Tellico, Loudon land-issue negotiations at standstill

County seeks permit control on agency property

Loudon County may be ready to go to trial over the right to issue building permits on land controlled by the Tellico Reservoir Development Agency.

Attorneys for both parties confirmed that negotiations have not been progressing.

"There really hasn't been any movement in the negotiations," said Wayne Henry, attorney for Loudon County.

"All I can say is that it has not been resolved and that there have been no negotiations since the lawsuit was filed," said agency attorney Rob Goddard.

Henry said a pretrial conference is scheduled for July, but Goddard said he was not aware of the conference.

In January, TRDA filed suit in Loudon County Circuit Court asking that the court prioritize the agency's right to issue permits and conduct inspections on its land.

The lawsuit followed a notification issued to TRDA by the Loudon County Commission that the county would start performing inspections and issuing permits on Jan. 1, 2008.

The county, which has been issuing building permits and conducting inspections on county land outside TRDA boundaries since 2006, feels it is responsible for the safety of residents. That responsibility should give the county priority over TRDA, Henry said.

In addition to safety, there is also the issue of revenue.

Loudon County stands to gain increased revenue from building permits and also from the $1-per-square-foot adequate facilities tax passed in 2006. Money from that tax is supposed to go directly to the schools.

TRDA has been inspecting property and issuing permits for more than 20 years on its property.

Henry Luken, a Chattanooga-based investor who made the decision to bring Christensen Shipyards Ltd. to TRDA-controlled land near Vonore, said he has been watching the battle between the agency and Loudon County.

"I'd much rather deal with TRDA," Luken said. "If not for TRDA, I wouldn't have been able to bring Shipyards to the Tellico area."

Under county control, the process of getting permits and inspections might have been more complicated and time consuming, Luken said. "Ron Hammontree and TRDA made it much easier," he added.

The issue of building permits on agency land has come up in the past. In 2000, a Tennessee court of appeals in Knoxville ruled against the town of Vonore, affirming TRDA's right to issue building permits.

Wayne Henry said he believes there are distinctions between the responsibilities of a county such as Loudon and a town such as Vonore.

"Obviously it's important for our case to make those distinctions," he added.

It is also possible that both sides could ask the court for a summary judgment, Henry said.

Among the compromises that were proposed by TRDA before filing the lawsuit is an agreement where the county would permit and inspect buildings in Cooper Communities and Tellico Village.

Under the same proposal, permitting for the Kahite section of Cooper Communities would return to TRDA.