Sugar Hollow project sours nearby residents

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  An apartment complex development being built in the Sugar Hollow area has a nearby residential community furious and city of Elizabethton officials concerned about the project's impact on one of its potable water sources.
  Sugar Hollow Apartments is an 88-unit apartment complex development being built near Lexington Avenue in the Colonial Acres subdivision. Although the complex includes a swimming pool and clubhouse, the apartments are registered as a government-subsidized housing development.
  The multi-family development also means a sharp jump in vehicle traffic through the rural subdivision.
  "It is not 30 feet from our subdivision," said Jeff Beaman, a resident of Colonial Acres. "With the traffic coming through our subdivision it is just going to kill us."
  Beaman is one of several Colonial Acres residents upset with the proposed project and its environmental ramifications to their neighborhood.
  Carter County Planning Director Chris Schuettler said Thursday a site plan for the development had been submitted to his office by representatives of Elizabethton Estates, a Greenwood, Miss.-based limited liability company.
  When contacted by the Star on Friday, a representative of the Johnson McAdams surveying firm in Greenwood confirmed that the company was overseeing construction of the complex but not the sewer system. The representative referred comments about the project to another private development firm and abruptly hung up midway through the interview.
  Beaman said he was concerned about the amount of sinkholes located on the property. "We are afraid it is going to run right underneath the Big Springs watershed, which is right underneath them," he said.
  City of Elizabethton officials share that concern.
  The development lies just outside the city's corporate limits but near the Big Springs water source. City director of planning and development, David Ornduff, said Thursday the city had a letter sent to developers several months ago stating the city could not handle the additional sewer capacity generated from the development. Ornduff said the sewer line size drew from reserve capacity being held in reserve by the city for industrial development.
  "We do not want to give that up and jeopardize an interest that would want to locate there," he said.
  Rick Braswell with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation's Environmental Assistance Center said last week that the state denied a proposed septic tank system for the development earlier this year. The location was found to lie within the watershed protection area for Big Springs Water Plant, however, resulting in denial of the sewage system.
  "They have originally considered a permit with the first issue under underground protection control program with division of ground water," he said. "Any time you change or alter water going to or from a sinkhole, a permit is required."
  The city pumps roughly 1.2 million gallons of water each day out of Big Springs Water Plant. The city government spent nearly $2 million to install a new filtration system at the existing Big Springs plant after the state government mandated improvements to the spring's water quality.
  Ornduff said the city would vigorously oppose any development that might negatively affect the Big Springs watershed and potable water supply to the city. Despite being located in the county, he added the project's potential impact to the Big Springs watershed made the city a player in the development's future.
  "We should have been in the loop with the submission up front," said Ornduff. "We were not informed that the project was going forward or that alternate plans had been made regarding the water or the sewer."
  The property where the apartments are planned lies outside the city's existing corporate limits but within the city's urban growth boundary. Schuettler said the city government had no regulatory oversight regarding the project.
  "They have no control of the urban growth area for that," said Schuettler of the city's Regional Planning Commission.
  Schuettler said the county did not conduct a site plan review of multi-family developments. He said an amendment would have to be made to the newly passed countywide zoning code to give the county regulatory authority of such developments.
  The complex also lies in close proximity to the Sugar Hollow Dump site. The Sugar Hollow property was leased by the city for use as a solid waste dump site in 1958. The dump was closed by the city of Elizabethton in 1972. Ornduff said the city was in the process of adding an additional clay cap to the dump site.
  The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation began a preliminary assessment of the site on the request of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1997. Two years later, the state found 60 cubic yards of industrial metal and sludge near the top of the landfill that tested hazardous for lead.
  The city will pay a $650,000 recapping fee after entering into the state's Voluntary Cleanup Oversight and Assistance Program and is tasked with monitoring the site by TDEC.
  Braswell said the EAC office had received several complaints about the proposed development, with the majority relating to increased vehicle traffic in the surrounding neighborhood. He said the developers had conceptually discussed options to deal with the septic system issue and move the drip irrigation outside the defined boundaries of the watershed protection area. He said the department's Division of Water Pollution Control had a new application under review but had not made a decision on whether to approve it.
  Braswell said the TDEC officials were also reviewing a storm water construction permit for the site. The storm water permit addresses construction activities on the surface of the ground. Any construction site that has disturbed materials above one acre in size requires a storm water permit under EPA regulations issued last year.