Urban growth edges outward into county's west end

By Kathy Helms-Hughes and Thomas Wilson

   Urban growth took a step forward as the city of Elizabethton took its first step of broad annexation under the Urban Growth Plan law.
   The city's director of Planning and Development, David Ornduff, said the Urban Growth Plan had proven to be an effective tool during the first year of effectively plotting the city's growth.
   "We are one year into the plan," said Ornduff. "It is a good gauge to let us know in planning preparation to help hold down costs to the city," said Ornduff.
   Urban growth law legislation was enacted by the Tennessee legislature in 1998 as an effort to address the problems created by urban sprawl. The plan provides a meticulous pattern of development rather than annexing property purely on request or whim.
   The Elizabethton Urban Growth Plan was adopted by Elizabethton City Council on Dec. 9, 1999. The existing plan extends from 2002-2007.
   The Tennessee Local Government Advisory Committee (TLGAC) designated the city as the Regional Planning Commission encompassing the Urban Growth Boundary in May 2002.
   The city's annexation took in 645 new residents primarily in the Happy Valley/Milligan area of the county. The majority of residents affected had access to the city water service and were covered under fire and police protection.
   "Under PC 1101, they've got their urban growth areas and they can annex without any request now," said Chris Schuettler, Director of Planning for Carter County. "They can go out there if they want, and take a piece of property, and the county has no say-so."
   While in office last year, former county executive, Truman Clark, wrote the state's Planning Assistance Office in Nashville contesting the adoption of expansion to the regional planning commission by the City of Elizabethton.
   Sitting County Executive Dale Fair said he didn't feel annexation was a major issue facing the county right now.
   "I know that it precludes Johnson City from coming in and doing a lot of expansion into our county now," said Fair. "That was their way of keeping the big communities from coming into the small communities."
   The Urban Growth Boundary is an area containing the corporate limits of a municipality and the adjoining territory where growth is expected to occur over the next 20 years. Urban Growth Boundaries include:
   * Territory that is reasonably compact yet sufficiently large to accommodate residential and nonresidential growth projected to occur over the next 20 years.
   * Territory that surrounds the existing boundaries of the city.
   * Territory that can be projected as a likely site of high density industrial or commercial use over the next 20 years.
   West Side Elementary School Principal Rick Wilson said if larger expansions in to the county's west end occurred, the city might have to rethink school zones to avoid overcrowding.
   "We can handle 280 students pretty comfortably," said Wilson. "If it gets over that number something will have to be done. They will have to redraft the school zones."
   State law sets strict student-to-teacher classroom ratios for public school systems, particularly in grades K-3.
   Each municipality must agree on an urban growth plan requiring responsible planning with the commitment to provide services to urbanizing areas and to preserve rural agricultural areas, recreational areas and forestland.
   "Every five years, it is reviewed, for the conformity to the plan, and to see that the community is growing and meeting the changes of the citizens through that growth," said Ornduff.