Townsend urged to unite against TDOT
Iva Butler (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Townsend property owners and city officials need to reach a consensus and present a united front on the troubling right-of-way encroachment issue with the state.
That was the message Monday night when 48 people turned out to discuss their right-of-way problems with Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Byron Begley, owner of Little River Outfitters and liaison for the city with TDOT, organized the second citizen and city government meeting to try to present a united front to TDOT.
“I am hoping we can reach a consensus by the end of the year,” he said. “United we stand. Divided we fall. We need to be a team. We need to work together collectively for the good of the people. This is a big turning point for our town and we want to make sure we do it right.”
TDOT sent almost 80 letters to property owners along U.S. 321 earlier this year advising them they have encroachments on the right of way and telling them to remove them.
Encroachments include signs, parking lots, buildings, lighting, landscaping, fences, sidewalks and driveways.
Pat Rines from Campground United Methodist Church was concerned that TDOT listed the church parking lot as an encroachment.
“The Campground Church parking lot was there before TDOT got the land,” she said. “Nothing will ever be built there. I'm just concerned about our church. Our church has been there for years. A church is a church. I just don't understand them going after a church.”
Mike Clemmer of Wood-N-Strings Dulcimer Shop said the TDOT survey of the right-of-way line is 3 feet 8 inches back from where the line is shown on three deeds he has.
“Now they want me to buy back land that I own. The TDOT surveyor said they are right and yours are wrong. I have three surveys all alike,” he added.
Begley said TDOT says he is encroaching 13 feet on the right of way. He also has surveys that indicate he owns the land. He said the individual property owners will have to work out their disputes with TDOT.
At an earlier meeting with the citizens, TDOT officials indicated the state has excess right of way in Townsend.
Townsend City Commission sent TDOT a letter earlier stating “TDOT should only use, with the city of Townsend's concurrence, ‘excess property' sales to resolve severe nonmovable encroachment issues. TDOT should take no actions that damage the city of Townsend's viewscapes and greenspaces.”
The city asked that TDOT lease the property to the city to manage for the public.
Don Headrick of Highland Manor said, “It seems like we're working in the blind. Is there any way to get information from the state before we proceed?”
“They've not been responsive,” Begley said. He said he has tried to set up meetings to discuss the various issues and sent TDOT officials e-mails but to no avail so far.
Sue White of Frank's Market said, “I talked with the state today. They said they would not make any new decisions until after the first of the year before the new administration comes in. They said then we would know something.”
Newly-elected Gov. Bill Haslam will take office in January.
Some Townsend citizens think Haslam's administration will be helpful on the right-of-way issues.
Townsend Mayor Pat Jenkins said, “If they make a deal with the city they will lease the right of way. They won't sell the city the land.”
He also said the city could only use it for public use, not to benefit any specific businesses.
White said she is concerned about the encroachments “because that would put me out of business.”
“I think they will lease some property and sell some.” Begley said. “I think you will be able to buy your parking lots or signs.”
Travis Grant of River Rage Tubing said he has no encroachments on the right of way but would like to buy it in front of his business because in the summer he needs it for parking.
Tim Byrd of Trailhead Steakhouse said he would like to buy up to 25 feet in front of his business. “I want to be able to control the land,” he said.
Headrick said, “I think the city needs to work with TDOT to allow people to light their driveways.”
Jenkins said, “When it comes to private lighting on the right of way, TDOT seems as inflexible as on anything I've ever talked to them about. I think the city needs to come up with a lighting plan.”
“I think we should work with TDOT about this,” Begley agreed.
Cost of right of way was also a concern.
“I think it will sell for $3.50 a square foot. That's just a guess but that's what land has been selling for in Townsend,” Begley said.
The group also discussed what might be future uses for the right of way.
These included sewer lines, street lights, underground power poles, restrooms on the bike trail, more picnic areas, on-street parking, mass transit, electric cars, wireless Internet communication and natural gas.
They also discussed slowing traffic down through town to grow more business. More pedestrian and handicap mobility and crosswalks to go from the south to north side of the road is also an issue.
“I think at these meetings we want the community and city government meshed together. I think we can work it out with the state if we come up with a consensus,” Begley concluded.