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Kingston neighborhood fears development proposal

By Terri Likens, Editor

For now, the residents of the well-established Woodhaven neighborhood in Kingston have it good.


Songbirds warble from massive tulip poplars. Although nearby Interstate 40 carries a steady stream of traffic, the road noise is dampened by a nearly 50-acre wooded hill between them.

There’s a sense of calm in this lush, waterfront community near the convergence of the Emory and Clinch rivers.

“This is one of the most tranquil neighborhoods in Kingston,” said resident LeAnn Qualls, who has lived there for nearly two decades.

But her brow furrows.

She, her husband, Lou, and their neighbors fear a potentially disruptive proposal to build a car lot — essentially moving Jerry Duncan Ford from downtown Harriman to the site — and adding a big-box store to boot.

On paper, the proposed Kingston Pointe development appears to fill the wedge-shaped parcel along the interstate, impacting Woodhaven and nearby Davis Drive.

“Everything that Lou and I moved out of Knoxville for is being threatened,” said Qualls, whose home is on the water at the end of the peninsula.

Lou, a nuclear scientist at Oak Ridge, noted that plans for the proposal show little in the way of buffers to the neighborhood.

“I’m all for capitalism,” he said, but added, “These residential neighborhoods are going to be hit pretty bad.”

The parcel is currently zoned residential, but developers – the same ones who built Pinnacle Pointe with Lowe’s and Kroger in Harriman – have asked Kingston for a change to commercial.

Jerry Duncan, his wife Judy and business partner Steve Kirkham own the vacant land on Davis Drive in Kingston.

They acquired the land via quit-claim deed from DK Properties LLC, one of their business entities, on Aug. 2, 2010.

The proposal came before Kingston’s Planning Commission on April 22, but after Browder Williams of Woodhaven read a letter expressing neighborhood residents’ concerns, the issue was put off until May 20 — next week.

However, City Manager David Bolling said it has been pulled from the agenda again while the city gets more information from the developers.

“Any kind of development on that piece of property will take a lot of work,” Bolling said.

That should be good news to the residents who will be impacted.

“We’re hoping they move slowly,” said Lou Qualls.

He and John Williams, a University of Tennessee junior who grew up in the neighborhood, recently walked the hillside to try to piece together what’s on paper with the actual topography.

For Williams, a lifetime of roaming the wooded hill sparked his interest in nature and a major in wildlife management.

He picked up one of the many mature box turtles that live on the site.

He also found several chestnut burrs, but whether they are from old remnant trees or more recently introduced Chinese chestnut varieties could not be determined.

At the top of the hill, which rises about 200 feet above the neighborhood, is a huge sinkhole.

Lou Qualls wondered about the sinkhole and the excavation necessary to develop the hill.

Leveling it, he said, was bound to eliminate the interstate noise buffer.

He and other neighbors are also concerned about road access to the site — and more potential disruption to their neighborhood.

He isn’t against commercial development on the site — but he said it needs to be done with care.

A better solution, he said, would be more modest development with lots of green-space buffers.

When the planning commission meets again, neighborhood residents will be ready with their thoughts.

They have compiled a list of their concerns and options they think would preserve their peace but allow some development.

Those include that only a limited area of the property be rezoned to accommodate the dealership, and that even then, to defer rezoning until a clearer definition of the dealership plan is submitted.

They also want the city to forbid clear-cutting and earthwork until businesses are ready to come in, so they don’t have to live next to a bare piece of property in the meantime.

Also important are entrance barriers and modifications to protect the neighborhood from vehicle traffic, pedestrian traffic, light and sound pollution and require entrance and barrier construction prior to commercial development.

The residents need safe methods to drive, walk and bicycle into and out of the neighborhood.

Woodhaven residents also hope the city will work to preserve natural contours and mature forests in a buffer to the neighborhood.

If their property is severely impacted, they are asking for purchase at fair-market value and tax relief from the city and county.

Lou Qualls, who plans to submit the letter, wrote, “I also do not assume the property owners intend to be unfriendly neighbors ....

“The task before is, of course, complex, but I remain optimistic that we can all work together to get it right.”