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No:Knox County Commission votes down Debusk projects

Bill Jones, with microphone, owner of Bill Jones Music in Lovell Heights, warned attendees gathered at Frank S. Strang Senior Center for a public meeting Thursday, Nov. 12, concerning plans to build a housing project for chronically homeless individu- Dan Barile/farragutpress
West Knox County residents and business owners left Knox County Commission vindicated Monday, Nov. 16, following a less productive public meeting the previous Thursday.

Commission voted 15-4 to kill a resolution calling for an allocation of about $500,000 in public funds for purchase of a two-acre building site at 125 Debusk Lane intended for the establishment of a 23-unit housing project for chronically homeless individuals.

The project — deemed too expensive for Knox County taxpayers — in Knox County Commission District 5 is part of the Mayors’ [Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale and City of Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam] Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness. The Plan is in its fourth year. The mayor of the town of Farragut did not participate.

Commissioner Richard Briggs, District 5, echoed the same sentiment he presented at the Nov. 12 meeting at Frank R. Strang Senior Center saying many believe in the Ten-Year Plan and that it is important to move people from living under bridges and out of the woods.

“We have limited resources and need to help the most people with those resources,” Briggs said.

Briggs said the project was not a shelter but an apartment building that had a caseworker. The residents would need to be able to shop on their own and be able to go back and forth for groceries and medical appointments. The Debusk area has no bus line, but existing bus lines could be extended — at an additional cost to taxpayers.

“This is not the right place and not the right price … I’m voting no. There are better locations,” he added.

Commissioner Craig Leut-hold, District 5, also reiterated his Thursday night statement that the site “price is too much.”

Leuthold said for that amount of money the County should be looking at helping “50, 60 or 70” rather than just 23.

He added the area had no public transportation, no sidewalks and would be too dangerous for the proposed residents and would vote no.

Commissioner Mike Ham-mond, District 5, shifted gears from Thursday night when he told the nearly 250 gathered at Strang he would ask Commission to defer voting for 30 days allowing all parties more time to consider options.

Hammond concurred with his co-District 5 commissioners about the property costing too much, adding the property shouldn’t be purchased “just because it’s available.”

Hammond also said that 72 hours — the time elapsed since the Strang meeting — was too short a span from public notification to vote.

“I believe that everyone has made up their minds where they stand on this and we should vote up or down today,” he said.

Several residents who also attended the Strang meeting were in the Commission gallery and applauded as Briggs, Leuthold and Hammond affirmed no votes. Applause also was heard when several other commissioners committed to voting no.

Commission Chairman Thomas Strickland heard from several gallery members who expressed some support for buying the property and others who blasted Jon Lawler, director of the Ten-Year Plan, and David Arning with Southeastern Housing Foundation, the development company that would build and subsequently own the project.

Arning alluded that commission was “one vote” away from a lawsuit for violating the Fair Housing Act by not passing the funding resolution.

Earlier at the Strang meeting, Arning told residents they had no recourse to SHF building the project on the site because it met the Fair Housing Act criteria, adding later that the public could have a voice in whether funding was provided since it was taxpayers money.

When quizzed as to who would collect rent and what would be done with the money, Arning said the project would belong to Southeastern Housing Found-ation and rents also would belong to the company.

“I’m not going to apologize for making money,” he said.

At Commission, resident and attorney Michael Cabbage blasted Arning and Lawler for not being forthright about the conduct of drug- and alcohol-dependent people leading productive lives when admitted to Chronically Homeless Housing at the Strang meeting, adding he dealt with drug- and alcohol-dependent people in his role as an attorney and many continued criminal activity.

Farragut resident Mike Mitchell called on commissioners to either vote no or abstain from voting because Arning and Lawler had supplied neither Commission nor the public with enough information to make a conscientious vote.

“We have no idea of the cost” of this project, it could end up “costing more than $3.25 million” after building housing for the estimated 700 chronically homeless in Knox County, he added. “Vote no, or abstain.”

Other issues brought to light by the public and commissioners included the site’s close proximity to Frontier Package Store and Kiddie Kottage II day care center, and the possibility of a sink hole existing on the property.

Commissioner Amy Broyles motioned for a 30-day deferral, which was seconded and voted down 13-6 before the eventual killing of the resolution.


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