Planning meeting

A large crowd gathered in the Blount County Courthouse to voice opposition to two planned subdivisions.

The Blount County Planning Commission late Thursday denied plans for two major subdivisions following weeks of public outcry. 

Plans for Phase 1 of the Pate Farms subdivision, which proposed 190 residential lots, and Best Farms subdivision, which proposed 224 lots, were both shot down in separate votes.

The two subdivisions have been at the center of growing public concern about rapid development in Blount County. On Thursday, a large crowd of Blount County residents gathered in the Courthouse to plead with the commission one final time to put a stop to the subdivisions.

"All of us here have seen this view," resident Jill Cables said, holding up a framed photo of the Blount County countryside. "It's a beautiful view. What is it going to do to us to lose it? It's going to set a precedent for all of these out-of-town developers to come in and take advantage of these farmers. I want you to remember the Planning Commission bylaws: to preserve the character and topography of the county. Just keep that in mind."

Cables was one of several citizens who voiced opposition to the projects. Concerns over the proposed developments included crumbling roads and the crowding of county schools.

"Where are all these kids going to go? Are there additional schools that are in plans right now? High schools, elementary schools?" resident Neil Gripe said. "And what are the plans in the future to expand Old Niles Ferry Road? I drive it every single day. It's an absolute nightmare and it's getting worse every single day."

Others in the crowd pointed out specific issues within the subdivision plans that appeared questionable in regard to design and zoning regulations. Resident Cat Griffith-Benson also pointed out that there is a "sight of archaeological significance" on the Pate Farm property that may be protected by the 1966 Historical Preservation Act.

Once the public comment portion of the meeting was closed, a number of the commissioners expressed their own skepticism over the Pate Farm plan.

Commissioners Bruce McClellan and Darrell Tipton grilled the project engineers over zoning flaws, lot sizes and sewage issues.

"This project, when it first came to us, 14 or 15 months ago, as a concept, I raised an issue then about the availability of sewer for the project. I'm still not satisfied," Tipton said. "I personally am ready to make a motion to deny this plat, Mr. Chariman."

Tipton's motion was met with thunderous applause from the audience. Moments later the Pate Farms project was denied in a 9-0 vote, with Commissioner Roy Gamble abstaining.

The Best Farms project came under similar scrutiny. McClellan hammered the project on possible drainage and traffic issues. With the crowd murmuring in agreement, Commissioner Steve Mikels jumped in and made the motion to deny the project. 

"I think that things are coming to light and what we're seeing is that we need to look and pay more attention to what's coming through here," Mikels said.

Best Farms was shot down in a 9-1 vote, with Tipton being the lone commissioner to vote no. Once again the crowd erupted. Many in the audience even began laughing in surprise and relief. For them, a months long battle fought in tense meetings and angry emails had just ended in victory.

Officials said they will have to consult with lawyers on whether or not the defeated projects can be revised and returned to the commission. For now, however, the plans will removed from consideration.

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