Three Bends

As has been the topic of discussion for years, escalated in recent months following Council’s denial of needed funds for the Oak Ridge School system, this city is in need of new revenue in order to adequately fund the level of services desired.

At last night’s City Council meeting, two Council members (Abbatiello and Mosby) changed their votes on zoning for a new Holiday Inn Express, having voted in favor of the project on first reading. Beehan and Golden maintained their opposition, as evidenced by their “no” votes on first reading last month. Given the neighborhood opposition, it was a controversial subject.

Just last week, the Industrial Development Board voted for a 10-year, million-dollar tax abatement for National Fitness Center, a new health club that is already open, operating, and has put one existing health club (Paragon) out of business. Certainly, tax abatements can be used to lure targeted industries that bring employment, or retail businesses that increase the City’s sales tax collections, but the new health club appears to be a zero-sum gain. In Tennessee, no sales taxes are collected on gym memberships, and the jobs brought by National Fitness are not exactly of the caliber to merit a million-dollar lure. Had the IDB said no, would they have closed their doors and left town?

Oak Ridge needs to increase revenues to sustain City services, including traditions such as education, dating back to the City’s earliest years, as well as more recent developments like the rowing course that now attracts regattas of national prominence (for which $100,000 was approved in the Council meeting, following the zoning vote).

We cannot continue the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed without growth. Yet, with every proposal that would bring some measure of added self-sufficiency (translation: not extorting payments from DOE, but generating revenue based on added value), there is a contingent of opposition.

Last night’s Oak Ridger carried an old story with a fresh pulse: development of a portion of the Three Bends region along Melton Hill Lake, designated just under six years ago in a surprise move as a “conservation and wildlife management area” by then-Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson.

It caught the City off guard because parcels 14 (Gallaher Bend) and 15 (Solway Bend) had been designated as self-sufficency parcels by DOE on maps dating back to the 1980’s, when annual assistance payments were ended under the Atomic Energy Communities Act.

Without question, the miles of gently rolling lakefront — once farmland, before the Manhattan Project and later, Oak Ridge — would constitute some of the most valuable residential real estate in the region, if available.  A few dozen million-dollar lakefront homes would surely boost the tax base sufficiently to fund the school sytem, police and fire protection, and keep the library open without pitting one against the other, as occurred this year.

Despite the fact that just one of the three bends would bring enormous change to the City’s economic health, while leaving miles and miles of undisturbed lakefront and forest for conservation and research purposes, expect a fight.

“This land belongs to everyone,” they’ll say, “it’s wrong to put it in private hands.”  But remember, just 65 years ago these lands were in private hands — taken by federal agents from families with names like Freels and Gallaher for the wartime project.  If the land is no longer essential to national defense, it should be returned to private hands through the city that has long endured a federal presence with minimal compenation for the land it occupies.

Advocates for the Oak Ridge Reservation (AFORR, in this acronym-addicted city) notified Mayor David Bradshaw by letter last June that they had convened a meeting on the subject of the Three Bends’ future; the Mayor responded with a bit of a (well-deserved) smackdown of the group’s proceeding without City input or notice.

Last May, Council showed themselves unwilling to raise taxes to sustain services; in this case, education was the ox that was gored.  Last night, four members (a majority) showed themselves unwilling to grow the tax base in the face of NIMBY opposition.

Will they stand up to those who oppose development of what would be, without question, the most valuable residential property in the City?  With more than enough land to satisfy the needs of both development and conservation, will they stand firm in advocating for the best interest of this City four years from now, when the conservation agreement expires?

Or, will they simply point to the strategic plan and refuse to maintain those things that Oak Ridgers have treasured for so many years?

Four years will be too long to wait for the Oak Ridge Schools, but if we as a City do not plan for the future, it may be too late for the services you hold dear as well.

6 thoughts on “Three Bends

  1. Interesting. Now considering the growth plan of the three counties surrounding Oak Ridge and taking this off the board and out of play and Oak Ridge becomes what? A bedroom community locking down one end of the Pellissippi Tech Corridor while Farragut and Knoxville grow outward and lock down the other? Doesn’t seem to bode well for Oak Ridge’s future.

  2. Knox is growing westward, with tremendous development along their lake and riverfront; lakefront property in Roane has been hot for a number of years; lakefront in Loudon is absolutely on fire.

    And Oak Ridge, with about 15 miles of beautiful shoreline (because of the channel depth, we don’t see as much mud beach when the lake levels drop), has… a problem.

    The first challenge is for DOE to declare the land surplus, for which they want some consensus from the stakeholder groups. And what is their incentive to negotiate? As is, they have what they want: pristine shoreline that no one can use.

  3. I have looked at those bends for years now. Sometimes on topography maps and sometimes while boating on the Clinch. I cannot remember how many times I said the Solway bend would be the best place to extend COR waterfront homes. There is a marina on the Knox County side and should receive help from Knox County to expand its services, so why has COR allowed the continued preservation of the Solway Bend? I understand the rowing issue and Claxton property that sits undeveloped, but Commissioner Hitchcock has shown the county’s interest in developing that side of the river last night. That is interesting; will this allow COR the freedom to expand waterfront developments in COR? I hope so. A riverfront city needs to advance the economic advantage of having public and private docks.

  4. Hi. Well, being a Gallaher, and as you noted…the land was “taken from private hands”. I know I, for one, would like to negotiate on repurchasing my family’s land first…before the governments make even more money off our family’s land by selling it for higher lakefront prices. In addition, our family cemetery is also still on that land.
    Touched a personal cord. Maybe the Freels, and others, too would appreciate a chance to retain some of what they lost so long ago.

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