Disdain Over Urban Growth Boundary Amendments Expressed

Huntsville, TN (2010-03-01) Several residents of Scott County attended a public hearing Monday night, expressing their concerns over proposed amendments to the Urban Growth Plan, changes that were met with some skepticism.

The Intergovernmental Committee of the Scott County Commission held a public hearing on changes to the Scott County Urban Growth Plan proposed by the Towns of Huntsville and Oneida Monday night.  In its request, the Town of Oneida would like extend its urban growth boundary west to include the Brewster Mountain area and other properties around Litton Road, as well as south along the Highway 27 corridor to just south of Galloway Drive and west to the O and W Road, encompassing the area around the Scott County Airport. The Town of Huntsville would like to extend its boundaries north to meet the Oneida line on U.S. 27 and south on U.S. 27 from its current boundary near the top of New River Hill to the riverbed, encompassing property along the river in the Low Gap community.  Huntsville also proposes expanding its boundary along S.R. 63 to near Norma Road and along S.R. 456 in the Capital Hill community.

In 1998, the State of Tennessee passed Public Chapter 1101, mandating the preparation of 20-year growth plans for every county in the State. The act called for the establishment of a coordinating committee in each county for the purpose of formulating the countywide growth plan. Areas included in the Plan would not be immediately annexed, but rather would simplify the process of annexation in the future. Under current law, a municipality may annex an area only by ballot referendum in a general election; however, an area included in an Urban Growth Plan could be annexed by resolution of the municipal governing body, following two public hearings.

According to the legislation, once the Plan was in place, there would be a three-year moratorium on changes to the boundaries. In 2006, the Town of Huntsville proposed to expand its Boundary north on Highway 27, a proposal the County eventually refused. With the refusal, both parties entered state mediation, which resulted in a settlement of the dispute in March 2007.

Several concerned citizens spoke out against the plan. “What does this benefit? There’s nothing out there (in Low Gap,)” wondered Don Newport. Many of their concerns centered on annexation, which Huntsville Mayor George Potter was quick to address. “This is not annexation… we don’t want to annex you,” Potter noted. Any area annexed by a municipality would receive all services that other portions of the Town would receive. “We can’t afford to take care of you,” Potter declared.

Commissioners on the Intergovernmental Committee had other concerns with the expansion of the boundaries. “How long until the Towns have everything, and there’s nothing left for the county?” asked Commissioner Ernest Phillips.  Sales tax revenues from any existing businesses in the area would be tendered to the County for fifteen years following any future annexation(s); however, those revenues would be frozen, and any additional tax generated by those businesses would be tendered to the Town.  All sales taxes from any new businesses in the area would be immediately tendered to the municipality.  In the State of Tennessee, fifty percent of the local options sales tax is earmarked for local education, with the balance tendered to the county or municipality where the business is located.

Another concern raised was the lifespan of the Plan. “After 20 years, are the Towns going to be required to grow their plans again?” queried Commissioner Alan Reed. After the initial moratorium, municipalities could propose changes to their plans at any time, pending approval from all parties involved, including the County and all three incorporated towns. “Does making a change reset that twenty year clock?” Reed asked. County Attorney John Beaty noted the statute was unclear on whether it did.

Commissioner Clyde Zachary made a counterproposal to Mayor Potter, asking if Low Gap and New river could be taken out of the proposed changes. “We can leave out Low Gap, but we are going to expand along the road (Highway 27)” Potter stated. Commissioner Rothel “Tub” Cross stated his position firmly. “I’ve heard the people, and I’m against this,” he said.

Urban Growth Committee Chairman Dick Smith said that in his and Beaty’s interpretation of the statute, the County had 120 days to either approve or refuse the changes proposed. No action would show acceptance of the plan. No action was taken Monday night.

Public hearings will be held at the municipalities next regular meetings, March 18 for the Town of Oneida, and March 22 for the Town of Huntsville.