A public hearing over the effort to create a commercial district in Walland drew mixed comments at the Blount County Courthouse on Tuesday.
Luxury resort brand Blackberry is spearheading the effort with the blessing of three adjacent property owners.
The rezoning would change roughly 22 acres through the center of the rural community from a rural zoning designation to a commercial one. The company hopes to develop a tourist-friendly commercial stretch, such as a renovated Chilhowee Inn.
The appearance of opponents to Blackberry’s plans to expand in the area had become a regular staple of meetings that involve the company since a series of highly charged meetings last summer. Tuesday’s hearing, which immediately preceded the County Commission’s monthly workshop session, drew a quieter turnout than usual.
Longtime residents of the area and homeowners in nearby subdivisions again reiterated their concerns that growing tourism and construction in the area was threatening the rural peace and quiet.
Comments began with Sharon Huskey, a 40-year resident of the area who married into the local family for whom Huskey Branch Road in Walland is named, and who has previously spoken against the company.
“In the past, I’ve objected to some of the things Blackberry has done,” Huskey said. She went on to thank the company for lending help several weeks ago when immense rains washed out portions of her road.
Bryan Daniels, CEO of the Blount Partnership, said Blackberry has been a “good corporate citizen” for the county, and that the amenities of a commercial stretch could provide benefits to residents that “don’t normally get access to Blackberry.”
The company owns the majority of the land under the request.
Several of the comments made in opposition to the rezoning effort pointed to the current amount of bicyclists on East Millers Cove, where part of the commercial stretch is planned, as a danger and nuisance. Several shared rumors they had heard that a bike rental would be going in.
Larry Rudd, who lives on East Millers Cove, said the road is not safe for construction trucks. He invited commissioners to tour the road and “see the dangers that the construction has caused.”
He said a concrete truck once flipped off the side of the road.
Concerns about road quality — and Blackberry — have not gone unheard by commissioners.
Commissioner Tom Hood, at the commission’s Beer Board meeting also on Tuesday, voted against a measure to forward Blackberry’s request for a beer permit in Walland on Mountain Lodge Road.
“I’ve had people call me with concerns about that road,” Hood said, mentioning the presence of tractors on it. “It’s a secondary road for the county.”
Following the commission’s vote to forward the rezoning request to next week’s full commission meeting, Commissioner Steve Mikels told the audience that the vote did not represent approval of Blackberry’s effort itself.
“We’re voting to move this forward, but I promise you they’ll be much consideration between now and then of what you’ve told us,” he said, adding that he was not saying what his own intentions were.