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OUR OPINION: Kingston battle one needing introspection

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It’s hard to blame the residents of the Davis and Dogwood drive neighborhoods in Kingston for feeling sucker-punched.

Dogwood Drive residents have enjoyed an almost-forgotten paradise of tree-lined streets, woods and — for some of them — waterfront.

It’s a mature neighborhood populated with current and retired Oak Ridge Reservation scientists and workers.

Thanks to the lake, a hill that separates them from Interstate 40 and an almost unnoticed entrance, residents here have enjoyed relative quiet and isolation. It’s a place where birdsong punctuates the air and people get out and walk their neighborhood. They know their neighbors.

Many residents there and on nearby Davis Drive knew the pie-shaped 47-acre hillside tract above them could be developed, but it was zoned residential. They had no reason to believe  the hill that blocks the interstate noise might be shaved down, the woods cleared and a car dealership and big-box store moved in.

But after last week’s vote by the Kingston Planning Commission to change the zoning to commercial, that possibility is real.

All that is left is for the Kingston City Council to present it for two readings, hold a public hearing, and let it pass.

The developers — Steve Kirkham and Jerry Duncan — are experienced. As Kirkham noted, they successfully built the Pinnacle Pointe development around Lowe’s and Kroger, and it has transformed that part of the county into a serious economic engine.

And while Kirkham touted the look of the Pinnacle Pointe development, he  did not mention the protracted lawsuit with the city of Harriman after state auditors said the city should be reimbursed $234,685 for public funds spent on private development. City Attorney Harold Balcom later said engineering data indicated the city should be owed around $2 million.

The developers countersued, and the issue went into mediation. Although not all details have been worked out, the developers agreed to donate to the city’s capital improvement fund $5,000 per lot after the remaining three lots are sold at Pinnacle Pointe for a total of $15,000. The project engineering firm agreed to pay $30,000 to be released from all claims.

The Pinnacle Pointe project is starkly  different from the Kingston proposal, residents are quick to point out.

Hwy. 70 was already targeted as a commercial corridor, and the project is served by four lanes to handle traffic. Impact on existing neighborhoods was minimal.

Dogwood Drive — which would be the access point to the new development — is choked between the Kentucky Street’s interstate exhange and the waterfront. There’s not a lot of room to maneuver. Major traffic changes —  likely to include more traffic lights — would be required by anyone’s assessment.

Kingston officials must weigh economic gains with breaking the trust of some of their best and — until now — least troublesome citizens.

While the city has heavily invested in the Gallaher Road area as its commercial district, little is happening there.

We feel the council will likely choose the financial gains of increased property and sales tax. If so, we hope it will at least do everything it can to mitigate the harm to their peace and quiet, lifestyles and property values of the impacted neighborhoods.

The residents deserve that — and more.