Loudon delays planning changes

Vicky Newman-News-Herald

Loudon City Council will for now continue the city’s involvement with Loudon County for planning services, but council members made it clear they expect planning director Russ Newman to be more sensitive and responsive in the future.

Lynn Mills, city manager, recommended continuing with the contract. Mills said the $25,000 annual cost for planning services through the county was the best option available.

“The state has no planning office anymore, and while the East Tennessee Development District does provide planning services, it is limited,” Mills said. “That cost is $9,250 a year, but they are located in Alcoa, and there is no in-house person. I think it would be a disservice to our local folks if their planners were that far away.”

Mills added the ETDD office is overloaded and service would be limited until it hires another planner, which could be an option later. The current building climate does not warrant a full-time, in-house planner or the cost of setting up a office, he said.

“We would have another $15,000-$18,000 for a vehicle, and we have limited space,” Mills said. “Right now, I think we are better served if we maintain the existing office and work on our relationship. If it doesn’t work out, we could start looking at hiring a planner or ETDD in 30 months.”

Councilman Lynn Millsaps pointed out that the city had only a few building projects in the last year.

Mayor Judy Keller concurred.

“I can’t imagine that the city has enough to justify the cost of in-house planning,” Keller said.

Councilman Michael Cartwright joined the discussion, directing comments to Newman.

“Our main problem between us and Russ has been a case of the tail wagging the dog,” Cartwright said. “We as a council should tell you what we’d like to see happen. I feel in cases you have put your preferences over what we would like to see. The paved parking lots was the biggest sticking point. Things have been said, and I hope you know at least I am serious about what we are doing. I feel you have done a good job in the past and could do a good job in the future, but you need to listen to what we would like.”

Cartwright said he was prepared to make a motion to fund the county planning office one more year.

“I want to show you I want to try. Now, you show me the planning office wants to try,” he said.

Councilman Jimmy Parks, another outspoken critic of Newman, seconded the motion.

Mills said a concerted effort was needed to restore the relationship.

“We need to move forward in a different situation,” Mills said. “I suggest Russ and the council meet together every other month to discuss issues and keep us on track.”

Newman, seated in the audience, spoke up after the motion passed unanimously. Some issues needed to be clarified by city officials before they were placed on the planning commission agenda, he said.

“We need better communication, and I am available and happy to meet with you if you are available. The (City of Loudon Regional Planning) Commission is a good and committed group of volunteers, and they want to do what is best for the community. We get an issue occasionally with some for and some against, and we make the best decision for the community.”

Keller said she agreed.

“It is one of the most difficult jobs,” Keller said. “It is just tough. I thank all the people who serve on the planning commission. It is set up to get the divisive issues, and we appreciate their hanging in there. ... There are going to be issues that do not make everyone in the county happy.”

The planning office action followed the final adoption, on second reading, of the certified tax rate of $1.1767.

“Some went up and some went down,” Millsaps said regarding city taxes. “Some of you will pay more; some less.”

In other action, the city approved a $36,000 quote from Patty Construction for paving streets in Hampton Place. The contract is for a top coat to get the streets to a standard so they may be accepted as city streets.

Bids were accepted for some street lighting in Hampton Place and for benches and trash receptacles for the downtown courthouse square area.