Loudon couple battle planners over Greenback development
Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
After investing millions of dollars and countless hours with lawyers and planning officials, a Loudon County couple still faces significant barriers in their plan to build a small but exclusive subdivision on Tellico Lake.
In 2005, Stewart and Deborah Rossi purchased 53 acres on the water near Greenback. In 2007, the county planning officials approved the subdivision, called Yellow Wood, for 21 lots.
The couple built roads, docks, gardens and added underground power, but other than their own $3 million house, no other homes have been built on the property.
The Rossis claim that for more than five years they have been stymied by county codes and planning officials that have made unreasonable and sometimes contradictory rulings against their development.
After being turned down earlier this month for a rezoning that would have repositioned the development with higher density housing than allowed by current codes, the issue will go before the county commission Monday.
The design of the development was to reflect the Rossi’s concern with the environment and their quest for a peaceful lifestyle on the lake including natural green spaces, trees, native flowers and a community garden. One-acre lots were listed at around $300,000.
The Great Recession that hit the estate market at the same time as the financial crisis in 2008, put the development on hold.
Recent research indicates buyers are looking for homes on smaller lots. The latest plan, renamed River Cove, has 38 homes in clusters on three-quarter acre lots.
Deborah Rossi said she feels the planning commission has been biased against them because they are outsiders. Although she was raised in Knoxville, she and her husband are most recently from New Jersey
“We were the only ones that were instructed by the planning commission that we had 5 minutes to speak. All of the other people requesting zoning before the planning commission were allowed to speak as long as they wanted,” she said.
Property Tax Revenue
The Rossis said they hope the county commission — which might soon be looking at a property tax increase to fund schools and the new county jail — will consider the potential increase in property tax revenue their development might provide.
“Our properties will provide tax revenue for the schools and it is highly likely that the development will not have families with school age children,” she added.
The Rossis said that other developers in Loudon County have been given tax reductions and have had their property reappraised since the market went south.
She said their development has paid taxes on time every year on the full value of the lots.
“We’ve been paying our fair share all along,” she said.
They said they have also spent years battling the county codes enforcement and planning. According to their attorney, Van Michael, the Rossis have not been treated fairly.
In 2011, concerned about security, the Rossis put in a gate on the main road into the property at a cost of $25,000. The one local resident who needed access through the gate was given a remote control.
The county codes enforcers had them remove the gate after complaints from a local property owner. They went to chancery court but lost and had to remove the gate after one of the property owners who had approved the gate changed his mind, Michael said.
In 2012, the county took ownership of three roads in the subdivision that had been built and paid for by the Rossis.
County Commission overturned the ruling and returned two of the roads leading to cul-de-sacs, Michael said.
Loudon County planning commissioner Martin Brown said the commission recently voted 10 to 1 not to rezone the Rossi property. Changing the zoning from A2 rural residential to R1 Suburban residential is problematic for several reasons, he said.
A major problem is that there is no water on the property. The nearest water is 3,000 feet away. There is also no sewer service on the property, he said.
The Rossi’s said they will pay for water and have already been approved for a septic system following a June 14 inspection by Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Brown said the commission cannot grant a zoning change based on the promise that these services would be installed in the future.
The water cannot be completed with engineering drawings until the road is located, Rossi said.
Coytee Road leading to the development has been acknowledged to be too narrow for the current volume of traffic. Rossi has argued that the county should widen the road, not just to accommodate her development, but to increase safety and bring the road to modern standards.
Brown said he agrees the road is substandard. Since the road was first built standards have changed. The minimum width of such a road should be 15 feet. The road is as narrow as 11 feet in some places, he said.
Loudon County road supervisor Eddie Simpson agrees that Coytee road is narrow and even dangerous in some parts, but he said he doesn’t have the money to fund the project. He said the work might cost as much as $150,000 per mile.
Another factor weighing against the Rossis is the opinion of neighboring property owners. At a recent county commission workshop the commission heard from several local residents opposed to the rezoning.
Rossi said she has the written support of the majority of locals who live in the area and a letter from TDEC approving the sewer and water plans.
“The improvements we have made have already increased the property values of our neighbors. Water will increase the value even more,” she said.
Brown said that in the Rossi’s case, the denial of rezoning was based on the infrastructure available and the plan submitted.
“We won’t do spot zoning,” he said.
Deborah Rossi disagrees.
There are several examples of “spot zoning” of A-2 to R-1 approved in the county as recently as the June meeting of the planning commission. Morgantown Landing a 36-lot subdivision consisting of 28.26 acres was approved in June, she said.
Former Greenback county commissioner Bob Franke has been following the Rossi’s development for years. He said he feels the development is a good project and that the county could use the tax revenue.
Bill Satterfield, current Greenback commissioner, could not be reached for comment.