KINGSPORT — Kingsport is hitting the pause button in regard to some expected annexations in the Rock Springs community, at least until several annexation lawsuits are resolved.
For more than 18 months 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.
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen has approved seven of the 10 annexation areas in the Rock Springs community. Lawsuits have been filed by residents in six of the areas to stop the annexations, and in all likelihood a seventh lawsuit will be filed from residents of the north side of Area 5 — the area the BMA approved annexing during Tuesday’s meeting.
City Manager John Campbell recommended during a work session Monday night that the BMA hold off giving final approval to the north side of Area 5. However, the BMA disagreed and moved forward with the vote on Tuesday.
Campbell said the reason for this recommendation was to hold off until the city had all of the potential lawsuits put together and resolved.
“It would have been another 30 days we’d have to wait (until the lawsuit was filed), and there are people in those areas who want to be in the city,” Campbell said. “As long as there is a lawsuit, they can’t be in the city.”
Residents in the six areas annexed by Kingsport have filed lawsuits opposing annexation. The first lawsuit was filed June 14, 2007, with the latest being filed Jan. 14. Nearly eight months have passed since the first lawsuit was filed, and the city has yet to file a response to any.
The BMA held an executive session meeting Monday afternoon prior to their regular work session to discuss the lawsuits and what the city plans to do about them. City Attorney Mike Billingsley and former city attorney Joe May are handling the lawsuits for the city.
Mayor Dennis Phillips said the answer the BMA got about the lawsuits is legal is working on them.
“We had never met with the attorney to see what he’s doing, answering the lawsuits and what kind of strategy he had and when he’s going to answer them,” Phillips said. “We were told (Monday) the answers were forthcoming.”
Campbell said he does not know an exact date of when an answer would be filed to the lawsuits.
“Mike said he’s getting close to a time when he could file and said they should be resolved by the end of the year,” Campbell said. “There were a number of errors in the original filing, and they’ve been in the process of cleaning up the lawsuit. The lawyers have been in the process of stipulating certain things.”
City planners have been working under the plan to bring Areas 6, 7 and 8 before the BMA in February, March and April respectively. However, Area 6 was not on the BMA’s Feb. 5 agenda, and it is uncertain when it would be coming before city leaders.
The city has not advertised in the Times-News the public hearing on Area 6, which is normally done 15 days prior to the hearing. In other words, Area 6 will not be on the BMA’s Feb. 19 agenda.
Campbell said he has no recommendation on when Areas 6, 7 and 8 should come before the BMA.
“I think it’s probably prudent for me to sit down with the planning department to see where they are, what the next group of annexations are, and the effect they have on the others,” Campbell said. “I don’t think it hurts to not do them immediately.”
City planners have asked various city departments for cost estimates for the areas in the Rock Springs community slated for annexation later this year. According to the original plan, Areas 6, 7 and 8 were supposed to be annexed during 2007.
Phillips said he doesn’t think the city should change its annexation plans in the Rock Springs community.
“I think the consensus of the board is to move forward in answering the lawsuits and get this put behind us,” Phillips said.
This delay marks the second time the Rock Springs annexations have been put on hold.
The first annexation hiatus took place in late 2006 and early 2007 when residents of Area 1 filed a lawsuit to prevent being brought into the city.
The Rock Springs annexations stalled for about seven months at that time until getting back on track in May of last year.