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Town draws public fire
Review committee seeks public comment


At its meeting July 19, members of the Development Review Process Evaluation Committee continued to hear public comment regarding — essentially — how Farragut does business with the business community.

Jay McBride, a licensed general contractor since 1978, was first to speak.

“This process here has been as difficult and painful as one I’ve ever been in,” he said at the beginning of his some 30-minute address that included questions from the committee.

McBride, who developed the new Bill Jones Music on Kingston Pike, shared his frustration about the process of obtaining a grading permit for Essex Point development he’s planned on the former site of Concord Produce.

“We started Bill Jones Music five months before we did the Essex Point development in Farragut. We moved in and started selling pianos before we received a grading permit [for Essex Point].”

McBride said he’d like to develop a Montessori pre-school and an upscale retirement home in Farragut but is leery because, “I cannot determine what it is I have to do to be here.

“[The Montessori] wants to start school next year. That’s twelve months. It takes me six months to build the building. There’s no way from what I’ve seen from the process and the personalities involved that we can guarantee that.

“I think personally that the process here and the people who are specifically involved … have lost sight of the idea of community service … working together to try and find ways to enhance the community. … I felt like that the focus is finding reasons to say ‘no’ instead of finding reasons to say ‘yes.’”

Committee member Ron Honken, who also chairs the town personnel committee, asked McBride: “Have you felt welcome in the town of Farragut?”

Chuckling, McBride responded, “Are you kidding me? No.”

Honken followed up with, “Knowing what you know today, would you attempt to do [Essex Point development] again?”

“No,” McBride said.

Honken concluded with: “What is unique in the process from a frustrating standpoint within the town of Farragut?”

McBride responded: “The attitude, the minutiae, the extension of responsibility where it seems that the people involved are taking responsibility so far beyond what I’ve ever seen.”

McBride also stressed financial implications of developments that take too long to complete.

“Interest carries on a three million dollar piece of dirt,” he said. “Every month that goes by is a significant amount of money.”

Though she had never been through Farragut’s review process, Robyn Askew, real estate attorney and vice president of Holrob Investments, spoke to the committee and offered suggestions.

“I have not developed in Farragut, I’ll be honest with you, because of the horror stories my clients went through when I was practicing law,” Askew said. “I am continuously amazed at how long these processes can take. And how it seems to me that communities should have good development. And you do want that especially in Tennessee where sales tax is so important.

“You’ve got developers who are taking risks and building things that you need in your community.”

Askew suggested the committee consider carefully “the subjective nature of the planning process. … Put your rules on the books and make them as detailed as you want. … so at least when I present a site plan as a developer to my client, I can say ‘if you want to be in Farragut, Tennessee, this is what you’re gonna have to do.’”

Vice Mayor Michael Haynes, committee chairman, asked Askew for clarification: “There are things that aren’t in the code, that aren’t in the ordinances that are — you’re calling them — ‘subjective.’ But … they are just, they’re nuances that are requested beyond what are required, and that’s what’s the time consuming part.”

Committee member Robert Hill, chair of Farragut Municipal Planning Commission, added, “It seems like to me that a lot of the problems hinge on the opinion of a person and whether or not it meets the ordinance or not.”

“It’s an added expense and a time lag and as a taxpayer, I’d rather have these businesses open and doing business,” Askew concluded.

Developer Scott Davis, a former Knox County Commissioner, began his comments by distributing a letter addressed to the committee that included the status of a residential development on 20 acres of land on Old Stage Road. According to his letter, Davis purchased the land August 2004. The preliminary plat had been approved by the FMPC October 2003.

The letter stated: “Eight re-submittals of the approved plans, twenty months later and more than fifty thousand dollars in interest carry cost, we still do not have an approved grading permit.”

Davis told the committee: “Fear is a great deterrent to success and production. I’m fearful now that I will not get a return on my investment in the town of Farragut.”

Davis owns additional property on Watt road; the land is zoned commercial.

“I was told ‘don’t even consider submitting that for a commercial use,”’ Davis said.

Committee members asked Davis: “Who told you?”

“Let’s keep the discussion on the process,” Haynes said.

Davis suggested Farragut consider implementing a monthly developers’ meeting as in Knox County.

“You go through all the issues. You get them out there on the table. … You know the rules. If you follow by the rules … they will approve your plan, period. There’s not arbitrary misunderstanding or misinterpretation,” he said.

Following the speakers, committee members shared their thoughts on what they’d heard.

“Time frames are just too tight to get things done. It’s not just too tight for the developers. It’s too tight for staff to get things done. … There is an issue with staff that needs to change,” Honken said.

Haynes stated that the committee wasn’t charged with personnel issues.

Honken countered: “I understand, but that is a very large part of the process and I think it’s one that eventually needs to be recognized and dealt with.”

Hill agreed: “I’m absolutely convinced that the staffing area has got to be addressed. … The staffing issue doesn’t mean that you hire somebody and you put them on the staff to do the work. There’s a lot of ways to skin that cat. … I think the town administrator is gonna have to measure the work. I don’t know how many persons we need.”

“I agree that the survey showed there are some serious concerns but I think in fairness we can’t lose sight of the fact that another possibility is there are a lot of people not dissatisfied with the process,” Haynes said at the conclusion of the meeting.

The committee’s final planned meetings are at 7 p.m., Aug. 1 and 8, at Farragut Town Hall. The public is encouraged and welcome to attend.

 

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