Signal Facing Decisions On Expanding Commercial Area Past Albert Road, Mountain Community Center And Water Service

Saturday, February 24, 2018 - by Gail Perry

The design review committee (DRC) of the town of Signal Mountain is in the process of establishing standards for commercial buildings. In the meantime, developer Bob Elliott would like to buy property at the corner of Taft Highway and Albert Road. Albert Road has traditionally been where the commercial property ends. A number of residents in the neighborhood around that area are opposed to the rezoning request from low density residential to office district in order to build a professional office space.

At the council meeting Feb. 12, the town council approved rezoning with conditions, as recommended by the planning commission. A public meeting will be held before the second and final vote.


The zoning change is complicated by the fact that the new standards for construction are not in place causing the council at this time to deal with each situation individually, said Vice Mayor Dick Gee. Because there are not many existing regulations, “We have to front load it,” he said.


Mr. Elliott held a meeting with a citizen advocacy group earlier this week. He said the tone of the meeting was that people did not want the rezoning to occur. Others wanted to know what restrictions would be put on it if the council does give approval.  Of 35 areas of concern, Mr. Elliott said he was willing to do 30, and five he could not, but offered options for four of those requests.


"We need to change the ordinance to ensure enforcement," said Mayor Chris Howley, fearing that without an ordinance, the town would have no way to hold the developer to the required conditions put on the zoning change. Timing is important to the development, however, and the new policy being created by the DRC would not be ready when needed. The council will hold a special meeting on March 2 at 12:30 p.m. to decide what conditions to put on this development and how to least impact the surrounding neighbors and have it still be good for the town.


Currently, the town is responsible for the operations of the MACC. A non-profit group has recently formed, which wants to lease and operate the facility. The non-profit status also allows the group to raise funds for various projects. This group would continue using the facility much as it is used now. Another option has been informally proposed by Terry Cannon to purchase the property with many restrictions on it, such as maintaining the historical integrity, use continued much as it already is, and giving the town first right of refusal if it was ever sold.


On Friday, Town Manager Boyd Veal said that a lease agreement has been drafted between the town and the MACC non-profit. It is now being reviewed by Town Attorney Phil Noblett. In the lease, the town would contribute $102,000 the first year, with the amount being reduced the next year if revenue generated by the MACC exceeded what it was in 2016-2017. The non-profit group would also be responsible for the building and the type of activity it is used for. All would be reviewed by the planning commission.  


City Manager Veal asked the council for direction about how to proceed. Mayor Howley expressed concern about the ethics of entering into a lease with a group that would be paid over $100,000 and which has an affiliation with a councilman. It should be above reproach, he said. A member of the non-profit group is married to Councilman Dan Landrum. Councilman Landrum responded that the citizens working for the MACC are doing things for the right reasons. The city manager suggested putting out a request for proposals (RFP) to know if there is more than one lease option.


The PTA at Signal Mountain Middle/High School asked the council for permission to buy and install an electronic, programmable message sign. To allow it, the council had to approve a sign variance, since ordinances prohibit signs with “changeable copy.” Vice Mayor Gee asked why the sign needed to be lighted. It is eye-catching, and a way to get the attention of students and families, and could be used in emergencies, replied the PTA representative. The size of the sign would be around three feet by six feet, and it would be located around two curves leading into the school. The council was assured that it could not be seen from Shackleford Ridge Road or by any surrounding neighbors.


The council is allowed to grant variances according to the current ordinance, said City Manager Veal. Councilman Landrum and the vice mayor both were concerned that it would set a precedent, and Vice Mayor Gee warned that the community has long been reluctant to have flashing lights on signs and to prepare for opposition. He also warned against approving before seeing what it would actually look like. Approval for the sign was given with a vote of three in favor and members Landrum and Gee against.


Signal Mountain owns and operates its own water system, but is entertaining the proposal of either selling the system or hiring another company to operate it. Proposals have come from Tennessee American Water and Walden’s Ridge Utility District. An evaluation committee has been working to compare and contrast the plans of each company and to create a report for the council that will be presented on March 12. This committee will not make recommendations, said City Manager Veal. A period of three weeks from March 14-April 4 has been reserved for public meetings about the water system.


City Manager Veal said that people continue to ask him whether the city is doing anything about the development of a separate school district, and asked the council for an answer. Citizens want to know if there will be more meetings and if the town is pursuing an education committee. Another option is to utilize the Mountain Education Fund as a liaison with Hamilton County rather than forming a committee, said Councilman Robert Spalding. Councilman Landrum wanted a commitment that no further action would be taken by the council. Mayor Howley said at this time there is no discussion but that he does not agree that there will be no future discussions.


Falling trees crushed two batting cages that were not insured at the town’s baseball field. The baseball league wants to donate four new cages. City Manager Veal asked for approval to shift funds from another project in the facilities management budget to use for putting in concrete pads for the batting cages. The price has come in at $20,000 for building the four cages and another $20,000 for the pads.


Police Chief Mike Williams made a presentation of new hardware and software that the department is using. A five-year plan to upgrade technology has been done in three years, he said. All 12 patrol cars are now equipped with tablets that connect to Hamilton County 911. Each car can be located at any time, which allows the closest one to respond to an emergency. They also connect to 911 nationwide to ensure connectivity for providing emergency service when other systems are not accessible. It has also created a digital records management system. Information can be entered from the patrol car. Additionally, a bar coding system for registering evidence is included. All 15 radios have now been replaced, partially paid for with $46,000 in grants and donations.


Progress is going well with construction of the new fire station, said City Manager Veal. The delivery of the truck will be in September. Equipment for the truck will be in next year’s budget.


Sparkle Day is planned for March 10.



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