Loudon City Council OKs Pilot travel center

Move ends controversial litigation over truck stop ordinance, zoning maps

By Hugh G. Willett, knoxnews.com

LOUDON - Loudon City Council members have approved a settlement that will allow Pilot Travel Centers to build a travel center location at the intersection of Highway 72 and Interstate 75, a move that ends controversial litigation.

The 4-to-1 vote Monday night follows months of discussion between Pilot and Loudon.

"It was an excellent resolution," said Pilot attorney Greg Isaacs, noting that Pilot plans to move forward with the project.

In September, Pilot filed a lawsuit against the city charging that the wording of a 2005 ordinance prohibiting "truck stops" within the town was vague and that zoning maps of the site were incorrect.

Under terms of the settlement, Pilot will drop its suit against the city, cover all legal expenses from the dispute and agree to build a smaller version of the center.

"The city council has set the parameters under which Pilot could go forward," said Jim Wright, an attorney representing the city of Loudon.

According to the latest plans, the travel center will have a restaurant, game room, laundry and showers, but also would prohibit overnight parking and idling by trucks.

The number of parking spaces for trucks will be limited to 45 and future expansion is prohibited.

Pilot also has agreed to pay for any state mandated improvements to the parking lot entrance and intersection with Highway 72, including possibly putting up a traffic light.

"I'm concerned about the traffic," said Loudon resident Melissa Hutton, who lives a mile from the proposed travel center. "My other concern is that we have set a precedent."

Hutton believes Loudon should be positioned to select the type of businesses it will permit.

Residents at the city council meeting also expressed fears about increased crime around the new travel center, including drugs and prostitution.

In 2005, Loudon passed an ordinance prohibiting truck stops within city limits. Last year, Loudon County's board of zoning appeals used that ordinance to deny Pilot's appeal.

In its lawsuit, Pilot argued that the definition of a truck stop was not clear.

"We have since amended that ordinance to make it more clear," said City Council member Lynn Millsaps, who voted against accepting the settlement.

Millsaps said the basic problems he and most residents have with the proposed Pilot center are air, noise and traffic.

"We are already in non-attainment with regard to air quality," he said.

Millsaps estimated that the city would receive about $7,600 per year in property tax revenue from the travel center.

Other tax revenue from the travel center would be minimal. Sales tax returned to the city from gasoline purchases are determined by the city's population density, he said.

"I also think the travel center will reduce overall property values in the area," Millsaps said.

Millsaps said Loudon had limited choices in fighting the lawsuit because Pilot has more legal resources than the city.

"There was no telling how much this might have cost us," he said.