Letter: Piecemeal Destruction

I read with more than a passing interest your article of Dec. 11 titled "Redrawing the Lines of Fort Sanders' Neighborhood Conservation Overlay" [by Cari Wade Gervin]. It was a good article (although it sickened me to read it), documenting much, but not all of the general shenanigans of our elected, appointed, and otherwise self-important community leaders in what could appropriately be called "The (Never-ending) Battle Of Fort Sanders"!

The article quite accurately presents the current situation du jour with regard to certain historic neighborhood structures and quotes my friend Randall De Ford quite extensively for perspective. Randall is one of the nicest guys that you will ever meet, and he really loves this city and his neighborhood, but shame on these people for putting him into a situation where he has to stand up all alone and document all of the lies by the lying liars that have been proffered over the years, that have led to these most recent attacks on the neighborhood by the hospital (and the university). Things like this are what finally became instrumental in my decision to emigrate from my happy home of 20-plus years in the historic Fort Sanders neighborhood. It tears your heart out to see your neighborhood being destroyed piecemeal, over decades, and for no real good reason, given that other viable development options are available to the attackers.

I was only minimally involved during the Fort Sanders Forum that developed the neighborhood plan and the NC-1 overlay, but I still have my copy of the plan, and I, too, remember how everybody, hospitals and universities included, finally came to agreement over what would and what would not be included in all of the stakeholders' boundaries. As I recall, those four properties at 18th and Highland were in the NC-1 overlay (as well as the three properties on White at 13th), and, as part of the compromise with the hospital, three properties at 19th and Highland were left out of the NC-1 overlay because they already wanted them for a parking garage.

Later, as I took my turn as the president of the Historic Fort Sanders Neighborhood Association, I sat in a hospital boardroom with my friend Randall and we listened to hospital officials plead with us to bless their taking of the three properties at 19th and Highland for their new parking garage. What were we to do? "Yes," we said. "Sure, go ahead and do that." But at that time they also tipped their hand to us that they intended to expand the hospital proper and that they wanted to close 19th street between Clinch and Laurel avenues in doing so. We said that there was no way that we could support the closure of a public street, and to please find a way not to do that. Randall, being an architect, noted that, due to the topography of that ridgeline, it would not be difficult to take the road bed below grade and build a tunnel underneath the structure. At that time they had no plans whatsoever for their expansion other than a rendering, so they could have at least considered Randall's suggestion.

Well, the hospital got their parking garage, and then a few years later they got their street closure, too. Net loss to the neighborhood: two historically significant (inside the H-1 area), but not included in the NC-1 overlay, homes.

Similarly, Randall and I dined with Phil Scheurer at the University of Tennessee Faculty Club one afternoon during that same time frame and listened to him assure us that he and UT had "no more plans for expansion into Fort Sanders north of Cumberland Avenue," if we would just bless the building of his new parking garage on White Avenue. Since that time, UT has also acquired the Vol Hall, and built the Senter building on White Avenue, and it was only by intensive negotiations and our generous neighbors at Dow Chemical Company that the neighborhood narrowly missed getting a UT electrical substation at 16th and Laurel.

Then there came the big hotel fiasco, where the developer used options only to gain approval to purchase and demolish five more historic, but not in the overlay (again by "compromise"), homes on 11th Street. By the way, City Council also then let the man rezone those five properties by the variance process alone, too. Now the neighborhood has a huge, butt-ugly hotel that looks more like a double-wide mobile home up on concrete blocks where five nice old homes once stood.

That little deal finally splashed out of our neighborhood and caused repercussions to our friends in Sequoyah Hills, who suddenly had a fight on their hands against the Klezmer Sperm Bank in the middle of their residential neighborhood. We could have laughed at them, but it was only my prediction coming true that if the city continued to do these things in Fort Sanders, that eventually nobody's property in Knoxville would be safe from spot zoning.

Which brings us up to the present day, and now Mayor Rogero and her henchman Bill Lyons want to have a "conversation" with the neighborhood about reaching a "compromise." This "compromise" will only cost four more, this time contributing (NC-1 overlay) houses. Oh, and the university isn't even talking—they don't have to. They went over the city's head to the state in order to take three other contributing NC-1 homes and to close yet another city thoroughfare.

This makes me mad!

Mark D. Hipshire