Sixth lawsuit filed over annexations in Rock Springs

Matthew Lane • Jan 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — As Kingsport works to bring another area of Rock Springs into the city, another group of neighboring residents is fighting to stay out.

For more than a year, Kingsport has been working to annex nearly 1,000 acres in the Rock Springs community — 10 areas that lead up to two major developments off Rock Springs Road: a 330-home neighborhood called “The Edinburgh” and the city’s new John Adams Elementary School.

Last year the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved six annexations in the Rock Springs community — both portions of Area 3, the south side of Area 5, and all of Areas 1, 2 and 4. Lawsuits have been filed by residents in all six areas to stop the annexations.

The BMA approved on first reading Tuesday night the annexation of the remaining portion of Area 5 — 16 acres of land located along Rock Springs Road. Last June, the BMA annexed a majority of Area 5, some 62.8 acres.

Area 5 contains 21 parcels totaling 78.7 acres with approximately 37 people. The BMA will have a second and final vote on the Area 5 annexation at its Feb. 5 regular meeting.

The day before the BMA’s vote on Area 5, another lawsuit was filed by the residents of Area 4. The latest lawsuit was filed by Leron and Jean Dean, Earl and Freeda Garland, Richard and Ann Dunkin, Bill and Mary Nash, and Pamela and William Webb.

All six lawsuits were filed by Knoxville attorney David Buuck, who is associated with Citizens for Home Rule. CHR is a not-for-profit advocacy organization located in Knoxville that is assisting Rock Springs residents in filing lawsuits to prevent annexation.

All of the Rock Springs lawsuits are similar and make the same claims — the land owners never requested annexation, and the ordinance passed to annex their property is an exercise of power not conferred by law.

Kingsport intends to have all of these cases tried in court within the year.

During Tuesday’s BMA meeting, John Grills, who lives in Area 5, spoke against the annexation.

“I’m not in any lawsuit, but I don’t think it’s right to be annexing out there. You’re extending your boundaries too far,” Grills said. “Nothing against Kingsport.”

Grills also doubted the police and fire department response times for residents of Rock Springs. City officials responded by saying Kingsport has added an additional patrol zone on the southeast side of town and plans to build a new fire station in the Rock Springs community.

John Emison, president of CHR, attended the BMA work session last Monday and urged city leaders to “back up” on annexation. Emison said CHR has members in the remaining three annexation areas in Rock Springs, and that lawsuits would be filed.

Thirty-three different people are plaintiffs in the six pending lawsuits. According to the 2000 U.S. Census data, 181 people live in these six areas, therefore 18 percent of the population is involved in suing Kingsport to stop the annexations.

“This is not working. You have opposition in every one of these areas, and lawsuits will be filed in every area. I ask you to undo the annexations already passed and propose you annex by referendum and give them a voice,” Emison said. “Any property owner deserves that. I would urge you to consider that these folks deserve a say. You’ve chosen part of the statute that cuts those people out, and that’s not right. Apply the golden rule to these people.”

According to state law, Kingsport can choose to annex property within its urban growth boundary by referendum or by ordinance. In each of the Rock Springs annexations, the BMA has done so by ordinance.

Mayor Dennis Phillips said he doesn’t think Emison’s appearance at the BMA work session had any effect on the board whatsoever.

“I expected it sooner or later. It’s their right to oppose annexation, and I don’t have any problem with that as long as it stays aboveboard and is truthful,” Phillips said.

The lawsuits have managed to delay the effective date of some of the annexations — Areas 1, 2, 3 and the south side of Area 5 all had effective dates of Jan. 1. In other words, because of the lawsuits, the annexed property is not a part of the city.

The BMA is expected to vote on Area 6 in February, Area 7 in March, and Area 8 in April. The effective date of annexation for Area 5 is March 5, while the effective date on Areas 6, 7 and 8 will be the end of August.

The 10 areas proposed to be annexed include about 969 acres and at least 585 people. The cost to provide water and sewer to these areas is estimated to be $2.33 million and $6 million, respectively.

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