TRDA wins building ruling

Reservoir agency can issue standards, permits on lands

By Hugh G. Willett

The Tellico Reservoir Development Agency has the sole power to create building standards and issue building permits on its development lands, according to a ruling by a Loudon County judge.

The ruling by Circuit Court Judge Russell Simmons Jr. was a setback for Loudon County, which had challenged the agency's status as the authority to issue building permits and set building codes on TRDA land within the county.

"We're extremely pleased," said TRDA Executive Director Ron Hammontree. "We hope to keep working with Loudon County in a positive way."

It marked the second time that the TRDA has filed suit against a municipality to affirm its rights to set building codes on land under its control. Simmons found precedent in a 2000 ruling against the town of Vonore that supported the TRDA's right to zone land, issue permits and set building codes.

The Vonore case also determined that the power to set building codes and issue permits was derived from power delegated to the agency to control zoning.

Simmons pointed out that one of the reasons in granting such control to the TRDA was to keep the development plan uniform, regardless of the various counties and cities on which the TRDA land might be located. Agency land is located in Monroe, Blount and Loudon counties.

"The judge's opinion tracks with the Vonore case," said Wayne Henry, attorney for Loudon County.

Henry said it had been the county's goal to separate the issues of zoning from the issue of building codes and issuing permits. The county has the right to file an appeal in 30 days, he said.

"It's really up to the county commission to decide whether the case should be appealed," Henry said.

County Commissioner Bob Franke, who chaired the committee on the issue and testified in the case, said the county challenged the TRDA because of concern over issues of health and safety of county residents. The county still is responsible for fire and police services on the TRDA land, he said.

"The purpose of building codes is to insure that homes are constructed properly," Franke said. "If the fire department has to go into these homes during an emergency it's our responsibility to maintain compliance with safety codes."

Franke said the Loudon County Commission will have to discuss whether it makes sense to file an appeal. One area in which the county might seek clarification is whether TRDA "development lands" include land formerly owned by the agency that comes into possession of private developers.

In a previous incident, land owned by a developer and subject to the authority of Loudon County was quit-claimed to the TRDA by the developer and then immediately quit-claimed back to the developer by the TRDA, bringing the land under the definition of land controlled or previously controlled by the TRDA and subject to the zoning control of the agency.