Judge approves consolidation of Rock Springs suits

Matthew Lane • Jun 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Six lawsuits filed over annexations in the Rock Springs community have been consolidated, and the two Sullivan County judges hearing the matters have recused themselves from the proceedings.

When Kingsport began annexing property in the Rock Springs community last year, some property owners filed suit in Sullivan County Chancery Court challenging the move. Seven lawsuits were filed, but one was dismissed in March after attorneys discovered the plaintiff did not own property in the annexed area.

Also in March, Judge John McClellan denied the city’s motions to dismiss three of the lawsuits, and Kingsport’s attorneys chose not to argue similar motions in the other three cases.

City Attorney Mike Billingsley said the city then moved to have the cases consolidated, to where all six are heard at the same time. Judge E.G. Moody approved the request on June 6.

Billingsley said consolidating the cases for trial makes the process easier.

“A lot of the proof is the same in all of them, so rather than have six trials with the same basic proof, you put them all together and if there are any differences you present it to the court,” Billingsley said.

In addition to the cases being consolidated, Moody and McClellan are looking to have the matter reassigned to a Washington County judge.

“Judge McClellan and I talked about it, and we just feel it would be better because we have to work closely with the city on a number of matters,” Moody said. “We just felt like it would be the proper thing to do under the circumstances.”

Moody said McClellan is overseeing that matter, and that it could be either Judge Jean Stanley or Judge Tom Seeley.

Depositions in the cases have not been done at this time, and no public hearing dates have been set.

Two years ago, Kingsport planners crafted a five-year annexation plan for the city, which focused on the Rock Springs and Sullivan Gardens communities.

Since then the city has worked to annex the first two phases of that plan, approximately 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.

Lawsuits have prevented six of the areas from officially entering the city. The dismissed lawsuit allowed Area 2 to come into the city earlier this year. Area 2 — originally annexed in May 2007 — includes 84 acres of land located along Rock Springs Drive and Church View Road.

Before moving forward on Areas 6, 7 and 8, the city gave property owners in those areas 90 days to request annexation in case they wanted to be in the city and not be stalled from a neighbor filing a lawsuit.

That time passed, and several property owners in Area 7 and 8 came forth requesting annexation — 10 parcels totaling about 6.5 acres. The BMA approved those requests earlier this month on second reading, and they will be a part of the city in early July.

City Planner Forrest Koder said the remaining property in Areas 7 and 8 would probably go before the BMA at its second meeting in July. Area 6 has been put on hold temporarily, since City Manager John Campbell has said there are a couple of property owners in that area who wish to come into the city. These requests will go before the BMA at its first meeting in July.

Koder said he believes that by August, Areas 6, 7 and 8 will be through the BMA.

Once the 2006 and 2007 annexations are complete, city planners will then likely start on the 2008 annexation areas, which include 568 acres, 143 parcels and 232 people according to the 2000 U.S. Census data. The property runs on both sides of Rock Springs Drive and goes all the way to Sullivan Gardens Parkway.

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