Land dispute leads to tearing down home to keep alley open in Chattanooga's Southside

Land dispute leads to tearing down home to keep alley open in Chattanooga's Southside

January 7th, 2019 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Workers tear down the framing on the latest GreenTech home built on Adams Street because it was inadvertently erected on Norfolk Southern Railway property. GreenTech was unable to negotiate an acceptable price for the parcel after erecting most of the house last year and has to clear the homesite for an alley to provide egress to other homeowners.

Photo by Dave Flessner /Times Free Press.

A previous story incorrectly indicated that the house being torn down was built on the railroad right of way. That house is on GreenTech's property, but it is being torn down to make way for the alley, which was in inadvertently located on the railroad right of way.

GreenTech Homes has developed hundreds of houses over the past decade in Chattanooga's urban core, but on Monday workers for the Chattanooga home builder were tearing down one of its houses to make way for an alley entrance after discovering the existing alley for four other homes was built on a railroad right-of-way.

The confusion over the lot lines along Adams Street on Chattanooga's Southside — and an inability over the past year to reach a sales agreement for the property between Norfolk Southern and GreenTech — led to the demolition of the new home on Adams Street even before it was ever occupied.

The dispute reached a head last week when the four home owners on Adams Street who have bought homes built by GreenTech over the past couple of years were served with a notice by Norfolk Southern telling them that, effective Monday, they could not be able to use the alley behind their homes to access their garages because it was improperly built, in part, on the railroad's property.

To gain a new entrance way for the rear garages, GreenTech is tearing down one of its houses and relocating the alley entrance on the home lot.

"It was really weird because it hasn't been a problem for them for the more than two years that we have lived here and used that alley," said Strat Parrott, who bought his 1,920-square-foot home on Adams Street two years ago from GreenTech — one of four homes that share an alley that Norfolk Southern says is now improperly located, in part, on its property. "We chose to build down here knowing there was a railroad there, but we were told it was an inactive track."

A fence along the railroad erected by a former owner was believed to be the property line between the homes and the rail line, but a survey last year found that wasn't the case.

GreenTech officials said once they were made aware of property dispute, they sought unsuccessfully to negotiate the purchase of the unused property from Norfolk Southern but were unable to reach an acceptable price.

"Everyone thought the fence was the property line, but it turned out it was not," said Brian Daily, who moved into his Adams Street house in September 2017, just a couple of moths before GreenTech started building the house now being disassembled

John DeMoss, chief financial officer for GreenTech, said Monday it was cheaper for GreenTech to tear down the two-story home it had erected on the railroad property to open up the alley than to pay the price asked for by Norfolk Southern.

"GreenTech is saddened that we were unable to reach an agreement with the railroad; however we remain committed to serving our customers and communities," he said. "As a result, we will be de-constructing the existing unsold residence to relocate the alleyway onto our property."

DeMoss said the railroad has agreed to keep the alley open while GreenTech tears down the house and relocates the alleyway on its own property.

"We hired an independent appraiser for the land and offered them that amount but they refused the offer and want $250,000 for this narrow strip of land," he said. "We determined it was an unreasonable amount of money and it would be more costly to pay that purchase amount that it would be to take the house down."

GreenTech hopes to recover most of the materials used to build the house at other sites.

Homeowners in the area said they were initially taken back when they were served notice late last Thursday that they wouldn't be able to use the alley and their garages, starting this week. Parrott said he keeps a lot of tools and other requirement for his business "and have to get in my garage multiple times a day."

Barry Abbott, an attorney for GreenTech, said GreenTech negotiated in good faith to buy the property to allay the confusion but was unable to pay the "inflated price" asked by the railroad he said was twice its appraised value.

"Contrary to your recent letter to the residents claiming that GreenTech has not negotiated with Norfolk Southern Railroad in good faith, GreenTech has, in fact, negotiated in good faith, paid for an appraisal and survey of the property in question and made reasonable offers to purchase the property for an amount in excess of the appraised value for this property," Abbott said in a letter to Norfolk Southern attorney Craig Allen.

Allen said he has told the affected homeowners that the railroad won't enforce the property lines pending the timely reoval of the house.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.


This story was updated Jan. 8, 2019, at 8:12 p.m.


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