A tall, old tree is at the center of a debate between Mountain Creek residents living near the old Quarry golf course on Reads Lake Road and a developer who wants to turn his property into homes and apartments.
Just how large the tree measures was a crucial point for residents attempting to prove the post oak was either a state or national champion that shouldn't be cut down due to its historic classification. It was not, and developer James Pratt with Pratt Home Builders believes residents are trying to throw any excuse at him to stop the development. But some residents still say they believe saving the tree is crucial for the area, and they hope Pratt takes that into consideration when developing the property.
"I think when we recognize that we have something like this, we should do what we can to preserve it," resident Lorraine Forman said.
The tree on the property stands 36 feet taller than the current Tennessee state champion post oak, but the designation accounts for height, circumference and spread. Urban forestry program specialist Brian Rucker with the Tennessee Division of Forestry measured the tree and determined it is the second largest on record and will assume championship status if the current champion dies.
The exact age of the tree can't be determined unless someone takes samples and analyzes the tree, Rucker said, and he didn't want to guess at its age but said "it's definitely an old tree."
Post oaks play a role in stormwater mitigation and carbon sequestration. They also produce acorns — a valuable resource for area mammals. Oaks can take 25 years to produce the nut, so tearing down the tree and planting a new one in another location would be a loss for the area's habitat, Rucker said. He would like to see the tree protected but said the decision is entirely up to Pratt.
"Property rights are very sacred in Tennessee, but it would be nice if that tree could in essence become a centerpiece for the development if possible," Rucker said. "If we could protect it and prevent that from being torn down, we'd love that, but if not, the owner has a right to do what he wants to do."
That issue — whether Pratt has the right to develop apartments — is at the heart of the debate between Pratt and local residents. The property's current designation allows it, but residents argue development was never the intended use when the property was rezoned to allow the clubhouse on the former golf course to build a bar.
Pratt's original proposal sought to put 56 owner-occupied townhomes, 47 rental townhomes, 40 single-family units and 10 apartments on the property. That proposal was later pulled, and the company is working on a new proposal for area development that will likely include apartments and rental townhomes.
City Councilman Chip Henderson, who represents the area, said he is attempting to place conditions on existing zoning laws to prohibit some of Pratt's plans, an attempt the developer has taken exception with.
"We think what [Henderson] is trying to do is not only illegal in the state of Tennessee, we think it's unethical where city government would do an overreach to try to downzone someone's personal property without that person requesting that," Pratt said. "That's been the crux of the whole dispute."
As far as the tree, Pratt isn't entirely sure exactly which one is at the center of residents' concerns, and it's not clear at this time if it would be torn down during development.
Bob Geier, who is part of a task force opposed to apartments on the property, and other residents said they are not trying to entirely stop development but hope it is done "responsibly and takes into consideration the value of the property."
"It's not just a corn field in the middle of nowhere," Geier said. "It has some fabulous ecological features."