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Road Block

A number of state groups play tag-team against the powerful TDOT

by Joe Tarr

Residents fighting against various state road projects in East Tennessee this spring began to notice that they weren't so alone in battling the state's mammoth road-building bureaucracy. A lot of people and groups, it seemed, had gripes about the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

"They're acting in a real high-handed fashion with us," says Chris Irwin, who works for the Foundation for Global Sustainability and is involved with many activist groups, including those fighting road projects at Townsend and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

"We thought, 'Maybe they're doing this to everybody.' So we started casting our nets."

What Irwin and others found is that there are a great deal of neighborhood, environmental, Native American, and fiscal conservative groups that do indeed have beefs with TDOT.

Last Sunday, representatives from some of these groups met for the first time, and started STOPTDOT.

Still in its infancy stage, the group is debating everything from its name, to tactics, to membership, to the wording of a press release.

Irwin says the goal is to get all the various groups fighting specific TDOT projects or policies together to share information and team up to have more of an impact and to have citizen control over the agency. "The goal, I guess, is to stop TDOT."

While it has started in East Tennessee, STOPTDOT has groups in Nashville interested in participating, and plans to branch out west of the capitol all the way to Memphis. "We haven't gotten as far as Memphis yet. We're just putting out our feelers now," Irwin says. "That's our job right now. We need to send out our feelers to groups in West Tennessee and invite them into this debate."

Two early participants are Joni Caldwell and Finbarr Saunders of the Westwood Neighborhood Association, which has a number of complaints against TDOT and wants the agency to erect noise barriers alongside I-40 when it widens it to eight lanes.

Other groups that have been involved include Kingsport's Citizens for Responsible Roads, the Gatlinburg Gateway Foundation, the Native American Indian Movement, Katuah Earth First, and Save Our Cumberland Mountains.

"It's impressive the people that are coming together," Caldwell says. "Each of us has a piece of the puzzle. Together, it's going to be something else.

"There's a whole bunch of people pretty much on the same page. We all feel like TDOT doesn't care, is taking our money, spending it and trampling all over us."

STOPTDOT started an email group, similar to the K2K group [see cover story, this issue]. Unlike K2K, however, STOP-TDOT's group is currently closed, which means anyone interested in joining must give their real name and be approved for membership. To join, people can send an email to: [email protected].

TDOT spokeswoman Louanne Grandinetti could not be immediately reached for comment.


Demolition Reprieve

Landlord Robert Shagan and the city meet in court and find compromise

by Joe Tarr

Fort Sanders landlord Robert Shagan has at least temporarily backed down from his intention to tear down a number of rental houses, including the century-old DeArmond house.

Last month, Shagan was moving full speed ahead with plans to raze homes on Clinch Avenue, apparently before the city could establish an NC-1 Conservation District in Fort Sanders. Not yet approved by City Council, the district would set up a review process for any demolition or major construction.

But sensing Shagan was determined to tear down the homes, the city moved fast and put in a 180-day moratorium on demolition. Shagan and the city took their differences to court Tuesday, but the hearing was more or less conciliatory.

"They were pretty cooperative," says attorney Mike McClamroch, who is representing the city. "We appreciate their cooperation."

Shagan agreed not to demolish 1308 White Avenue (known as the Judge's House), 1409 and 1417 Clinch until after a determination on the conservation district has been made. He agreed to leave 1416 Clinch—the DeArmond House—standing for at least six months, and was open to the possibility of allowing the house to be moved, McClamroch says.

Randall Deford, president of the Historic Fort Sanders Neighborhood Association, was predictably pleased. "It's good. Our goal is to preserve the buildings and the character of the neighborhood," he says.

Arthur Seymour, Jr., Shagan's attorney, says they're trying to reach a compromise over the property. "We're reviewing all our options to see if there's a resolution that will keep everybody happy," he says.

However, the houses are far from saved. Shagan has filed a civil suit against the city for trying to prevent him from demolishing the homes, and that's where the dispute may ultimately be settled.

Shagan owns numerous properties in Fort Sanders, managed and owned under at least seven different names, including Volunteer Studios and Commercial Realty. He also has a reputation for tearing down old homes in the Fort. Last summer and early this year, he razed several homes on Clinch and Laurel avenues.

May 4, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 18
© 2000 Metro Pulse