Clean-up continues with junkyard resolution

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   The Carter County Planning Commission continued its "spring cleaning" Tuesday by passing a resolution to amend portions of its zoning ordinance to control unsightly junkyards.
   The idea of revising the ordinance was brought up at last month's meeting as planners were finalizing language in the litter resolution presented to the Carter County Commission and passed by that body on Monday.
   State planner Albert Teilhet drafted the amended resolution which would change portions of the zoning ordinance. According to Teilhet, any new junkyard or salvage operation must be set back 500 feet from any county road or dwelling. The setbacks for side and rear lot lines must be 50 feet, except for dwellings.
   "So in other words, if you're not within 500 feet of a dwelling, your setback will be 50 feet. If you are, then your setback will be whatever it takes," Teilhet said. The first 50 feet of the setback also must be maintained grass. "It can't have stuff on it," he said.
   Subsection C, pertaining to planted buffer strips was deleted and a new section (4) added, pertaining to existing automobile wrecking yards, Teilhet said. "The new ones are going to have to meet the 500 feet setback. The old ones -- existing automobile wrecking yards -- within 500 feet of a county road shall erect a fence or plant a buffer strip determined by the planning commission. The fence shall be at least 8 feet high and sufficient to conceal the automobile wrecking yard from the view of a person standing at ground level," he said.
   Teilhet also borrowed from Section 10 of the "Carter County Junkyard Control Act of 1991" to make allowances for existing operations.
   According to the private act, "In the case of automobile graveyards established prior to the passage of this act, the owners or operators shall have six months to comply with the provisions of this act." To make the zoning amendment resolution comparable to the private act, Teilhet said he added that after passage of the resolution, "junkyards that don't have fencing will have six months to comply if they don't meet the 500-foot rule."
   While fencing will hide from public view salvage operations located on flat land alongside a roadway, as one commissioner pointed out, it would not be possible to erect a fence high enough to block the view of automobile junkyards located on a hillside -- and Carter County has several. They will remain visible.
   In conjunction with the zoning amendment, Planning Commissioner Jerry Pearman also proposed changing Section 3 of the Junkyard Control Act, which defines "automobile graveyard."
   According to the act, an automobile graveyard means "any lot or place which is exposed to the weather and upon which more than five motor vehicles of any kind, incapable of being operated, and which it would not be economically practical to make operative, are placed, located or found."
   Pearman proposed changing the number of inoperable automobiles from five to three. However, according to Teilhet, while the private act has certain sections that planners could change without having to go through the Tennessee General Assembly, the definition section is not one of those.
   "That will take two-thirds vote of the county commission. It goes down there to Nashville, then comes back here and is ratified," he said.
   Commissioner John D. Snyder recommended that if planners were going to try to get the act changed, then they needed to include other items not currently in the regulations. "We had trouble over in Watauga with a man taking scrap metal and salvaging it. We don't have a thing to cover that," Snyder said.
   Planning Administrator Chris Schuettler said, "Tennessee Code exempts agricultural uses and it also exempts recycling centers, per se."
   But Teilhet added: "Just because they say they're a scrap yard, if they don't meet the state threshold and they don't have a state license, then they're not one. The only way they can get that exemption is if they meet the state minimum standards and have their license."
   County Executive Dale Fair said Snyder brought up a good point, in that if the county was going to go to the Legislature with a request for a change in the act, "it would be prudent to look over the whole act and determine if there's anything else we want to go ahead and put in, then go ahead and change it and send it down.
   "When we send them something, let's make sure it's going to last awhile," he said.
   Planners agreed. Chairman Bob Hughes said, "Let's, as a committee, go and examine it and then we'll tell the commission what we've done and what we found when we made the investigation of it."
   Pearman withdrew the motion until the committee reviews the private act. It will be brought back up at the planners' May meeting.
   Pearman also expressed his gratitude to the group for Monday's passage of the county litter law.
   "I would like to thank the committee, fellow commissioners, and Mr. Fair for what we did yesterday in court. It was a big thing for the county, passing that litter law. We've been at it four and a half years," he said.