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Rocky Top council address shelters, signs

New ordinances to limit the size and style of commercial signs in the Downtown Business District and to restrict homeless shelters, addiction treatment centers and halfway houses to specific areas of the city were approved on final reading by the Rocky Top City Council last Thursday.

The sign ordinance aims to make the downtown area more attractive, in line with the city’s “Downtown Vision,” which is intended eventually to lead to revitalization of Main Street, which now has many abandoned and derelict buildings.

The new ordinance regulates the size and style of signs in the C-4 Downtown Business District.

Similarly, the zoning ordinance – which actually amends the ordinance that was already in place setting up the city’s zoning rules and boundaries – further protects the Downtown Business District by banning homeless shelters, treatment centers and halfway houses in that area.

Residential areas are also included in the banned areas for those types of operations. City Council members were told that the amendment was necessary because the previous zoning ordinance did not address those kinds of facilities.

But City Manager Michael Foster said that no plans for any of those types of facilities have yet been presented to the city for approval, and that he knows of none that are considering opening in Rocky Top.

The city does have a problem with homeless people and drug addicts hanging out in the downtown area, however, which has been the topic of some citizen protests to the council and to the Anderson County Commission in recent weeks. The issue was particularly a hot topic leading up to the Nov. 3 General Election, in which two City Council seats were up for election.

Although there were only two candidates on the ballot for the two seats, a write-in candidate who sought to have homeless people and addicts removed from the city was able to garner 72 write-in votes in the election. That was not nearly enough to make the candidate, Katie Hurst, a serious contender for one of the council seats, however.

In other business, the council approved an agreement with the city of Norris to provide police dispatching services for the Norris Police Department from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily.

The contract calls for Rocky Top’s dispatcher to answer Norris police calls for 4,380 hours per year, for $12,500 a year. They will be police calls only, as Anderson County’s 911 service does fire dispatch for Norris.

It will still be Norris police officers being dispatched to the emergencies. Norris has six full-time police officers in its budget. Previously, the Norris police officer on duty at night answered emergency calls on a cellphone in his patrol car, as the city did not have a dispatcher on duty.

The Norris City Council approved the arrangement with Rocky Top at the Nov. 16 Norris council meeting.

Either city can cancel the dispatching contract on 30 days’ notice, the Rocky Top council was told.

Rocky Top councilmembers put on hold until their December meeting a proposal to rezone a piece of property across from Holly Gamble Funeral Home on North Main Street from R-2 (high-density residential) to C-1 (commercial) for TN Gas, which wants to build a propane gas facility there that would include a large storage tank.

The Rocky Top Fire Department questioned how the tank would be installed to protect nearby homes should it catch fire and explode, so the council decided to hold off on the rezoning measure until next month to find out more about the safety precautions that would be taken.

The next council meeting is scheduled for Dec/ 17, at which time new councilman Zack Green will be seated to replace Nathan Dison, who chose not to run again. Green won the seat in the Nov. 3 election, polling the most votes, 321, compared with 271 for incumbent Juston Job. Job, who won re-election, also serves as the current vice-mayor.