Pilot Corp. sues city of Loudon

Motion seeks to overturn zoning board's denial of request to build travel center

Friday, September 28, 2007

Pilot Corp. is suing the city of Loudon for the right to build a travel center at the intersection of state Highway 72 and Interstate 75.

The suit filed in Loudon County Chancery Court seeks to overturn the Loudon Board of Zoning Appeals denial of Knoxville-based Pilot’s request for exception to a 2005 ordinance prohibiting the building of truck stops within city limits.

The suit also asks the court to declare the current zoning ordinance vague, to approve use of the land as a travel center and to award Pilot its costs including attorney’s fees.

“Pilot expended significant resources and monies in acquiring rights to the real property based on the plain language of the City of Loudon zoning ordinance” and “representation of its agents” the suit claims.

At a July 11 board of zoning appeals meeting a standing-room-only crowd of Loudon residents opposed Pilot’s proposed development, which includes room for parking up to 100 cars and 70 tractor trailers, a truck scale, eight commercial truck refueling stations and showers for commercial drivers.

Residents voiced concerns about crime, traffic and air quality.

Brad Butcher, senior real estate manager for Pilot argued that the travel center was more like a large convenience store and was not designed to attract commercial truckers and should not fall within the definition of a truck stop as defined in the city ordinance.

“They will have space for at least 60 trucks. I’m just an old dairy farmer, but that sounds like a truck stop to me,” said Charles Harrison, chairman of the Loudon County regional planning commission.

The definition of a truck stop or travel center and whether or not Loudon County planning director Russell Newman was forthcoming in his disclosure and interpretation of the 2005 ordinance is at the heart of the Pilot suit, which was filed Aug. 29.

The suit also claims that the zoning map was erroneously shaded to make it appear the property was zoned M-1 for light industrial use. Pilot claims it was later informed that the area was zoned C-4, which would preclude use as a commercial truck stop.

“Pilot or any reasonable person or entity purchasing property in Loudon County during that time period would have had a good faith basis to rely on the zoning designations as they existed on the Loudon Zoning Map,” the suit says.

The suit also claims the 2005 ordinance was not listed on the county Web site.

“The map was incorrect and the Web site was incorrect,” said Greg Isaacs, the attorney representing Pilot Corp.

County planning commission chairman Harrison said there are good reasons to at least consider the need for a truck stop at the location. Trucks that currently use the exit at Highway 72 on the way to the Honda warehouse have to pull off the road and find places to wait until their delivery time arrives, he said.

“If we are going to depend on trucks for delivery we have to have some place for them to pull over,” he added.

Loudon city attorney Ed Arnold said the city feels they acted in accordance with the 2005 ordinance and the wishes of the local residents and has no plans to grant Pilot a permit for the project. The city has hired Knoxville attorney Bill Vines to handle the litigation, he added.

Pilot is the largest travel center operator in the county with 218 locations in 40 states and more than 13,000 employees.