citybeat (2007-02)

Ridgetop development will continue on Cherokee Trail

The proverbial Big Orange keg hasn’t run dry, yet

Wednesday, Jan. 3

Moving Dirt

Driving down Cherokee Trail’s narrow and winding roadway is like driving deep into the Smokies, yet it’s less than two miles from downtown proper. East of UT Medical Center, en route to the Vestal area, the scenic drive suddenly opens up, and a large tract of dirt appears on the north side of the road which was once a large, heavily wooded area known as the Rose Property.

The property of more than 100 acres straddles the road. On the south side, a gated community known as the Woodlands (phase one of a three-phase project) has already been completed by Athens, Georgia-based developer David Mulkey of Dovetail Development.

“The developer has all along tried to be the good guy,” says M.D. Kirkpatrick, a longtime resident of the nearby Log Haven property. “He doesn’t do anything more than listen to our concerns. Then, he does what he wants…. Vestal is such an underappreciated area. It’s also economically poor. So city council probably thought this development would be a good thing for the area.”

Development may have been inevitable, with nearby projects in the works on the riverfront. “All the groups that negotiated with Dovetail [The Log Haven Community & Friends of Cherokee Trail, The Knox Land & Water Conservancy, The Cherokee Bluffs Council of Co-owners and The South Knoxville Arts & Heritage Center] gave their stamp of approval on the project,” says Karen Bailey of the Knox County Parks and Recreation Department. Mulkey agreed to set aside 50 percent of the Rose Property as greenspace, which will allow for a greenway easement through the property. “The existing tree cover is not what could be called a mature forest anyway,” Bailey continues, “but if half the land is left uncleared, it will be nice forest someday. However, [Mulkey] wants to have a private park for his residents as well, so it probably won’t be left in a completely natural state either.”

That’s the problem, according to other residents of the area. Charlie Richmond, formerly an architect with Baumann & Baumann, says that he and others gave city council a reluctant OK only after Dovetail began to dig into the hill under the guise of a borrow-pit permit, which allowed Dovetail to operate earth-moving equipment on the property even before the city had approved the plan (aerial views of the proposed development are available at http://agenda.knoxmpc.org/2006/Oct06/8-I-06-UR.pdf ).

“We said OK only because the hill wasn’t there anymore,” Richmond says.

Phase two of Dovetail’s Woodlands development has been met with increased scrutiny because it’s believed to be the site of a Civil War skirmish, remembered as the Battle of Armstrong Hill.

“It hadn’t been touched since the Civil War,” Richmond continues. “I’m all for development, but that hill is worth more historically than it would ever be worth as a development…. We don’t have to develop everything.”

Dovetail Development could not be reached for comment by press time; however, Dovetail’s local attorneys have always maintained that there is no evidence that there was ever any Civil War activity on the Rose Property.

“On Armstrong Hill, no one would give UT permission to come in and investigate the site [to search for evidence of a skirmish]. The city needs to step up to the plate,” Richmond adds. “They haven’t stepped up.”

Bailey says that all anyone can do is “make sure that Mulkey follows through with the 50 percent protected open space in the form of a conservation easement or a deed restriction that truly protects the resources.”

For the first phase of the Woodlands development, Dovetail proceeded by clear-cutting an 18-acre site that had been approved by Knox County. This past summer, the developers did some minimal landscaping. A few saplings were planted along Cherokee Trail. Many of these, residents noticed, were dead before they were even put in the ground. Residents continue to make the claim that nothing is as it seems.

Revenge of the Nerds?

There’s been plenty of buzz lately about the University of Tennessee’s latest batch of freshmen being its “best and brightest.” UT likes to talk about how the HOPE scholarship has raised the academic bar: One-third of the 4,200 freshmen who started classes this year had a core GPA of 4.0, the average ACT score has jumped from 24.3 to 26.1 over the past five years, and the university is turning away thousands of freshman applicants each year.

Other statistics don’t get quite as much press. In the scholarship’s first two years, 2004 and 2005, about 40 percent of the HOPE recipients wound up forfeiting their scholarships due to a fallen GPA, according to statistics provided by Jeff Gerkin, assistant dean and director of UT’s Office of Financial Aid & Scholarships. Of the 2004 recipient group, only about 8 percent were able to successfully reapply.

And then there are the stats compiled by The Princeton Review in its 2007 edition of Best 361 Colleges , which has UT holding fast to its ranking as the No. 16 party school in the nation (down, at least, from No. 1 in 2001). Other unflattering superlatives include being ranked No. 6 in the “Jock School” category, No. 9 in “Alternative Lifestyles Not an Alternative,” and No. 20 in “Their Students (Almost) Never Study.”

What gives? When it comes to the UT student body’s image, there appears to be a difference of opinion.

Robert Franek, lead author of Best 361 Colleges , argues that like it or not, his annual survey is accurate, even though its data-collection methodology is based on voluntary survey. “That’s because our rankings are based on the opinions of current college students, who we consider to be college experts,” he explains. He notes that in the case of a large school like UT, the rankings are based not on the opinions of a few students, but of the thousands of students who respond to their online survey.

Franek says that in the past, UT has been “overwhelmingly positive and helpful” toward the Review’s data-collecting efforts, even if they may run contrary to the University’s best interests. “I don’t think you’re going to find this kind of information in a glossy school-sponsored view book of classes being taught outside on a grassy lawn under a shade tree,” he says.

Others argue that The Princeton Review ’s rankings are misleading, representative of the opinion of some but not all students. Justin Carnegie, a freshman in aerospace engineering, says UT’s social scene isn’t as wild as he thought it was going to be. “I knew about the parties,” he says, “but they didn’t distract me from doing my schoolwork.”

Today, two days before spring semester classes begin, Carnegie is standing near the end of a long line in the basement of the Student Services Building, dressed in a ball cap and slouchy jeans, waiting to pay his fees. Carnegie takes pride in the fact that they’ll come out of his own bank account, but he admits that being a HOPE Scholarship recipient helps.

Each year, between 3,000 and 3,500 incoming UT freshmen take advantage of the scholarship, which rewards students who earn a minimum 21 ACT score or a 3.0 GPA with up to $3,800 each academic year, to be used toward an in-state four-year university. To maintain the scholarship, students must keep at least a 2.75 GPA after 24 semester hours and at least a 3.0 GPA after 48 semester hours. In other words, freshmen have a little elastic in their academic waistbands, but not much.

Angie Smith, UT’s director of judicial affairs, says, “I think we have seen a shift with students in that they do seem to be more concerned about grades and about their GPAs, which is good.” While the rate of disciplinary issues hasn’t gone down with the incoming lottery student scholarships, Smith notes that it hasn’t gone up, either. But other more positive trends may be on the rise, she suggests.

“It’s been really interesting to watch the student body change,” she says. “While they’re very ambitious [academically], they’re also very interested in reaching out to the community. I think they’re taking some ownership of the community; they appear to have an interest in how they’re being seen by the community.” She points to the student-initiated green campus movement as an example.

Maybe the student body senses that the community is holding it to a higher standard these days, and now it’s trying to live up to its own image. But old reputations can be hard to shake, especially when thousands of students are campaigning to preserve them—whether through their actions or online surveys.

Pigeonholing 26,000 students is hard work.

SEVEN DAYS

Wednesday, Jan. 3

Thursday, Jan. 4

Friday, Jan. 5

Saturday, Jan. 6

Sunday, Jan. 7

Monday, Jan. 8

Tuesday, Jan. 9