To zone or not to zone

By Lesley Jenkins
Star Staff
A little over four years ago, the County Commission voted to zone all districts of Carter County except for districts 2, 4 and 6. At the time, the only thing that changed was zoning in Stoney Creek. Residents of the area were divided on the issue and remain so today.
The commission voted Monday to send the topic of zoning back to the county's Planning Commission for review. Zoning can directly effect everyone in the area and those wanting to move into the area. For example, someone might purchase a few acres of and desire to place a single-wide mobile home park on the land. However, according to zoning restrictions, the person would not be allowed to do this.
Chris Schuettler, planning director for Carter County, said the only way to prevent unwanted businesses from moving in beside your front porch is through zoning. With zoning, landfills, junkyards, multifamily housing and apartments can be restricted in an area zoned against them.
For example, in Washington County, when The Mouse's Ear -- an adult-oriented business -- obtained a building permit, it was applied for as a restaurant. Adult-oriented businesses had not been addressed in the zoning regulations for Washington County when the county discovered the business had adult dancers performing. Despite petitions circulated by neighbors, nothing could be done about stopping the opening of the business.
Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Regional Director, Stan Harrison, believes many people have a problem with zoning because they think, "It's my property and I don't want anyone telling me what to do with it," he says.
However, many opposed to zoning believe they should be able to do what they want with their land but do show concern when neighbors do something not approved. Harrison said some items regulated with zoning are adult oriented businesses, junkyards, and some agricultural activities. Most farming is not restricted but high density farming can have restrictions.
Harrison gave an example from a Tennessee county that had a problem with a stock farm containing 20,000 hogs that caused a stinky nuisance. This type of extensive farming can be regulated if the county commission agrees that the problem is large enough.
He did state that not every area needs zoning. If neighbors know each other and the area is pretty stable as a residential neighborhood, Harrison said zoning might not be necessary. When neighbors communicate and show concern for one another, then there would not be a reason to request zoning.
However, if an area is luring many newcomers, people stop getting to know their neighbors and some people don't have regard for how anything they do can affect people in the next yard.
Harrison said, "Anything can end up next to you." He added that the biggest investment most people make is buying a home. Depending on the what moves in, the home's value can be cut in half.
He pointed out health and safety issues can cause depletion of a home's value. In a mobile home park, unsatisfactory sewage drains could lead to health problems not only for the park residents but for people located nearby. Mobile homes spaced too close together cause a fire hazard, which could pose a risk to neighbors in the next yard.
Entire cities are required to be zoned. But counties can choose to zone the entire county, specific sections or nothing at all. Zoning specific areas brings about problems with enforcement, said Harrison. Zoned citizens might not know the process required to open a service station or an apartment complex because their friend from an unzoned district didn't have to be approved through the local planning commission and sometimes even the county commission. Zoning protects current landowners and future landowners.
Harrison told the story of a McMinn county commissioner who changed his mind about zoning. The man was a real estate agent who was telling a prospective mover about the wonderful things in the county and why she should move there. The soon-to-be retired woman prepared a list of questions and her last one was if the county was zoned. The commissioner proudly said, "no." She told him she would not move there because the county was not zoned. Harrison said the commissioner quickly changed his mind about zoning.