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Seven Days

Wednesday, July 5
A great day for education in Knoxville, as UT Trustees raise tuition 8 percent to make up for state funding shortfalls and the Knox County school board slashes its proposed budget to make up for County Commission funding shortfalls. Among the casualties are new art teachers for elementary schools. Boy, it's a good thing the economy's healthy, isn't it?

Thursday, July 6
TDOT officials shut down a road project outside Johnson City to protect Pleistocene fossils found at the worksite. Among the animal remains are pieces of a mastodon, tapir, and giant ground sloth. The Tennessee Legislature promptly considers making the "giant ground sloth" its official mascot.

Friday, July 7
Harry Call, president of Goody's Family Clothing, resigns for "personal reasons." Company CEO Robert Goodfriend says he is "shocked" by the announcement, and doesn't comment on speculation that the "personal reasons" might have something to do with Goody's share price having fallen by 83 percent since 1998.

Monday, July 10
Seventy-five Earth First! demonstrators dance and chant outside Al Gore's East Tennessee headquarters on Papermill Drive to protest the veep's environmental record. One sign says, "He's just a corporate whore." Campaign staffers say they can't understand all the fuss; after all, that half-million dollars' worth of Occidental Petroleum stock is in his momma's name.

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:
Jeff McKenzie of Knoxville correctly identified last week's marker. It looks like a gravestone, but it's not. The marble marker, inscribed WILLIAM TAYLOR WALKER, 1921-1964: HE LIVED HUMBLY BUT DIED NOBLY is on Randolph St. near Magnolia and Harrison's Chicken, just northeast of downtown. It commemorates a scavenger who died trying to stop a runaway Harrison's truck near here in 1964. Erected by the city at the behest of a young UT student named Randy Tyree, the marker has since fallen over, and now rests on the sidewalk. As our Grand Prize Winner, Mr. McKenzie will be awarded an Atomic Speedway lawnmower-racing T-shirt. Congratulations, Jeff!

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

Metropolitan Planning Commission NC-1 Public Workshop
Thursday, July 13 * 6:30 p.m. * Laurel Theatre * 1538 Laurel Avenue
This is the second of two public workshops on the proposed historic preservation overlay zoning for Fort Sanders. MPC will offer information on the guidelines and boundaries of the proposed NC-1 designation before the city's Historic Zoning Commission meets on July 20.

Historic Zoning Commission
Thursday, July 20 * 8:30 a.m. * Small Assembly Room of the City County Building
The city's Historic Zoning Commission is scheduled to consider the NC-1 historic preservation overlay for Fort Sanders at this meeting. Any recommendations will be forwarded to City Council, which is tentatively scheduled to consider the NC-1 designation on Sept. 5.

City Council Workshop
Thursday, July 20 * 5 p.m. * Large Assembly Room of the City County Building
The Public Building Authority is due to make recommendations regarding the future of the Holiday Inn site adjacent to the city's new convention center.


A Ramp Too Far

Although administrators insist McGhee Tyson's redesign is ADA-compliant, disabled travelers beg to differ

For many, the showpiece of the new McGhee Tyson Airport is a 200-foot-long incline that passes by a roaring marble fountain.

But for Louise McKown, this isn't a work of beauty. It's a barrier—a long hill that is almost impossible for her to walk up with her two canes.

With no way around the ramp and no airport employees available to help, the new airport poses a serious challenge for anyone using a wheelchair, crutches, or walkers. The incline connects the ticket area to the gates, and there is no alternate route or elevator to get there.

On the 10-year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the new airport design shows that Knoxville still has some work to do to meet the spirit of law.

The new airport ramp may technically meet the ADA. Almost 200 feet long and rising 9 feet, the slope is a 4.5 percent grade, according to Bruce McCarty, of McCarty Holsaple McCarty, one of two architecture firms that worked on the airport. Slopes of 5 percent or more must have flat landings every 30 feet and handrails.

Architect Brian Smyth, who works with the Disability Resource Center, says that even though the design called for a 4.5 percent slope, what's actually there could be steeper, meaning the airport is in violation. Structures often vary slightly from what their plans called for, he says.

Even if it meets the letter of the law, the incline certainly isn't very friendly to those with disabilities.

"If what is there is 4.5 percent, legally, they're okay," Smyth says. "But the as-built condition is right on the edge of where railings and intermediate landings are required... They're getting away with a technicality, I believe.

"That's one heck of a commitment—200 feet—for someone in a wheel chair or on crutches," he says.

Jerry Stump, manager of the McGhee Tyson project for HNTB, the Washington, D.C. firm that designed it, says several constraints dictated the shape of the incline, including the terrain, the distance between the ticket counter and gates, and operational issues. He suggested those who have problems contact the airport ahead of time for assistance.

Airport spokesman Mark Neuhart says that the authority worked with Stephanie Brewer, a policy analyst for Knoxville and the city's liaison with the Knoxville Advisory Council for the Handicapped, to ensure the airport was ADA compliant.

"They told you they worked with me?" Brewer says, when contacted by Metro Pulse. "That was a bad thing to say. They did not work with me."

About a year and a half ago, Brewer met with the airport authority regarding a complaint a blind woman had with the way she was treated by airport security, Brewer says. At the time, she offered to work with the authority to make sure the new design was accessible.

"They told me they had people on staff that could deal with those issues and my services weren't needed," says Brewer, who has not been to the new airport.

So far, there have been no complaints from anyone with disabilities, Neuhart says. "As a matter fact, I've had several compliments from disabled folks who enjoy the new access," he says.

But last week, some Knoxvillians with disabilities met at the airport to see how easy it was to get around. While parts of it are accommodating—the bathrooms, for instance—the airport's 200-foot incline was anything but easy to cross.

Sarah Crotzer, a 17-year-old who uses a wheelchair, had no problem getting up the incline. But, she says, "If I were tired or had a large bag, I wouldn't be able to do it. There's no place to rest. If you stop, you have to turn around and go back to the bottom."

McKown had difficulty walking up the ramp and then tried it in a wheelchair. She managed about a third of the way before having to stop. Several passengers offered to push her, but airport security at the top just watched.

Going down the ramp could also be terrifying for anyone using a manual wheelchair, as they could speed out of control, perhaps crashing into something or someone, or tipping over.

There aren't any signs instructing people where to go for assistance, nor any airport workers offering a hand. (Neuhart says the airport has four customer service agents and five porters to help passengers. He adds that helping passengers with baggage is the responsibility of the airlines.)

Angela Petty, who works at the Disability Resource Center (which McCarty Holsaple McCarty has asked to help in making its convention center designs accessible), says that other airports seem better equipped and trained to accommodate disabled people. When she flew into the Knoxville airport recently, she had several problems. "They didn't have any employees there to help me get off the plane. That was the first problem," says Petty, who uses a wheelchair. "I had to wait in the plane because there wasn't any one to help me get off."

Once on the ground, Petty asked if someone could help with her luggage, but was told no. Another passenger ended up carrying her bag for her, she says.

"Most airports that I have been in, they're very accommodating. The employees will walk you to the baggage area, help you with bags if need be. At McGhee Tyson, that doesn't happen," Petty says. "I don't know if it's because it's a smaller airport, or they just haven't thought about it."

Joe Tarr

Sign of the Times?

Knoxville ponders solutions to the proliferation of billboards

The face of outdoor advertising in Knoxville appears likely to change considerably in the coming months; questions remain, however, as to who those changes will benefit, and how extensive they might be.

In April, City Council passed a 150-day moratorium on new billboard permits, a move prompted by welling concern over the frightening proliferation of the spider-legged roadside monoliths locally. Monday marked the first meeting of the resultant Mayor's Task Force on Billboards, the body vested by City Council with the duty of recommending changes.

According to the Metropolitan Planning Commission's Norman Whitaker, there are some 472 billboards within city limits, with more permits currently pending than at any time in recent memory. Curtailing that proliferation can be achieved in any number of ways, says Whitaker, from banning new billboards to setting a cap on the total number allowed to amortization—removal of existing boards after some period deemed sufficient for recouping the investment.

"We've still got a long process to go through, through the MPC and city council," says Whitaker. "It's too early to speculate, but the people here tonight seemed to encourage bold, decisive action. I'd be surprised if the task force doesn't recommend changes."

For many of the city residents who attended the Monday meeting, at which MPC staffers administered questionnaires and led discussion groups, the best solution is that which yields the fewest billboards. "In order to stop the bleeding, you have to ban new billboards outright," said one woman in attendance, crystallizing what appeared to be a prevailing sentiment.

Carl Fletcher, president of Scenic Tennessee, concurs. "What we would recommend would be complete elimination of billboards, and use of other means of advertising," he says.

Complicating such an effort is a state Supreme Court ruling that essentially places individual billboards on the same plane as individual business establishments. Tennessee Code section 208 allows existing businesses to remain in operation even in the face of rezoning. "I've talked to 10 or more attorneys on this, and they don't know where (the court's interpretation) comes from," says Fletcher, who advocates legislative retooling at the state level.

Whitaker admitted Monday that the code and its subsequent application may limit the city's options.

Perhaps even more confusing is the role of billboard companies themselves. Outdoor advertising giant Lamar Advertising supported the moratorium, but critics point out that Lamar already controls much of the local market, and that such companies often support regulatory caps in areas in which they are dominant.

"Caps are often used as a political tool," says Fletcher. "They aren't a good idea; they provide a way for companies to continue their own business while controlling others."

A Lamar Advertising spokesman couldn't be reached for comment.

Fletcher is a Johnson City resident long active in the war on billboards and their aesthetic blight. In his own city, new billboards have been banned since 1988, and though the ban successfully quelled proliferation, attrition among J.C.'s 100 or so existing billboards has been slight.

"If we don't make changes in the state law, all of these existing boards are grandfathered," says Fletcher. "The situation is pretty bad now. I think we should ban them in their entirety across the state."

Public input is welcome, at [email protected], or at Billboard Comments, P.O. Box 1631, Knoxville, TN 37901.

—Mike Gibson

July 13, 2000 * Vol. 10, No. 28
© 2000 Metro Pulse