KINGSPORT - The city of Kingsport is reaching out to the Rock Springs community, meeting with area church members and planning a public information meeting next month.
Kingsport planners have been working for more than a year on annexing eight areas of land, nearly 1,000 acres, in the Rock Springs community - areas that lead up to a 330-unit housing development off Rock Springs Road called "The Edinburgh."
Five of the areas were scheduled for annexation last year, with the remaining three slated for this year. However, a lawsuit by residents in Area 1 caused the city to put all of these annexations on hold. To overcome a claim made by these residents, the city de-annexed Area 1 and advertised the plan of services in three locations as required by state law.
With the lawsuit rendered moot, the city in May annexed Area 2 - 84 acres located along Rock Springs Drive and Church View Road - and earlier this month annexed a portion of Area 3 (35.69 acres) and a portion of Area 5 (62.8 acres). A second lawsuit by a resident of Area 2 has been filed challenging the annexation.
City Manager John Campbell said the city would move forward with the other annexation later this year, regardless of the lawsuit.
"I don't see any reason not to," Campbell said. "We know this is a very reasonable annexation. The (Board of Mayor and Aldermen) has shown great commitment to do the things you need to do to be fair to a new area like that."
In light of that, and with other annexations on the horizon, Campbell and Mayor Dennis Phillips met this past week with members of the Rock Springs United Methodist Church, including its pastor, Joseph Maness, to discuss and answer questions about the upcoming annexation.
Maness said the city was being helpful and willing to work with the community about its issues.
"They took the time to come to the park, to see our concerns, and I was very pleased with the meeting," Maness said.
Kingsport is investing millions of dollars in the Rock Springs annexations, including running new sewer lines and implementing water line upgrades in the community to building a new 500-student elementary school and fire station. The eight annexations will have an effective date of Jan. 1, 2008, and the new school is slated to be open by August 2008.
"I, as a pastor of a local church, am very excited about the 300 homes or more being built in the community because those are opportunities for the church to reach out beyond the walls and minister to the community," Maness said.
Since the city began annexing in the Rock Springs community, Maness said he has been hearing both sides of the issue from local residents. Some people are excited about having sewer lines, streetlights, improvements to the road and a new school, while others are concerned about taxes, the timetable for the improvements, and whether their children will continue to be able to attend county schools.
"There are pros and cons to everything, and I believe the best thing we can do as a community is to try to understand first what's going on, and as (UMC), we want to be good neighbors to the city," Maness said.
Kingsport plans to hold a public information meeting at the Rock Springs UMC on July 9 at 7 p.m. to meet with local residents and answer any questions about the upcoming annexations.
"This would be a perfect place for people to come, voice concerns and get the information that we so desperately need," Maness said. "There's a lot of gossip and bad information out there."
Bad information is correct. According to Phillips, one of the first questions posed to him and Campbell during Thursday's meeting with church officials was whether Kingsport would four-lane Rock Springs Road.
"There's no way we'll have the money to do that even if we wanted to. It's not something that's necessary," Phillips said.
Campbell said Kingsport has no intention of building a four-lane road in Rock Springs.
"It's totally inappropriate for that area," he said. "At best you're looking at a super two-lane - a two-lane road with shoulders."
Maness said his issue with annexation dates back a couple of years when he was living in Chattanooga. At that time the city annexed his property, but after years of waiting the city failed to live up to all of its promises.
"I will say the city planner was very helpful in explaining to me, for example, the sewer lines. My question was how are you going to pay for this? The thing that impressed me is, they've already got the money to pay for it," Maness said.
Phillips thought the meeting was productive, and that the members were polite and had legitimate questions that should be answered.
"I think we can move forward with the annexations in the area and we go in an affordable pace, working with the citizens of Rock Springs," he said.