Litter, litigation hound county planners

By Julie Fann

Details surrounding one lawsuit and another, long-standing disagreement between a Carter County resident and county government only intensified hot-topic issues regarding subdivision laws and litter problems on Tuesday at the monthly meeting of the Carter County Planning Commission.
   Nathaniel Stuart, owner of a piece of property located off Smalling Road approximately one quarter mile from Central Volunteer Fire Department, has been trying to get the county to pave and drain Humphreys Lane, the road leading to his property and several others, since 1988.
   "If it's not your responsibility to come out there and pave Humphreys Lane, then what litigation or what steps are you all taking to get this road paved by those who have gone out and developed that property against your all's say so?," Stuart asked commission members.
   According to county law, Jean Humphreys, original owner of the property where Stuart lives, illegally subdivided her land into separate lots and sold it without going through due process to meet county zoning requirements. As a result, a mobile home has also been placed in the area against regulations that require that it face a proper county road.
   "I asked you to send out a letter to Jean Humphreys about nine months ago, a letter explaining that she improperly subdivided a piece of property without approving a right-of-way," said Stuart.
   County Planning Director, Chris Shuettler told Stuart he had mailed a letter to Humphreys, and the county's attorney, George Dugger, said the properties on Humphreys Lane now fall under the city's Urban Growth Area and are no longer under the county's jurisdiction. Stuart disagreed.
   "I've talked to David Ornduff. Do you think the city is going to grandfather in a 15-year-old problem? ... That this falls under the city's Urban Growth plan is a bunch of bull," said Stuart.
   Stuart also questioned why the commission had not sent a certified letter to Humphreys, instead choosing standard mailing procedures. According to commission members, Humphreys has denied receiving a letter from them about the matter.
   Following Stuart's presentation to the commission, Albert Tiehlet, regional planning staff representative from Johnson City, expressed to members the need for them to be educated on county and state law.
   "The requirement by state law is four hours (of education) per member per year," said Tiehlet. County Executive, Dale Fair, agreed that education was necessary so that problems such as the one raised by Stuart could be more easily solved.
   The commission approved a motion to take education classes, offered free of charge, and also view video tapes Shuettler said he could provide members. The commission also approved that future correspondence be sent via certified letter.
   The necessity for education, and a way to enforce zoning laws and remove litter, also followed a discussion about the Waits and Vival Tolley property division located off of Jim Elliott Road.
   The property has been in the ownership of the Tolley family for years. According to the commission, there are now more mobile homes on the property than county law allows, but enforcing that law is difficult due to a lack of county funds and the inability of the family to pay fines. The property is also an eye-sore due to junked cars and other debris that surrounds it.
   Tiehlet and Schuettler told the commission they will come up with a plan for a county-wide litter resolution that members can review during next month's meeting. The commission also decided to attend a workshop on the subject with other counties, including Washington and Greene County, that have already adopted litter resolutions.
   Elements to consider for a litter resolution are subdivision regulations, zoning or land use regulations, and private acts, which include individual lots, mobile homes, and junk yards. Private acts are passed by the state legislature, reviewed by the state attorney general and approved by the county commission.
   Most incidents of litter violations would be handled in General Sessions Court and offenders would pay a $50 fine according to state law. Repeat offenders would appear in Circuit Court and, if found guilty, would be in violation of a court order. If that is the case, the county could seize the property and put a lien against it for the amount owed.
   In other business, Shuettler handed out copies of a county stormwater drainage resolution he prepared to meet federal mandates. Shuettler said the county has until December to approve a resolution but said the state has extended the deadline until January. The resolution must go into effect in March 2003.
   Shuettler asked commission members to review the document, highlight any problems or concerns they might have, and contact him in two weeks.