Russ Newman, Planner or Developer. You Decide

Unlike the Economic Development Agency which really serves no purpose, the Loudon County Office of Planning could and should be a very important part of local government. The office should be in the business of looking out for the health and safety of the County.  However, with the current director, Russ Newman, the office has become nothing more than a rubber stamp for big developers.

As a commissioner the number one complaint I received from citizens was on Russ Newman. His rude treatment of citizens, his inconsistent application of the rules and regulations depending who you are and his close relationships with the big developers. Mr. Newman has proven time after time that he has a total disregard for the safety and welfare of the citizens of Loudon County by recommending special exceptions and subjectively applying the planning and zoning codes. But, why should he care about Loudon County. He lives in Knox County. In my professional opinion, Russ Newman is the greatest danger facing the very existence of Loudon County as we know it.

It appears that Mr. Newman is now using his position to become a developer himself. Back in March a gentleman approached the Loudon Board Of Zoning Appeals with a real dilemma. He was the owner of a certain piece of property on Mulberry Street in Loudon. Seems one of the two houses located on this property had partially burned. He was requesting guidance from the board as to what he could do with his property. Click here to read the minutes from that meeting. As you can see the former owner seemed to be faced with a lot of problems with his property.

I recently had cause to visit the property in question. Apparently the new owners of the property were able to work out all the zoning problems including having the property subdivided. The burned home is now being rebuilt and the second house on the property will also be remodeled. Remember the statement of the former owner in the minutes, that he "wants to find a buyer for it?" Well guess who bought it. Our very own director of Planning and Zoning, John R. (Russ) Newman.

According to Courthouse documents on April 28, 2006 Mr. Newman purchased the Mulberry property from the previous owner. Click here to view the deed. These same records state the property value to be $58,000.00. Also according to other Deed Of Trust records on the same day Mr. Newman took a mortgaged of $52,200.00 from FSGBANK in Monroe County for the property. While visiting the property, the contractor and self professed partner of Mr. Newman offered to sell me the property, including the remodeled house and the second house "as is" for just $230,000.00. Looks like somebody was  "planning" to make a little profit.

Apparently the Loudon County Office of Planning is also doubling as the Russ Newman Real Estate and Development operation. Within the house that had been damaged by fire, there was an old fire place with a very nice, ornate mantel. On the mantel was the phone number 458-3880. recognize this number? That's right. It's the number for what else, the Loudon County Office of Planning. Click here for the picture.

This is not Mr. Newman's first venture in development. Back on April 28th, 2005, Mr. Newman partnered with another gentleman named Zong-Ming Chang to purchase twenty-three acres on Watt Cemetery Road. On 8/16/05 the property was brought before the Loudon County Planning Commission for a request to rezone to allow for a 32 lot subdivision. There is no mention in the planning minutes that Mr. Newman was a partner. Click here for minutes of the meeting. In September of 05, the request was presented to the Loudon County Commission by Mr. Newman for final approval. Mr. Chang was also present. No one ever mentioned Mr. Newman as a partner in the deal.

There's more. In 1999 Newman buys a 5.83 acre lot in Deerfield Crossing and sells that property in 05 for a hefty profit. On 9/14/04 Mr. Newman purchases lots 5,6 &7 in Derby Chase subdivision. The developers of this subdivision also had to come before Mr. Newman and the board for approval of their subdivision. Incidentally, Mr. Newman applied for and received greenbelt designation for his three lots. Apparently Mr. Newman is also a farmer. According to his greenbelt application, Mr. Newman states that he "grows a crop of hay" at 1040 Julip Lane (Derby Chase). Greenbelt designation requires a minimum of 15 acres to qualify. Mr. Newman's three lots total 15.15 acres.

I will not say that Mr. Newman's actions are illegal, but there is no way one would not consider all his property dealings as  unethical at the very least. The perception that Newman is using his insider position to make lucrative property transactions is unavoidable. Mr. Newman needs to decide if he wants to be the County planner or a developer. For the sake of Loudon County, I would call on the Executive Planning Council to dismiss Mr. Newman  from his position for his questionable property dealings.

Thanks to a good friend for a lot of the research for this article.