KINGSPORT - Two more lawsuits have been filed against the city of Kingsport in an attempt to stop it from annexing vacant and residential property in the Rock Springs community.
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." The Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved three annexations earlier this year - Area 2 and portions of Areas 3 and 5.
Last month, Sullivan County resident John Gray, who lives along Rock Springs Road in Area 2, filed a lawsuit in chancery court challenging the annexation, claiming he never requested annexation and that the ordinance passed to annex Gray's property is an exercise of power not conferred by law.
On June 29, two more lawsuits were filed against the city, this time from land owners in Areas 3 and 5. The plaintiffs include William and Judy Smith, Carl and Ellen Painter, John Gray, Roma Cleek, David Lane, Robert and Janice Kirk, Deborah Sue Allen, and Kenneth and Norma Hite.
Knoxville attorney David Buuck filed all three lawsuits on behalf of the plaintiffs. Buuck is associated with Citizens for Home Rule, a not-for-profit advocacy organization located in Knoxville that assists residents in filing lawsuits to prevent annexations.
All three lawsuits are virtually identical, with only the dates and annexation ordinance numbers being different. Each makes the same claim - that the land owners never requested annexation and the ordinance passed to annex their property is an exercise of power not conferred by law.
Tim Whaley, government and community relations director for the city, said the city does not comment on pending litigation.
City Manager John Campbell said his recommendation would be to go ahead and move forward with the remaining annexations later this year.
"We know there's areas where a number of people do want to come in, are looking at the services," Campbell said. "Certainly, I'd rather not face any lawsuits. It becomes a distraction, and it causes us to spend time that we could be doing other things.
"And it ties up those involved and holds up those who want to be a part of the city from getting in quicker and services they're looking for."
Mayor Dennis Phillips said he was unaware of the lawsuits but agrees with Campbell that the city should move forward with additional annexations in the Rock Springs community.
"This is an attorney in Knoxville who has filed a lot of lawsuits on annexations, but our job with this and any annexation is to serve the public well and inform the public and see if we can sell the city on its merit, and that's what we need to strive to do," Phillips said. "Anything you do, some people are not for it naturally. I think we need to take the high road and try to sell the positives and answer the questions that are asked and ensure we provide the services we say we will in a timely manner."
Kingsport plans to hold a public information meeting at 7:15 p.m. Monday at the Rock Springs United Methodist Church, where residents and land owners can meet with city officials, discuss their concerns, and have their questions about annexation answered.
These new lawsuits are not the first ones filed against the city regarding annexations in the Rock Springs community.
On Aug. 10, 2006, residents of the Rock Springs community filed a lawsuit against the city, with the help of Citizens for Home Rule, to stop the annexation of Area 1.
One of the arguments of the lawsuit was the city failed to display the plan of services for Area 1 in three locations as per state law. For Area 1, Kingsport posted the plan in two locations - at City Hall and in the planning office.
Realizing their mistake, city leaders pulled Areas 2 and 3 from the BMA's agenda in September and repealed Area 1, thus rendering the lawsuit moot. Area 1 has again received the endorsement of the Planning Commission but has not been brought before the BMA.