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Seven Days

Wednesday, Oct. 31
Lt. Gov. John Wilder tells reporters in Nashville that the state Senate, which he chairs, is one vote shy of a majority needed to pass an income tax. Once again, he refuses to discuss the widespread assertion that the lieutenant governor has dropped off to one brick shy of a load.
A murder suspect in Knox County custody asks that the charge be dismissed because of what the public defender describes as "outrageous conduct" on the part of the Sheriff's Department. Jeez, if that were grounds for dismissal, wouldn't the jail be empty?

Thursday, Nov. 1
City Council approves a quarter-million-dollar contract to make citywide curb cuts to allow better sidewalk access to persons in wheelchairs, reversing a position long held by a Council majority who had concluded that they weren't called "walks" for nothing.

Friday, Nov. 2
Preachers in the County Commission are seeking approval from their fellow commissioners to display the Ten Commandments in the City County Building. Citizens are awaiting the first committee hearing on the issue to find out if the wrong reverends involved wish to post the Christian, Jewish or Islamic version of those Commandments.
U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, who recently came to the conclusion he was needed in the Senate and would run for reelection next year, admits he has introduced legislation in Washington to make government run more like a business than a bureaucracy. Maybe it's time for the senator to reconsider his reelection plans. No one should have to tell him this, but the bureaucracy is the government and the Senate is part of it.

Monday, Nov. 5
It is revealed for the first time that Knox County schools officials believe that a "world-class" system here would cost about 78 cents, added to the county property tax rate. It's a huge increase, to be sure, on a rate that is now $2.96 per $100 of assessed valuation. But is there any doubt a majority of taxpayers would pay that bill if a true "world-class" education system could be guaranteed?
Gov. Don Sundquist says he is warm to the idea, raised by the UT trustee's presidential search consultant, of moving the UT president's office from Knoxville to Nashville. Do you suppose the lame-duck governor, now a confirmed Nashvillian, wants to follow in the footsteps of the last lame-duck Republican governor and assume the presidency for himself?

Tuesday, Nov. 6
Knoxville voters storm the polls, nearly 19,000-strong, to determine a new majority on City Council and set the course for the city over the next four years. More than 82,000 other eligible voters sit on their dead asses and say they could hardly care less.

Knoxville Found

(Click photo for larger image)

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:
This bearded goat-man, or whatever the heck it is, adorns the side of a building at the intersection of Gay and State Streets, near Summit Hill. Formerly the first Lawson-McGhee Library, the building is now undergoing renovation by Jo and Jim Mason for a residence and art gallery. (It was on the City People home tour a few weeks back, although no explanation was offered of the pagan statuary.) First right answer came from Steve Taylor, who wins a brand-new copy of Straight From the Fridge, Dad: A Dictionary of Hipster Slang. We hope this helps Steve learn the difference between "laying some hot iron" (dancing really well) and "motivating your piechopper" (talking). Keep your lamps on the prowl, Daddy-O.

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

Thursday Nov. 8
9 a.m.
Knox County Health Department, Community Room
140 Dameron Ave.
Workshop on Universe Knoxvville, in which developers and feasibility experts will discuss long-awaited details and answer questions.

Thursday Nov. 8
11:30 a.m.
In front of the City Safety Bldg.,
800 E. Church Ave.
Special called meeting to consider an emergency ordinance to prohibit terrorist hoaxes and provide penalties to include assessment of all government costs of responding to such hoaxes.

Thursday Nov. 8
1:30 p.m.
City County Bldg., Large Assembly Room
400 Main Ave.
Regular session.

Monday Nov. 12
10:45 a.m.
From the Coliseum up Church Avenue to Gay Street, ending at Gay and Depot Streets
Includes a moment of silence at 11 a.m.

Tuesday Nov. 13
7 p.m. City County Bldg., Large Assembly Room
400 Main Ave.
Regular meeting.


A New Look

Fort Sanders project raises cautious optimism

The clank and clatter of bulldozers will soon be heard again on the corner of Highland Avenue and 16th Street in Fort Sanders, where six houses were illegally torn down over the summer in violation of the neighborhood's new NC-1 Neighborhood Conservation zoning. On Nov. 1, the Historic Zoning Commission approved plans submitted by Verdat Aboush to develop an apartment complex on the property.

"Like most of Fort Sanders," explains Historic Zoning Commission staffer Ann Bennett, "I had hoped we'd have the existing houses to work with, but that's not the issue here. They're gone, unfortunately. And I don't think a vacant lot sitting there would have benefited the neighborhood at all."

Randall Deford, president of the Historic Fort Sanders Neighborhood Association, essentially echoes Bennett's assessment, but he admits that at least some of his neighbors are not too happy with the fact that Aboush's development is proceeding. When Jerry Hughes, the former owner of the six lots, demolished the houses, Aboush denied any involvement although he did have a purchase option on the property. Once the houses were gone, Aboush proceeded with the purchase and his development, a move that angered many Fort Sanders activists. "People were, and still are, pretty sore," says Deford. "It's not exactly like adding insult to injury, but in a way it was."

But while the NC-1 guidelines failed to stop Hughes' wrecking ball, they have had a dramatic impact on what gets built in the place of the destroyed houses. And the result will be an apartment complex quite unlike anything Fort Sanders has seen in recent memory. "Mr. Aboush and his architect," says Bennett, "have been very good about modifying the buildings, modifying rooflines and working with the neighborhood and with me to get this design to meet the guidelines." It was cooperation that Aboush felt was more than necessary, given the circumstances. "It was a high profile project from the get-go," he says, "because the houses were torn down by the previous owner and the fact that it was the first project under the new guidelines." From Aboush's original submission—a nondescript block of three-story, motel style walk-ups—the design has evolved to fit the neighborhood, adding front porches, a Victorian turret and complex roofline reminiscent of the original houses. According to architect Farris Eid, a member of the Historic Zoning Commission, the changes were critical to fitting the new building into the historic neighborhood. "There are a lot of things that can be done with trim and siding to break down that mass and give the appearance of a row of houses," Eid says.

"This design has come a long way since we first saw it," says Deford. "I would say it's almost 100 percent better. He went from something that stood out like a sore thumb to something that's really going to fit in—as much as large-scale development can, at least." And, from the developer's perspective, the changes didn't limit the project—the number of units has remained constant. According to Michael Price, Aboush's architect, "That was something that was very important to the project, to have that number of units on that site. Like any other project, the numbers have to work."

Yet, while Deford is relatively pleased with the final architectural product, he'd like to see a similar dramatic shift in the market developers are targeting in Fort Sanders. Citing the large number of student housing units recently constructed by Texas-based developer JPI, Deford feels developers like Aboush are playing on a pretty crowded field. "We're still focusing on a market that's already overbuilt," says Deford, "and ignoring a market that everyone is ignoring."

With so much new student housing already built and UT in financial doldrums, Deford hopes that future Fort Sanders developers look toward downtown rather than the university for their market. Fort Sanders, Deford believes, "is a place for downtown revitalization to start. We've got great existing residential stock that could be rehabbed and within walking distance of downtown. Fort Sanders gives you the best of both worlds—urban density plus trees and yards."

If Deford sounds hopeful, he feels—thanks to the new zoning—that it's not without reason. It's a sentiment Ann Bennett shares. "Regardless of the way it came about, I think this project certainly sets a standard for new construction that differs from anything we've seen in Fort Sanders in 50 years."

—Matt Edens

Highway to Hell?

Development wins a battle in the Smoky Mountains, but opponents still hope to win the war

The Tennessee Department of Transportation got one of the permits it needs for the Route 321 expansion project, some eight months after construction started. Two other permits are still needed.

In March, construction workers began widening Route 321 from two to five lanes, with a center turning lane. The first phase is 2.6 miles, stretching from the edge of Gatlinburg (where the current four-lane ends) to Buckhorn Road. The project cost is estimated at $29 million.

Tuesday, the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation gave its approval to the first phase, says Louanne Grandinetti, a spokeswoman for TDOT. TDOT still needs permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and TVA. The permits regard waterways that are in the construction zone, and contractors have been working around them.

"It's looking pretty bleak," says Vesna Plakanis, who with her husband runs A Walk in the Woods, a hiking guide business. "Phase one is pretty much a done deal, it looks like."

TDOT and the city of Gatlinburg have said the road needs to be widened to alleviate traffic congestion. Environmentalists contend it's being done to spur Pigeon Forge-like commercial development, and that the project will actually exacerbate deteriorating water and air quality and disrupt wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains, which the road borders.

The Army Corps and TVA are doing a joint environmental assessment on the project—a report that will decide whether the project can go ahead or if a more detailed environmental impact study is needed.

Ruben Hernandez, of the Army Corps, says the environmental assessment will not be ready for a few weeks. It's too early to tell which direction the Corps is leaning, he says.

Although environmentalists fear they've lost the battle on the first phase, they believe they can still stop other phases of the project. The next 1.2-mile phase runs through the Emert Cove section along the Little Pigeon River, where numerous Native American artifacts have been found. "We're still pretty hopeful about phase two, because there's a lot more [evidence of impact] there, including the artifacts that have been found," Plakanis says.

The project is eventually supposed to connect with I-40. Several groups are pushing to turn completed sections of the Foothills Parkway into Route 321—which appeals to those looking to reduce state spending. Some pushing this option hope that land reserved for uncompleted sections of the parkway could be used for biking and hiking trails, Plakanis says.

Joe Tarr

November 8, 2001 * Vol. 11, No. 45
© 2001 Metro Pulse