published Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Commissioners punt on sale of former middle school


by Matt Wilson
Audio clip

Hamilton County Commission meeting

A decision on whether the old Signal Mountain Middle School will be turned into an athletic club will have to wait two more weeks.

The Hamilton County Commission voted 9-0 Wednesday morning to defer action until July 30.

“It’s not the deal I want, it’s not the deal I could have had, but it’s the deal I’m forced to accept,” said Commissioner Fred Skillern, who made the motion for the deferral. “I would still like some time to look into this and see if some things can’t be worked out with all parties.”

Developer Tom Poteet offered $800,000 plus two pieces of property near Soddy-Daisy High School as payment for the now-closed school, which he said he plans to renovate into a community athletic club. The property is appraised at $600,000.

“I have offered a very fair price for the site,” Mr. Poteet told commissioners. “The community of Signal Mountain has made it clear that it is behind my entire proposal.”

The Signal Mountain Town Council planned to meet Friday to approve Mr. Poteet’s request to rezone the property from residential to a community commercial district, the developer said, depending on the commission’s approval of the sale.

Commercial zoning includes fitness centers, offices, small shops and a warehouse, said Signal Mountain Town Attorney Phil Noblett. It doesn’t allow for a big-box store, he said.

Noah Long, a retired commercial real estate developer who lives in a subdivision that borders the school property, said the property was brought out for proposals with a low-density residential zoning. As a piece of commercial property, the school would be worth three times Mr. Poteet’s offer, he said.

“(Mr. Poteet) made some speculation that he could achieve a commercial zoning,” Mr. Long said. “If, in fact, this is commercial property, as the city is proposing to rezone it, then this property is highly undervalued.”

Commissioner Richard Casavant said officials should ask for proposals after Signal Mountain makes a zoning change, and possibly after a sewer moratorium in Signal Mountain is lifted.

“If you’re willing to rezone it for a warehouse for retail, for a training facility, right in the middle of a neighborhood, why wouldn’t you be willing to rezone it for other things?” he asked.

Several dozen Signal Mountain residents attended the meeting in support of Mr. Poteet’s athletic center.

Jim Horton, a resident who said his property is adjacent to the school, noted that Mr. Poteet’s offer for the property was the only one made.

He also argued that the building could become a legal liability for the county because it continues to sit vacant and deteriorate.

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