My heart goes out to people who come to the podium at County Commission, City Council, and MPC meetings to try and convince public officials not to destroy their neighborhoods. It is a wrenching experience and your feeling of loss seems so self-evident it should be obvious to decision-makers.
What you don’t realize is that this is your first experience with the destruction of a community—but it’s old hat to the decision-makers. There isn’t a residential subdivision or industrial property anywhere that didn’t result from taking green space and screwing it up. It’s called progress. You will also find that a great many people out in the community at large will be sympathetic, but they’ve heard it all before.
If you want to stop an industrial park in a rural area, you have to have a better reason than the destruction of a way of life. It’s the Chamber’s job to destroy the rural way of life.
The business park proposed for the Midway interstate exit is problematic. “Consultants” find the property, Mayor Mike Ragsdale is briefed on the plan, Ragsdale’s buddy Harry Sherrod buys a farm and flips it a month later for a six-figure profit. That is a sequence of events. Correlation does not imply causation, of course. Cum hoc ergo propter hoc, as Roman real estate developers were wont to say. But, as we used to say on the Metro desk, it doesn’t pass the smell test.
Even so, if it’s a good deal for the county and it brings jobs and increases the tax base, it could still be a good thing. You just didn’t want to see how this sausage got made. So another rural community gets raped.
But is it a good deal for the county?
I would argue that we have empty industrial property that already has water, sewer, and rail service. We have empty sites at Forks of the River, at Eastbridge. There are private parcels zoned industrial with water, sewer, gas, electrical service, a railroad and waterfront along Rutledge Pike.
The county put $5 million into a business park in Blount County that sits empty. Oak Ridge has industrial property. Knox County has an empty park in Hardin Valley.
Why is Midway critical? It doesn’t have water and sewer. It’s not zoned industrial. It will require millions more in county money to make it usable.
But the county already has a $10 million investment in the property and it’s not fair to the taxpayers to stiff them with the bill. There’s the rub.
What East Knox County residents opposed to Midway need to do is to provide Knox County Commission with a way out of their dilemma. I think Commission might be persuaded to sell the property and walk away from it if the county is made whole. But an earlier proposal for the county to sell the property was also opposed by residents. Once property has been purchased at an average of $26,000 an acre, no one can buy it and turn it back into farm land. So a sale probably means retail development and interstate exit restaurants or residential development.
So the county owns almost 400 acres of land with millions invested and there is no way for the taxpayers to get their money back without something being developed that offends local residents. The Development Corporation has put Knox County commissioners in this bind. The Development Corporation needs to sell the land, for a business park or some other use, in order to get its money back. That’s how the Development Corporation supports itself.
(My preference is to just keep the land zoned agriculture and require Chamber president Mike Edwards and his staff to operate it as a community garden. Hoeing corn and picking tomatoes might teach them the value of agricultural land and make them think twice before they buy any more of it.)
But East Knox County residents need to come up with a plan to get the county off the hook. Otherwise, someone is going to make the decision for you and you aren’t going to like it.
They don’t give a damn about preserving your (and my) rural way of life.