Norris council to allow fix for drainage problems from fire, police building

The Norris City Council on Monday night approved a plan to help mitigate a drainage problem affecting a privately owned building adjacent to the city’s fire station and police headquarters that resulted from an apparently improperly installed gutter system on the city building.

Council members voted 3-1 to allow the property owners – Norris Mayor Chris Mitchell and his wife, Pamela Turner – to remove some hemlock trees on city property and create diversions for the water, as well as installing a redesigned gutter system on the city building to channel water away from the adjacent building.

Mitchell and Turner bought the building, at 8 W. Norris Road, late last year. It houses the Vega Café and Smokehaus and BenchMark Physical Therapy.

The drainage problems have been affecting the building since the fire station was built. The resulting flooding in the Mitchell building has at times forced businesses there to shut down temporarily, although that has not happened since Mitchell bought it, he said. The private building predates the city facility.

Mitchell abstained from voting on the motion that allows him to make some of the improvements on city property. He turned over control of the meeting to Vice Mayor Bill Grieve while the motion by Councilman Will Grinder was being discussed and voted on.

Grieve and council members Loretta Painter and Grinder voted in favor of the motion to allow Mitchell to proceed with the work, while Councilwoman Jill Holland Ryan voted against it.

She said she objected to the removal of the hemlock trees to mitigate the drainage problem. She attempted to amend the motion to require approval of the Norris Tree Commission before the trees could be cut down. Her motion to amend was defeated on a 2-2 vote, with Grinder voting for the amendment, and Grieve and Painter voting against.

City Manager Scott Hackler said Tuesday morning that the drainage problem has “been that way for a long time.”

“Apparently the previous owners just tolerated it,” he said. “A previous owner put down sandbags to stem the flow of water, but I don’t know how effective that was.”

As for cutting down the hemlocks, which are growing out over Mitchell’s building and whose roots are threatening the building’s foundation, Hackler said he had reached out to the Tree Commission.

“I had already talked to members of the Tree Commission,” he said. “We hope to take out trees that are not appropriate for the location. One member said he didn’t understand why those kinds of trees were planted there in the first place.”

In other council business Monday night:

The council voted to hold workshops to discuss the city budget for the coming fiscal year, beginning July 1, at 6 p.m. on consecutive Fridays, April 16, 23 and 30, and to hold a first reading of the new budget ordinance at the monthly council meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, May 10.

That would be followed by a public hearing on the budget ordinance at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 8, and final reading and passage of the budget at the regular council meeting at 7 p.m. June 14.

Councilmembers also discussed whether they should continue to keep the public from attending council meetings in public, which the council has done most of the time since the pandemic hit. The public is allowed to view and participate in the meetings virtually.

Two “virtual” participants in Monday’s meeting, Pam and Scott Sain of Reservoir Road, took issue with their not being allowed to attend the meeting in person, and demanded that the council take a vote on the issue.

Councilwoman Ryan made a motion for the council to consider voting on whether to reopen the meetings to the public, and that motion passed. But it did not actually address whether the next meeting – March 8 -- would be open to the public, instead stating that the decision would depend on what COVID-19 conditions and state guidelines would be in effect at the time.

Ryan said she would like to see the city allow the public to attend “as much as possible” at the March meeting.

But Hackler said the city would not be allowed to let some people into the meeting, while excluding others, in order to following social-distancing guidelines.

“MTAS says if we open it, we have to allow everyone in,” Hackler said, referring to the state’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service, which advises city councils on some legal issues.