By Mark Jones
Community News Managing Editor
In front of another packed chamber, the Signal Mountain Town Council rolled through its regular agenda, annexing three areas of land totaling approximately 700 acres, in between two lengthy sessions of public comment focused on issues related to zoning, growth and annexation.
Council members unanimously approved on final reading three separate ordinances for annexation of a total of 709 acres of mostly undeveloped property within the Signal Mountain Urban Growth Boundary. The measures each passed 4-0 with Mayor Bill Leonard absent from the meeting on vacation.
The first annexed area includes six undeveloped parcels of land north of Conner Creek; the second includes seven parcels at Shackleford Ridge Road and Anderson Pike between Fox Run and Hiddenbrook subdivisions; and the third constitutes two parcels near Prentice Cooper State Park surrounded by the existing town limits. Town Attorney Phil Noblett explained that annexing the property around Prentice Cooper will allow the town to enforce traffic laws and other regulations in the area.
During the public hearing regarding the annexation, several citizens took the opportunity to question council members and comment on the annexation plans and other zoning issues raised by the Shackleford Ridge Overlay Zone now under consideration. As many as 2,500 fliers were reportedly distributed to homes and businesses on the mountain in an effort to encourage local residents to help “preserve our Signal Mountain community” and call for a six-month moratorium on subdivisions.
Local attorney David Evans expressed concern that the town’s current zoning plan is not sufficient to address potential development problems such as sewers, additional traffic with limited ingress and egress to the town, and other infrastructure issues.
“It would be best if the town of Signal Mountain defers any annexation until it comes up with a comprehensive zoning plan,” said Mr. Evans. “At this point I think it would be unfair to the town and to the citizens being annexed.”
Councilman Robert Linehart pointed out that property under county zoning control was allowed higher density development and other types of usage than Signal Mountain would allow.
“I think annexation is a good thing because it keeps growth under the town of Signal Mountain, instead of the county,” he said.
Councilwoman Lizetta Paturalski said it was in the town’s best interest to annex the property, which would impose current zoning restrictions of a half-acre minimum lot size per home versus the county’s requirement of 7,500-square-foot minimum lots.
“You always would like to, as a town, to protect its boundaries,” said Councilman Steven Ruffin. “If we annex them, it protects our boundaries.”
Signal Mountain resident HC Bright, who proclaimed he was anti-development, encouraged the crowd to see the positive side of annexation as a protective measure against unwanted development such as high-density homes or trailer parks that could exist under county regulations.
“Once annexed, we the town of Signal Mountain can control it,” explained Mr. Bright. “Even though I hate development, we ought to annex it.”
Following approval of the annexation, many residents took the opportunity to express more concerns over zoning and growth-related issues during the public comment portion of the regular meeting, citing problems associated with infrastructure, increasing population, loss of community and calling for an array of studies to be conducted about the effects of potential growth. Another call for a moratorium on development resulted in an explanation from Mr. Noblett that such a decision could only be implemented by the Signal Mountain Planning Commission. He said the Town Council only had the authority to propose such a measure.
“Development on the mountain is what we’re all concerned about,” said resident Richard Barrali. “As a community, I would think we are overwhelmingly opposed to any development.”
But Jack Huguelet, who owns 15 acres where he lives on Shackleford Ridge Road, questioned the idea of a development moratorium and the outcry against future development on the mountain. “We fundamentally need to look at how we view property rights,” he said.
Councilman Robert Linehart reminded the remaining crowd that each of their homes and all the local neighborhoods that make up Signal Mountain were the result of development at one time or another.
“Development isn’t bad. It has to be controlled,” he said. “I think we’re going to find a solution here, some kind of compromise.”
E-mail Mark Jones at email@example.com