PlanET focuses on regional strengths

Jeremy Styron-News-Herald

Using a model similar to the Cumberland Region Tomorrow collaborative effort of city and county officials in the Nashville area, Plan East Tennessee developers are working to highlight some of the strong commonalities among the region's five counties as part of an effort to further enhance quality of life and draw newcomers.

Jeff Welch, with the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization, said PlanET officials were considering ways to further connect Loudon, Anderson, Blount, Knox and Union counties, particularly with trail and greenway space.

"What we've seen is a lot of the counties are embracing greenways for local economic development and tourism development to regional connectivity, and how you can capitalize on that with the waterways and our beautiful train that we have," Welch said.

Clayton Pangle, executive director with the Loudon County Visitors Bureau, said the recently appointed Loudon County Trails Committee was commissioned to support the development of pathways through cooperation between the private and public sectors. He cited East Lakeshore Trail, which was a joint venture between the Watershed Association of the Tellico Reservoir and the Tennessee Valley Authority, as an example.

East Lakeshore Trail, which begins just south of Lenoir City, consists of six completed pathways spanning a little less than 21 miles.

Part of the trail committee's mission was to look at "how trails that already exist may be extended to move toward each other so that you can have a connected greenway-type activity in the future," Pangle said.

In addition to greenways, PlanET is also working with communities in the five-county region on downtown development and revitalization.

The former Hutch Manufacturing Company in Loudon is currently being used as a demonstration site for how downtown areas can be planned and developed for a range of uses. The Knoxville-based Community Design Center is in the final stages of a master site plan the visitors bureau and the Economic Development Agency will be able to use for marketing the 10-acre parcel in Loudon.

During a community brainstorming session taking place late last year, residents offered input into how they would like to see the property utilized. A community center, a new city hall, sustainable housing and an open waterfront area garnered the most support. The Community Design Center was developing a site plan based on those priorities.

"It creates a vision that's possible," Pangle said. "It doesn't mean the finished produce has to look exactly like that vision, but it opens it up for a piece of property located right there. You don't have too many opportunities where you have a waterfront piece of property adjacent to a downtown area."

Pangle also noted the Hutch property provided a workable example of how a deteriorating parcel could potentially be turned around.

Welch said PlanET officials were already using Loudon as a model for revitalizing other parts of the region seemingly bypassed by a nearby highway. PlanET officials have also identified numerous areas that are priorities for local residents.

Preserving agricultural land, supporting quality air and water and developing downtown districts were near the top of the list for residents in Loudon County, Welch said. "Now, it's a matter of, 'OK, how do we as a region, how does a community such as Lenoir City contribute to working on these long-term goals?'"

Welch said Cumberland Region Tomorrow was an example of how East Tennessee officials should team up for the betterment of each individual city and county.

"They recognize that in order to grow competitively and economic competitiveness, they have to compete as a region, and they are collaborating on a lot of different things and sharing success stories," he said.