Parcel of land is 'totally, officially unusable'

Vicky Newman-News-Herald

A city of Loudon resident is wondering what on earth to do with a small, irregular lot he owns at Poplar and Church streets.

Owner James "Butch" Thompson had hoped to build a small bait shop and supply minnows and snacks to youth that fish on the river or play ball in the park nearby. However, Loudon Regional Planning Commission voted against recommending the necessary zoning use change from residential to commercial.

The corner lot measures 108 feet by 33 feet. Thompson wants to locate a small building, 16 feet by 24 feet, that would face Church Street.

"The way it is now, it is not useful to you guys or to me," Thompson said. "If it has a structure on it, at least the taxes will go up."

Hamil Carey, planning commission chairman, said the lot was inadequate for a business or a residence.

"This particular piece of property is absolutely, totally, officially unusable for anything," Carey said. "The setback on both sides, Church and Poplar, leaves you no place to build."

Thompson said the property once had a house on it, but the house burned before the purchase was completed. He said the property is costing more to keep it mowed than anything else.

Commissioner Carlie McEachern said he favored allowing the zone change. "There's nothing in the world wrong with having a neighborhood store there," McEachern said. "What else could go there? A barbershop or a bait shop. That's about it."

Russ Newman, Loudon County planner, said he did not think the lot should be rezoned.

"The ideal situation, what would work best, would be if this lot was part of the one Jimmy Parks owns," Newman said. "The land use plan does not support commercial. I recommend denial."

Ken Brewster, a commissioner who consistently opposes spot zoning, said the issue is not about the plan for a bait shop.

"My concern is about spot zoning and the land use would require so many potential variances," Brewster said. "I am sympathetic to what it the problem is."

Thompson argued that the city's own zoning ordinance provides for exceptions when a lot is unusable.

"You are charged with doing what is best for the city," he said. "This would be a new revenue stream. It would be a small revenue stream, but it takes pennies to make dollars. Do something to benefit the city. People have to go to Sweetwater to buy minnows."

Carey supported Brewster's argument. "I hear you and I am sympathetic but we are looking at the lot officially and it could be used for anything," he said. "It sounds like it would not fit right. It is spot zoning and we have to look at the overall land use plan.

"What could be put on it? Does nobody else have good answers?" Carey said.

McEachern quickly replied: "A small bait shop."

"How would C-3 impact a low residential area?" McEachern said. "How much impact can it be? .. . He is up here trying to do something moral and right and you're putting up road blocks, but if it was a chain store with a big lawyer sitting here "

Brewster interjected, "That's not how we operate. I disagree."

McEachern made the motion to allow the zoning use exception. Commissioner Judy Jones, who is a Loudon City Council member, seconded the motion, which was also supported by Commissioner Gene Gammons.
Commissioners Dennis Brennan, Debbie Hines and Brewster voted against the motion, leaving Carey to cast the vote to break the tie. Carey voted against the motion.

Carey pointed out that the commission is a body that makes recommendations to Loudon City Council, which will take up zoning use request. "I hope you will work to get something down there," Carey said.

Thompson said the commission lost an opportunity.

"You folks could do something to benefit the community," Thompson said. "Anything is better than weeds. I hoped I would walk away with a consensus of the majority of people thinking it was a good idea."

Hines said she liked Thompson's idea for a bait shop, but felt commercial did not fit well in the residential area.

Brewster agreed. "I voted no, but I appreciate that you are trying to do something positive," he said.

Thompson said the lot had been a "lot of record" at the courthouse before he became owner. "What you folks are trying to do, you are changing it from what it was. We are not the north. We are not Tellico Village. This is home," he said.

Thompson purchased the lot in 1999. The deed describes it as "half of the Hensly Drug Store lot," referring to a business located there in the late 1800s.

Thompson said early in the meeting that he felt the city had not done enough to support activity at the riverfront.

"It amazes me how little the city has done to benefit from its natural resources," Thompson said. He said the dock has not been changed in his lifetime and vehicles with boat trailers park on the street.

"I've always been proud of Loudon. It was clean and well-kept, the kind of neighborhood people like to live in and we need to grow but keep it the same," he said. "We used to have little neighborhood shops."

Thompson said he will appeal to Loudon City Council, which will have a workshop 6:30 p.m. Monday followed by the 7:30 p.m. regular meeting.

In other action, the commission voted to approve acceptance as city streets Llewellyn Lane, Kline Drive, Evelyn Drive and Olivia Circle in the Sweetwater Creek development.

Public Works director Bill Fagg said he felt there might be a problem with accepting Sweetwater Creek Boulevard at this time.