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Seven Days

Wednesday, June 28

The Worsham Watkins plan for downtown development is finally unveiled. Unfortunately, the new plan isn't much more informative than the original proposal revealed in January. But we do know there's going to be a lot of glass. A lot of glass.

Friday, June 30

Shannon Stanfield—the News-Sentinel's "Town Hound"—announces his retirement from the pages of the newspaper's weekend guide. Heavy metal bands at the Prince Deli may suffer the most from his loss, but we'll all miss his weekly roundup of local music.

Where nature and toxic waste meet in a ball of flames: For the first time in years, Tennessee gives the Department of Energy approval to burn liquid nuclear wastes from Colorado and Idaho at Oak Ridge. In a letter to the DOE, the state wrote, "As in the past, the state of Tennessee will continue to give highest priority to any request to process out-of-state wastes that present an imminent threat to health, safety or the environment." That's Southern hospitality for ya.

Monday, July 3

The News-Sentinel reports that the Presbyterian Church in America is debating exactly what "preaching" means. The denomination is investigating a charge that the Rev. John Wood, pastor of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, allowed a woman to preach in violation of church rules. Now, if they can just figure out how many angels can fit on the head of that pin...

Knoxville Found

What is this? Every week in "Knoxville Found," we'll print the photo of a local curiosity. If you're the first person to correctly identify this oddity, you'll win a special prize plucked from the desk of the editor (keep in mind that the editor hasn't cleaned his desk in five years). E-mail your guesses, or send 'em to "Knoxville Found" c/o Metro Pulse, 505 Market St., Suite 300, Knoxville, TN 37902.

Last Week's Photo:
Absolutely nobody correctly identified the lintel above a door in a turn-of-the-century building on Emory Place, the quiet commercial area on the north side of downtown. The name inscribed on it belongs to Dr. D.W. Hughes, a young veterinarian who set up shop here around 1911. Dr. Hughes apparently got out of the business during World War I, over 80 years ago, but his name has been engraved on the building ever since.

Meet Your City
A calendar of upcoming public meetings you should attend

Knoxville City Council workshop
Thursday, July 6 * 5 p.m. * Main Assembly Room of the City County Building
With the Marriott chain proposed as the flagship hotel for the coming convention center (even though it's four blocks away), what happens to the Holiday Inn at the World's Fair Park? The Public Building Authority will issue a report on that very subject to City Council.

Mayor's Night Out
Thursday, July 6 * 5 p.m. * Inskip Elementary School
Every month, Mayor Victor Ashe holds public meetings where constituents can ask questions and offer comments on the state of the city. This week he'll hold court at Inskip Elementary, along with several of his city department heads. Whatever good comes from these meetings, Ashe is convinced he deserves credit for reaching out to local taxpayers; as he posted on K2K last weekend: "How many third world leaders do this?"

Mayor's Task Force on Billboards
Monday, July 10 * 5 to 7 p.m. * Andrew Johnson Building
With a moratorium on new billboards in place, this task force is reviewing the city's billboard regulations to see if changes are needed. The public hearing will seek ideas on how to regulate the large advertisements.

Metropolitan Planning Commission
Thursday, July 13 * 1:30 p.m. * Main Assembly Room of the City County Building
Since the mid-1980s, Hines Fine Soil has mined topsoil from South Knoxville's Chapman Ridge, in apparent violation of the residential zoning on 7.5 of the company's 11 acres. A recent investigation into city zoning records by nearby resident Jim Rose uncovered the discrepancy, and now the company has requested a zoning change to allow its operation to continue. MPC will consider the application at this meeting.


Domino Effect

Will a rowing manufacturer in Oak Ridge's Haw Ridge Park mean that more development will follow?

Following recent action by the Oak Ridge City Council, four acres of the city's Haw Ridge Park may soon become home to Janousek Racing, a London-based manufacturer of competitive rowing boats. That could be good news for a city that's been losing government jobs at a steady rate over the last 10 years. But area outdoor enthusiasts are concerned that long-standing restrictions that limit the park to recreational use are being sold out to business interests.

"It's four acres this time, but that'll turn into five or 12 or 20 acres, and before you know it, it's all gone," says Bill Murphy, an Oak Ridge resident and opponent of the plan. "The defense business has been winding down, and there have been a lot of jobs lost. So the city is looking for ways of doing something."

The 788-acre park is a popular destination for East Tennessee runners, mountain bikers, and hikers who want a quick trip to the wilderness during the week. The Oak Ridge City Council voted on June 26 to ask the Tennessee Valley Authority, which donated the park to the city and mandated the recreation-only limit, to lift the restrictions on a lot on a peninsula on Melton Hill Lake. TVA may not act on the request until this fall, but if the exemption is approved, Janousek has proposed a small manufacturing facility for the site, which they would lease from the city.

Oak Ridge Mayor Jerry Kuhaida says the facility would fit into the city's plans to develop a first-class destination for rowing competitions on Melton Hill Lake. But opponents of the plan fear that the facility will disrupt runners, hikers, and mountain bikers from Anderson and Knox counties who use the park, despite Kuhaida's insistence that the operation will be low-impact and environmentally friendly.

What concerns Murphy even more is that the Janousek location could be the first step toward large-scale development of the park, something city officials tried to do in 1998 before public opinion persuaded them to abandon their plans.

Kuhaida says there's little chance that Janousek's presence in a recreation-only area will set a precedent, though he acknowledges the city may find other appropriate developments for the park in the future. "I make decisions all the time, and I don't really worry about precedents," he says. "You've got to take them one at a time. You'll obviously run into uses that don't belong there, and you don't put them there." Since TVA will maintain control over the process, Kuhaida says, the park won't become open to rampant development. "We'll not be allowed to put in just anything we want to put there," he says.

But Murphy says the city's effort, if approved by TVA, will have significant long-term consequences, especially since council members aren't willing to specifically limit future development to the Janousek plant. "The city is taking public land for a private company. That's a violation of the intent of the agreement," Murphy says. "It's a joke the way they're trying to veil their intentions and say, 'We're just want to take four acres.' They're not willing to write that down or make it a law. We just have to believe it and take their word for it."

—Matthew T. Everett

Back to School

One empty school building may see a brighter future

While Old Knoxville High's future seems mired in the realities of the county budget, there appears to be a glimmer of hope for another center-city school. Brownlow Elementary, built circa 1910 with a large 1920s addition designed by Barber & McMurry, has long been a fixture in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood. Closed for the opening of the new Christenberry Elementary, Brownlow enjoyed a brief brush with fame as a set for the Knoxville-filmed and West Virginia-set October Sky, but has otherwise sat empty, used for maintenance storage. Now, Knox County is looking to developers to find a new use for it.

"From the county's perspective," says commissioner David Collins, "we're sitting on a piece of property that has much greater value than what we're using it for." Collins, whose district includes Fourth and Gill, has been meeting with neighborhood representatives for over a year. According to Collins, "to turn (Brownlow) into an asset that would further stabilize Fourth and Gill and provide revenue for the county, would be a good thing." After a proposal by County Trustee Mike Lowe to turn the building into county offices failed, County Executive Tommy Schumpert directed Hugh Holt, county purchasing manager, to prepare a Request For Proposals (RFP) for Brownlow that would be advertised to local and national developers. "The challenge," according to Holt, "is finding a market."

However, at least one area developer doesn't see finding a market as a major obstacle. Holrob Investment's Mike Edwards says "having a Fourth and Gill address is a great attraction. It's a great neighborhood. It's proven its sustainability." But while Holrob is interested in the property, Edwards is non-committal: "We would definitely look at it. We're interested in it, but whether we'd ultimately respond (to the RFP) I don't know."

Rob Frost, board member of the Fourth and Gill Neighborhood Association, says that the neighborhood would like to see the building restored and put to use. "The greater preference among the neighborhood is residential, or possibly a mixed-use with businesses that would attract residents to the neighborhood," he says.

Both Collins and Holt assert that the county will work with the neighborhood to develop the RFP. The initial draft currently being prepared by Holt will be distributed to the neighborhood for comment. Holt says that both Schumpert and Collins "want the neighborhood input and I think the whole point of this thing is to get something acceptable to the community and put that building into some use." Frost is happy that the county is coming to the neighborhood on the front end and hopes that any developers responding to the RFP will do likewise. "We'd hope," Frost says, "any reasonable and intelligent developer would want to work with the neighborhood from the beginning."

"It works from the developer's standpoint," says Edwards, "if the neighborhood is brought in on the project because, let's face it, it's up to the neighborhood to help market the project."

One aspect where there appears to be early consensus among the county and the neighborhood is the fate of the building. "Everybody's in agreement," says Collins, "that they want the building's historic integrity preserved. What we want to find is the best vehicle to do this." Frost, referring to the 20 percent federal income tax credit available for the renovation of historic commercial or rental property, has a few ideas: "Tax credit projects work in the neighborhood. It's a good chance for a developer to do a tax credit project." Edwards also feels that, for whoever tackles the project, tax credits will be a part of the overall financial package. Reflecting on the scale of the project and the likely cost of renovation, Edwards points out that "when you're dealing with that set of margins, those tax credits are coveted."

Frost says that the neighborhood would also like to see the school included in the boundaries of Fourth and Gill's H-1 Historic Overlay district. Collins, while supportive, is somewhat wary, saying: "I'm not opposed to H-1, but I think you could put restrictions in the RFP that accomplish the same thing without potentially frightening developers." Frost, however, remains hopeful: "I think any developer, once they learn more about it (the H-1 Overlay), would be in favor of it."

—Matt Edens

July 6, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 27
© 2000 Metro Pulse