Planners iron out details of county litter resolution

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

STAR STAFF
khelms@starhq.com

   Carter County Planning Commission members met in a workshop Monday afternoon to hammer out details of a countywide litter-control resolution.
   Planner John D. Snyder told the group, "It's hard to go jump on a property owner when we've got businesses that can't even clean up their property."
   One of the issues that concerned Synder was junked vehicles parked along a highway right-of-way. Chris Schuettler, county planning administrator, told the group that an opinion issued several years ago by a General Sessions Court judge held that any vehicle which is not tagged is considered inoperable. The county has three state agencies which can help the county with right-of-way enforcement.
   Regional Planner Albert Teilhet said parking cars on a state right-of-way is not a junk or a litter problem. "That's a traffic enforcement safety problem."
   Snyder asked what control the resolution provided, "when you come out here in the county and a mechanic moves a garage in, and he's got 15 or 20 cars he's working on. What do you do about that?"
   Another planner asked, "What if a man has vintage automobiles sitting on his property that he plans someday to repair?"
   Bob Hughes, chairman of the planning commission, said the county encountered a similar problem a few years back. "We went and discussed it with him and he agreed to put them under a shed or hide them in a big barn. He [also] put a fence up so you couldn't see them, and we didn't have any more problems."
   Teilhet said county residents are allowed up to five operable vehicles. "If you've got more than five, you're going to have to put them in a building or hide them."
   County Executive Dale Fair cautioned planners that if they want to be successful, they may have to crawl before they can walk.
   "If you try to do too much, you might not be successful in any of it. A lot of people in our county, for whatever reason, like to collect old cars. We need to be considerate of that," Fair said. The initial objective should be "road appeal," or controlling waste within 50 feet of a roadway.
   The first part of the litter resolution, if passed, gives the county authority to enforce cleanup within 50 feet of a county highway. The second part of the resolution addresses property more than 50 feet from a county roadway. Before that portion can be enforced, the county must have the General Assembly amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 5-1-115, allowing the resolution to be extended to owner-occupied property. Once amended, the second portion of the resolution would have to be passed by a two-thirds vote of the county commission.
   The resolution, if approved by the planning commission at its meeting next week and then passed by the county commission in April, also would apply to rental property.
   "But who's the violator?" Fair asked. "The tenant or the owner of the property?"
   Teilhet said it is the responsibility of the owner to control the tenant. Section IV of the resolution states: "It is the obligation of the owner(s) of property to maintain such property so as not to endanger the health, safety or welfare of county residents so as not to violate the terms of this resolution. If said property fails to comply with the above-stated regulations, the property owner(s) is responsible and liable."
   Teilhet said that Schuettler would work with the property owners to help them come into compliance.
   Fair told the group, "I think just talking with them will encourage them to clean up. The way we're going here is the road appeal first and then if two-thirds of the commission wants to go the full gamut later on, that's fine.
   "This first leg of it is going to be a lot to enforce. We've got a big county and a lot of roads. You're going to get people telling on people and trying to get them to clean up. I know as soon as we pass this, somebody is going to be saying, 'Well, if you go 3 miles up this road ...' We just can't fix all those. We're going to have a lot just to enforce what's along the highway," Fair said.
   Schuettler told planners that good common sense would go a long way toward enforcement. "Let's take it slow and easy and get it rolling. You can't legislate morality and you can't legislate cleanliness. But you can instill neighborhood pride. Once they see Chris clean up, Albert's going to clean up, Bob's going to clean up, and it will happen."