A quarry project in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee, has been operating for about 15 years on partially residential property without a required conditional permit after an oversight in 2005 by city leaders left current property owners under the belief they were properly certified.
The city has taken responsibility for the misstep and is working to fix the problem, but a local conservation group is questioning the city. The group, North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy, protects the creek and its watershed, which runs along the property. The organization is concerned the oversight could be happening at other projects and hopes more will be done to ensure such a mistake doesn't happen again.
"If this operation is allowed to continue right on the creek, other areas in our watershed become vulnerable to similar activities, so we're raising a stink," said Tim Laramore, executive director of the conservancy.
Conservancy personnel learned of the mistake earlier this year after asking several times for the conditional permits, they said. They filed a public records request in June and were informed the permits did not exist. City officials have admitted to the mistake and said it was an honest misstep. They plan to meet with now-property owner Ned Rich of Custom Stone Handlers next week to hear his plans for the property and discuss issuing a permit.
"It's not [the property owner's] fault; it's kind of our fault," Soddy-Daisy City Manager Janice Cagle said. "It just slipped through the cracks. We let it slip through the cracks."
Former property owner Jim Folkner requested the permit at a July 13, 2005, zoning board of appeals meeting, according to meeting minutes. The request would have allowed for a zoning exception to use the land to remove rock for a planned housing development near Dayton Pike across from Ivy Academy. Folkner also requested permission to place an RV on the property during construction to use as a work trailer.
The council discussion branched in a number of directions: whether the property would technically be considered a quarry; if the trucks should be allowed to use Springfield Road; whether or not they should allow the trailer; and informing Folkner that the company could not sell product directly from the site.
Two residents who live near the property spoke in opposition. They complained about the noise and dust as well as the trucks driving on the residential Springfield Road to access the site. One resident did speak in favor of the operation.
Ultimately, city attorney Sam Elliot informed city leaders and the public that the zoning board of appeals was limited in its authority. It did not have the power to grant the zoning request and should instead focus on the request for the work trailer. The board unanimously approved the placement of the trailer and the board moved on to other business.
"[The owner] came before the board kind of wanting a blank check, and we told them all we could do was the trailer," city attorney Sam Elliott said. "I think it's pretty clear that it fell through the cracks."
The company left the meeting and continued its operation. The housing development never materialized. The property operated as a quarry that is now about 60-feet deep in places, Rich said. In 2016, Folkner sold the lot to Rich, who had been leasing the property.
In the coming years, numerous residents would complain about operations at the site. In one 2017 board of commissioners meeting, a resident questioned the terms and conditions the business was operating under, according to the meeting minutes. City representatives assured the public the business was operating with permits and was zoned for manufacturing to allow for such a business — which was not true.
However, Rich and the city were under the impression that everything was in order, they said. The quarry had been running for years.
"The city didn't know the permit deal existed. I've been in business there for 15 years, and we're certainly not hiding," Rich said. "We have 30 employees, over a million dollars in payroll. We have everything else we need. This [issue] was under the radar; none of us knew about it Nothing was done out of malice."
Added Cagle, "I think it was just an oversight. [The board] voted on one thing, and I think maybe they thought they were voting on both."
Rich will go before the zoning board Nov. 13 at Soddy-Daisy City Hall to pitch his plans for the property. He'd like to continue operation at the quarry for three years to recoup his investment. At that time, he plans to fill in the quarry and turn it back into a green space that he will donate to Ivy Academy, he said.
His priority is to maintain a good relationship with all groups involved. He wants to be a good neighbor, and he thinks the experience can help him in the future for other projects, Rich said. He'd like to use this as an example of his willingness to do the right thing and work with groups — whether it be residents, environmental organizations or government groups — to find a solution in everyone's best interest, he said.
"Our whole deal is this: I want to get finished in three years," Rich said. "If they give me three years, I can get back my investments, and they'll get a nice piece of property that's a green space. The school will get the property, and that will help the community for years and years to come."
North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy personnel are happy with the plan and have been working with Rich, they said, but they want to hold the city accountable to follow its own rules.
"We're working with Ned, and he's working with us sharing what he's going to do," Laramore said. "We want to make sure he follows through. We want to see Soddy-Daisy following their own rules. We don't think this operation would have been allowed to go through if they had followed their own ordinances. It's our concern that these ordinances will cease to do anything if the city doesn't enforce them."
Correction: This article was updated to correct the depth of the quarry. The natural material in the quarry is 200-300 feet deep. The hole itself is only about 60-feet deep, property owner Ned Rich clarified.