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GUEST OPINION: Kingston: A case for thoughtful planning made

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By GEOFFREY A. WHITEHEAD
Kingston has, in the past, recognized the intrinsic value of having trees, forests and greenbelt areas, environmental qualities that give character to the historic city nestled in the wooded ridges of the Clinch and Tennessee river valleys.  

The city has been designated as a Tree City for three years by The Arbor Day Foundation with a sign displayed on North Kentucky Street.  To apply and become a Tree City requires:
• A tree board or department.
• A tree care ordinance.
• A community forestry program with an annual budget of at least $2 per capita.
• An Arbor Day observance and proclamation.

With one fell swoop, city leaders are now dismissing such intrinsic value with Planning Commission and City Council approval to allow destruction of a 45-acre mature forest greenbelt on private land.   

Contrary to the reasons for being a Tree City, their actions show that trees, conservation and the environment are not an important part of life in the community.

The particular forested ridge affected is central to the scenic heritage resources of Kingston and had been accorded tax-sheltered greenbelt forest and residential status.  

Not only does this area provide wildlife habitat and clean air, that amount of forest acreage receives a lot of water during excessive rainfall periods, helping to control runoff and protect water quality, something brought shockingly to the minds of residents by coal ash.  

The anguish caused by the loss of trees in the recent tornadic storm will pale in comparison to this forest being clearcut, bulldozed and replaced with a car dealership, big-box store complex, pavement and industrial lighting.

Consider that Kingston is the Historic Gateway to the Cumberlands, from its 1790s Avery Trace beginnings to the present.  Kingston has two outstanding scenic vistas, crown jewels by most standards.  Both of these vistas are echoes of the Avery Trace, the original wilderness trail through the Cumberlands across Tennessee.  Fort Southwest Point was established to protect travelers and Cherokee people along this route.  

The view of Southwest Point across the lake from the Hwy. 70 dike is inspiring.  Equally inspiring through the years to multitudes of travelers is the layered forest vista of Walden Ridge as you approach the Kingston exit travelling west on I-40.  

That vista is a modern-day scenic representation that Kingston historically was and is the Gateway to the Cumberlands, a frontier heritage that has been understated as a strategic promotion of resources for tourism and economic development.  

The area slated for commercial development is centered in this vista.
Modern-day Kingston is a historic bedroom community. In the years during and after World War II, Kingston grew as a bedroom community for those nuclear scientists, engineers and tradesmen working at Oak Ridge.

Kingston saw a building boom during the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, going from trailer parks along the lake to modern homes that increased the population several thousand.  

Entrusted with the nation’s most-guarded secrets, these people entrusted their families to the quiet residential safety of Kingston.  

Today, some of those original residents and many of their children and grandchildren still live here while continuing the work of Oak Ridge.  

This heritage has never been formally acknowledged but contributed immeasurably to the unique character and prosperity of Kingston and its people.  

The integrity of the affected residential neighborhoods in Woodhaven off Dogwood Drive and Lakewood Heights on Davis Drive is worthy of protecting for this fact alone.

Kingston’s small business community has survived through the years with difficulty.

A few old businesses are still around while newer ones have started and are making a go of it.  

The proposed big-box development will gut the small businesses by cannibalizing sales. For city leaders to allow this is rather disingenuous.  
If they really want to help the business community, then adopt policies that strengthen and increase the residential community, for that is where demand for business services comes from.  The nearby development at Midtown is still not built out but has already adversely affected small business in the area.  

How much more damage to the small business base do Kingston city leaders want to cause?  

Have they really thought this through?

Kingston apparently does not have a comprehensive plan as outlined in the Tennessee Planning Commissioner Handbook: “A Closer Look at Zoning.”  

Such a comprehensive plan provides for wise stewardship of resources while providing thoughtful guidance to community and economic development, consistent with larger community objectives of heritage preservation, environmental protection, continuity of land use, integrity of residential communities, minimal impact of commercialization and reasoned guidance on spot zoning.  

The handbook states that: “A comprehensive plan is the best place to provide background and explanation of why a particular zoning regulation or district may be needed and what goal it seeks to promote,” and “generally, spot zoning is an upzoning of property to a more intensive use than before, with the effect of allowing development inconsistent with the surrounding area and transferring benefit to the property owner to the detriment of others. A zoning’s reasonableness is fairly debated in this circumstance, and can be construed unreasonable by a court, especially where a comprehensive plan provides little or no guidance on the rezoning.”

A thoughtful plan would not allow rezoning of noncontiguous residential property to commercial use without long and careful consideration of the impact and requisite mitigation measures.  

No thought seems to have been given to this, as Kingston does not have a comprehensive plan.  

Reworking the Kingston exit with a frontage road corridor and scenery-marring big-box development will change the character of Kingston as we know it. In this instance, failing to plan is planning to fail in ways yet to be realized.

In contrast, by choosing to develop at Gallaher Road, first-mover advantage could accrue to the developers. In addition, by supporting Kingston as a central historic residential community with commercial districts on its flanks at Midtown and Gallaher, an unparalleled desirable community would continue to flourish, thereby increasing property values overall. Such development would, in addition to the I-40 traffic, draw from the Oak Ridge demographic.  Gallaher is ready to go with infrastructure and improved highway as well as better topographic grades for lower site preparation costs. The Midtown development is already directed toward the residential consumer.  If the Kingston tract was developed with quality residential, the developers could add customers to the existing business base and to the future businesses developed at Midtown and Gallaher Road.  

Gallaher offers far more potential for large- scale development. The exit will handle increased traffic as is, and the highway there offers a better place to test drive vehicles.

The residents and small businesses have been the ones who supported and brought Kingston to where it is today.  

Through wars, recessions and a recent environmental disaster with TVA coal ash, city leaders have had the support of the people.  

I don’t believe they have that support on this rezoning and development as proposed. If put to a referendum, this measure would likely fail.

City Council, dance with the ones that brought you, engender goodwill and at least table this motion. Take the time to develop a more thoughtful plan than this piecemeal ad hoc approach.  

The people of Kingston deserve better.  

Do the right thing and make the hard choice to table or vote down this rezoning.  This development as proposed does not have the support of the people.  People vote in two ways, at the ballot box and with their pocketbooks. Voters can turn against elected officials and also refuse to be a customer of a business.

How’s that going to work attempting to operate a newly built business after alienating Kingston residents and customers?  Betrayal of trust has permanent consequences.  As Abraham Lincoln said, “If once you forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem.”

Geoffrey A. Whitehead grew up in Kingston and, as a park ranger naturalist, implemented the first operations on the Hiwassee State Scenic River and the Ocoee River Recreation Area for the state of Tennessee. Subsequently, he served on and chaired the Planning Commission in Polk County, Tenn., as well as serving on the Governor’s Strategic Planning Task Force for Regional Economic Development in Southeast Tennessee. Since, he has worked in public accounting as a CPA and at present is an analyst. His family has owned property in Kingston for more than 60 years.