'Service station' causes zoning uproar

By Kathy Helms-Hughes

   If you were a member of the Carter County Planning Commission and someone asked you whether a business that changes tires could be considered a "service station," what would you say?
   The debate as to what constitutes a "service station" is one planners took up last month and likely will consider again when it meets in May. Chris Schuettler, planning administrator, said the term as it is used in the county zoning ordinance means a place that sells gasoline. If there's no gasoline, there's no service station.
   Freeman Taylor, a well-known Carter County businessman, apparently has a different interpretation. Taylor has leased a piece of property he owns at the corner of Highway 91 and Green Valley Lane to his son, Phillip Taylor, and partner Tim Rutherford. They in turn have opened Unaka Service Station. They do not sell gasoline, but they will send you off the lot sporting a new set of tires.
   Planners and neighbors say this is not acceptable and that the business is in violation of the county zoning ordinance. Unaka Service Station is zoned B-1 (Neighborhood) Business District. Permitted uses in B-1 include: grocery stores, drug stores, barber and beauty shops, laundry and dry cleaning pick-up stations, Laundromats, gift shops, shoe repair shops, hardware stores, commercial nurseries, and similar uses. Gasoline service stations also are permitted.
   Webster's New World Dictionary defines "service station" as: "A place providing maintenance service, parts, supplies, etc. for mechanical or electrical equipment;" and, "a place providing such service, and selling gasoline and oil, for motor vehicles; gas station."
   At last month's planning commission meeting, planners voted to ask County Attorney George Dugger to look into the Unaka Service Station matter. "It's a clear violation of the zoning resolution," Schuettler said. Taylor's options are "to request a rezoning to come into compliance; request an amendment to the zoning resolution; or to cease and desist. The amendment would have to add 'tire store' into the B-1 zone," he said.
   County Executive Dale Fair met with concerned parties last week and said afterward that the planning commission will be asked to consider an amendment to B-1. "If they pass that, then it will go to the full commission to do an amendment ... If they say, 'No, we're not going to change it because it's pretty specific in our eyes,' then we probably will get to the point where we follow through and he [Taylor] has to not do that type of business. If he wants to take it and let a judge decide, we'll let a judge decide.
   "B-1 does permit a service station. There is a definition of service station, and a service station has to sell gas. It doesn't say tire store. That doesn't go along with the intent of a B-1." Fair said the definition needs to be clarified before any action is taken. The change in B-1 would apply to all zoned areas, not just the Taylor property, he said.
   In 2000, Taylor approached the planning commission and neighbors and agreed to B-1 zoning, according to Schuettler. "It went before the County Commission as a B-3 and was voted down. It came back as a B-1. We met with the adjoining property owners and everyone was in agreement.
   "On Jan. 3, a building permit was requested by Freeman Taylor. His son, Kirby Taylor, came in to pick up the permit for a 30-by-50 building," Schuettler said. The permit was issued under Freeman Taylor's name in Civil District 9.
   Freeman Taylor was sent a Notice of Violation for the tire store on April 14 by the planning commission. The notice advised that inspection of the property indicated a probable violation of Section 605, B-1, and advised Taylor to contact Schuettler or Jack Hampton at the planning office immediately.
   "Mr. Taylor, after receiving his letter, gave me a call and stated that he had a service station," Schuettler told planners at the April meeting. "He said it was a service station without gasoline. I explained to Mr. Taylor that by definition, it's wrong, and that he has some remedies: that he could get a rezoning request, or if he doesn't agree with what I interpret the regulation for gasoline/service station, to go to the Board of Zoning Appeals for confirmation. He basically stated that he was going to do that."
   Schuettler said there also was another problem. Taylor's Notice of Violation went out April 14. "He received it on the 15th and came in and acquired a business license" on April 16.
   A copy of the application for business tax license, signed by Phillip Taylor and dated April 16, describes the planned activities at Unaka Service Station as "convenience store/service station."
   Schuettler told planners, "As you are well aware, a tire store does not consist of gasoline and service station. A tire store is considered automobile repair. It's not a maintenance system. A service station is somewhere where you maybe get an oil change or a brake job. You definitely sell gasoline." The tire store, he said, is "neither one."
   David Honeycutt, a resident of Green Valley Lane who attended the planning meeting, said neighbors originally agreed to change the zoning from residential to B1 because they wanted Taylor to be able to use his land. "But we wanted it used for something that would not deter from our subdivision."
   County Attorney Dugger told residents, "I worked with you the last time and I'll work with you this time, but there's a procedure that we have to follow." Dugger said if an agreement can't be reached, then the county commission has to authorize him to bring suit against Taylor.
   "The only way that you can get compliance is go to Chancery Court and get a restraining order or an injunction against him to remove his business. That's an expensive project for the county. But if you've got these regulations, you're going to have to enforce them."
   Cecil Eggers, whose property adjoins Taylor's, said he thought the issue was resolved two years ago. "It's not the people of Green Valley Lane that's saying we want something done. The planning commission is the one that's saying he's not in compliance."
   Eggers said he believes amending B-1 will create more problems "because you've got to amend everything over the whole county. I don't think the people of Carter County would want something like that to start. If you don't do what your zoning regulations are, then you might as well do away with zoning. And if we do away with zoning, our county's doomed. ... Companies don't want to move in and then be afraid that somebody would move right in beside of them and do something that would hurt their business."
   Eggers said he has no problem with Taylor having a business next door. "As long as it's in with what we all agreed on, he won't hear a complaint out of me at all, and I don't think he'll hear anything out of the planning commission.
   "You can't rezone every piece of property to fit everybody's liking. If a B-1 says that you can't have a trailer park in it, for example, then you don't have a trailer park in it. It's just that simple," he said.