citybeat (2006-02)

Coster Shop Suits Settled

Mediation ends environmental challenge to sinkhole dumping

Not For Sale

Taps for YMCA’s Camp Montvale?

Risqué Business

Strip clubs and adult bookstores lie in wait

Coster Shop Suits Settled

Terms of the settlement were not included in court filings, and a spokesperson for the city of Knoxville, one of seven defendants in the suits, said she couldn’t discuss any aspect of the case because of a confidentiality agreement among all the parties.

The settlement memorandum was filed with the court in early December by mediator R. Franklin Thomas, and Judge Thomas Phillips recorded the case “completely settled through mediation” the week before Christmas, although it was not finally adjudicated by the court, pending the filing of all remaining documents.

The suits resulted from a three-year-old brouhaha over disposal of concrete from the Coster yards, now known as the I-275 Business Park, by a salvage company. Truckloads of the materials were dumped into a sinkhole in the Burnett Creek area on the Sevierville Pike property of Phillip Reagan, and more than 100 persons sued Reagan, the city, Norfolk Southern Railway, the Development Corp. of Knox County, Burnett Demolition and Salvage Co., Inc., the engineering firm Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon, Inc., and the environmental consulting company, S&ME, Inc.

They claimed contamination of wells in the Burnett Creek area, and some such contamination, including lead, arsenic and diesel fuel residuals, was measured. But Reagan, the sinkhole property owner who gave permission for the dumping, said he had had other materials dumped in the hole, and truckload after truckload of assorted materials were removed and disposed of elsewhere. Municipal water was extended to residents in the area to assure them of clean drinking water, regardless of the condition of the wells that shared an aquifer with the sinkhole.

The ruckus over the dumping raged in the media through 2002 and 2003. Tom Chester, deputy managing editor of the News Sentinel , was among the plaintiffs, based on his family’s residence in the affected area. The Burnett Creek residents’ class-action claim was dismissed last October, and no class action was certified.

At one time or another, nearly 50 attorneys for the defendants and their insurance companies were involved in the proceedings, according to court documents. Whether monetary damages or attorneys’ fees were a part of the settlement agreement could not immediately be determined because of the parties’ adherence to the confidentiality agreement.

Not For Sale

The 400-acre camp in the foothills of the Smokies, about eight miles south of downtown Maryville, has been in operation since 1948. Tens of thousands of East Tennesseans have memories of summer weeks at Camp Montvale: It includes swimming pools, a mess hall, several cabins, a fine creek, and lots of woods. It’s on the site of Montvale Springs, which had previously been a mountain resort hotel that had a national reputation, even in the antebellum period.

“We’ve had some pretty tough times in attracting kids,” Dickson says, mainly due to the competition. “There are so many different choices for kids—science and soccer camps.” There are, in fact, 34 camps accredited by the American Camping Association within 100 miles of Camp Montvale.

“We had a rough summer; we’ve lost lots and lots of money out there.” Dickson says it costs $450,000 annually to keep the camp open, insured, and staffed. The camp can accommodate 120 kids, and at full capacity, it pays for itself. But last year, Dickson says, it was attracting only 60-80 campers per week.

The YMCA has estimated they would need to recruit another 200 new campers to keep Camp Montvale afloat, and this past year it just didn’t happen.

They looked for a partner to help run the place, but nothing worked out.  “In November, the corporate board decided they would not keep the camp open,” Dickson says. “That led to people thinking all kind of wild things are gonna happen.” One rumor held that the camp was for sale, which led to speculation that it would become the next subdivision or chalet resort.

“But we just decided we’re not gonna hold a camp next year. It’s pretty much in mothballs until we decide what to do.”

Dickson is hopeful it will remain a camp for kids, in some sort of association with the Y. He says he’s in discussions with three different groups with potential to mount camping programs that are consistent with the Y’s ideals. 

Risqué Business

Despite County Commission and City Council’s unanimous passage of two stringent adult-business ordinances back in March and May, respectively, little has changed. But if, or when, enacted, the ordinances would require each employee and business to obtain an adult-business license; bookstores and cabarets would close by midnight, on Sundays and on national holidays, and full nudity would be discontinued, as would lap dances and on-site alcohol consumption. Reasons given for such ordinances allege the deleterious secondary effects of adult operations.

“It seems like it’s always a sort of embattled business, but we just continue on,” says Lynn Davis, who manages The Emerald Club, a strip club on Clinton Highway. “But I don’t feel personally the way they’re doing it is legal.”

That’s why The Emerald Club and other businesses—Th’Katch, West Knox News, The Mouse’s Ear and The Last Chance Adult Theater—have sued for infringement of their first-amendment rights, among other things.

In July, Metro Pulse reported that the ordinances would be enforced at any time, so why the holdup? Both law directors say that with lawsuits pending in circuit court against the city and the county, they’re holding off on enforcement, in part because doing so now could result in future financial damages.

“Enforcement now could result potentially in damages,” says City Law Director Morris Kizer.

County Law Director Mike Moyers concedes, “If ultimately the court were to rule that we had an unconstitutional ordinance, we would not want to have been enforcing it in the meantime…. We made the decision (to hold off on enforcement) because we wanted to have more time to adequately prepare our summary judgment motion.”

Lawyers representing local adult businesses are sanguine that a recent Supreme Court ruling regarding the late ’90s shutdown of a local adult bookstore, Fantasy Video, bodes well for their own cases. (While in operation, Fantasy Video was cited 53 times in four months for violation of an ordinance that excluded adult businesses from opening within 1,000 feet of neighborhoods, churches or bars.) In that ruling, the high court voted that the adult-business ordinance, specifying such a business by its “substantial” or “significant” amount of adult inventory, was unconstitutionally vague.

Kizer says the city’s intentions are undeterred by the ruling. “[Fantasy Video] had to do with a location ordinance pertaining to adult bookstores. The lawsuits filed in September (against the city) have to do with a licensing ordinance.”

Still, some think the Fantasy Video loss has made city and county officials more conscious of the consequences of hasty new laws. “They just lost a big lawsuit against Fantasy Video, and then they find out later like, ‘whoops that wasn’t legal,’ so I think they’re being smarter this time,” says Davis.

Whether or not the ruling will affect the pending lawsuits, it has encouraged the revision of the vague location ordinance.

The modified ordinance, up for review by Metropolitan Planning Commission this week, specifies that a shop with 35 percent adult inventory is an adult operation. Kizer hopes this will make things more precise.

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