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Projects may change city landscape

The Mountain City Town Council met a week later than normal last Tuesday following a vote from last month’s meeting to postpone due to several members of the board being out of town. The top issues of discussion involved potential changes in the landscape of downtown, and improvements to the city’s parks, as well as an update on Mountain City’s Goose Creek Trail Project.
Having invested substantial time and money into the initial engineering work, City Recorder Sheila Shaw announced that the first letters went out to property owners that could be affected by the creation of the trail. Running approximately from Ralph Stout Park to its terminus at the Johnson County/Mountain City Welcome Center, Goose Creek Trail is envisioned as a key part of a much broader trail system that will eventually link with Johnson County Trails Association’s Laurel Creek Trail and ultimately the Virginia Creeper Trail in Damascus.
The city initially applied for a grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation and was awarded more than $400,000. The requirements to receive the money have also included very expensive engineering fees, which have slowed the project down. A couple of months ago, Mountain City received the go ahead from Tennessee Department of Transportation(TDOT) to begin work. City attorney Steve McEwen began the process of creating trail easements.
At this month’s meeting McEwen confirmed that the trail easement process, which is relatively new in Tennessee, has been complicated and is much different than a typical easement for a water line or other utility. However, city officials are hopeful that landowners along the trail’s route will see the strong economic potential that the project could have for the town and their own property and will be willing to donate their easement. City Recorder Shaw confirmed that the first step would be sending out the letters describing in detail the scope and plans for the project. Shaw went on to say that she has already had some discussion with a few of the owners as well, and that the next step would be to talk with them one on one to address any concerns.
The council also looked at the future of another big TDOT grant that Mountain City has received. Several years ago the town applied for a Tennessee Roadscapes grant to put in planters and greenery downtown. The initial plan would have placed 17 of these planters in strategic places up and down Main Street, but as city officials began looking further into the project it was determined that reducing the plan to 11 would be more suitable.
The biggest concerns, which Mayor Lawrence Keeble laid out at the meeting, was that some of the businesses downtown favored the project while others were strongly against it. There are also concerns about taking up parking spaces in a portion of the city that already has limited parking. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the project could correct several traffic safety issues, especially at the intersection of Main and North Church Street. The council was also concerned that turning down a substantial grant could make it more difficult to get other grants in the future.
With a deadline to begin the project before August of next year, the council spoke with Connor Boyle at Brushy Mountain, an engineering firm, to look at what can be done to alleviate any potential problems associated with the project. Boyle informed the council that a survey would have to be conducted to determine exactly where all of the landscaping would be located, but that he had been in contact with TDOT and felt that the project could be altered to suit the needs of the town.
The original grant was for $50,000 and Mayor Keeble went on to say that he would be personally comfortable with reducing down to $25,000 and roughly half of the original locations. Roadscapes funding can be used anywhere on TDOT right of way, and as a result, the city is also looking at moving some portions of the project from Main to Church Street. Following discussion, Boyle explained that he would be able to get in touch with TDOT officials to get specific answers for the council’s questions. With that said, Mayor Keeble made a motion to proceed with the project, pending that it could be cut down to meet the needs of the town. The motion carried unanimously.
Mayor Keeble also addressed another ongoing project, this one at Ralph Stout Park. For the past few months, the council has been looking at options to place a roof over the bleachers near the park stage. Numerous complaints about being exposed to the weather and its affect on turnout to events led city officials to look into potential grants.
However, because of the cost and constraints that such grants placed on the city financially, it was determined that the town would be better off handling the project on its own. After looking at a design for an inexpensive metal roof last month, there were concerns about the aesthetic value of the structure, and the board determined to look at other potential choices.
This month, a design utilizing laminate beams came before the council for discussion. Meeting all of the town’s specifications, the plan calls for a seven-foot clearance from the topmost bleacher to the roof, and fits in with the general style of the park. Although a slightly more expensive route that the original metal design, many members of the council expressed their preference for the newer option. The council also had options on whether to construct the roof in two pieces or one solid piece.
The two-roof option had an approximate cost of $11,000 while the single smooth roof was more expensive at $14,000. Another question came up about concerns with whether or not the project would have to be bid out. Fortunately even though the state requires bidding for any expenditure over $10,000, the city can still purchase the materials on their own, separating it from the cost of the construction.
With the unanimous support of the council, Alderman Bob Morrison made the motion to provide the mayor with a $15,000 budget amendment to cover the cost. Mayor Keeble went on to note that the roof would be a tremendous asset to Ralph Stout Park and may actually help increase turnout at special events that occur throughout the year.
Shaw also provided an update concerning recent damage to the Veterans Memorial Wall at the park. Attending the recent court hearing with the driver that caused the accident, Shaw informed the board that the city would be reimbursed their $1000 deductible and that the new panels had already been installed. Due to the time of year, the names will not be able to be carved back on the stone until spring for fear that cutting in colder temperatures could cause damage.
Shaw went on to announce that city Animal Control officer Gary Phillips had recently attended training in Kansas City, MO through the National Animal Control Association. Shaw noted that this was the highest training that Phillips can receive.
Discussion was held concerning a decision over the city’s holiday policy. According to Shaw, the current policy actually has the city employees working on Christmas Day, but following a decision by the Johnson County government to take both Monday, December 24th and Tuesday December 25th off; Shaw requested that the town do the same. Alderman Morrison made the motion to approve this decision that passed with full support.
Also discussing holiday festivities, Police Chief Denver Church made a suggestion that during the upcoming parade it would be a safety improvement to have someone walk beside the floats. However, Church went on to say that for the fire department to assist they would need reflective safety vests, which they currently do not have. Estimating the cost of purchasing the vests at around $300, Mayor Keeble emphasized that the employee’s safety was a very high priority and made the successful motion to purchase the equipment.
One of the City Recorder’s last announcements was to inform the council that she had been in touch with a concerned citizen who has raised complaints about truck traffic on North Church Street. Since being turned over to city control after the construction of the new 91 bypass, city officials have declared the road off limits to thru truck traffic and have posted signs indicating the change. However, several council members questioned whether or not the traffic might be an owner who lives on the street or traffic going to the sawmill further down the road.
For the rest of the story, pick up a copy of this week's Tomahawk.