider a loophole. While restricting the land to recreational purposes, the 1969 document went on to say that the YWCA and future owners would not build any structures "other than a club house, cottages, lodges, recreational facilities and necessary and appurtenant outbuildings" on the spot.

The Scope isn't sure what "appurtenant" means, but a $250-an-hour lawyer and an imaginative architect could probably develop some wiggle room.

But whatever wiggling takes place, they can be sure that the neighbors will be watching closely.