“Having land available in the county is scarce, I don’t need to tell you all that, but for the record, this is one of those things where we really cannot do the business of recruiting without getting some land,” she said at a Monday morning meeting of the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County.
And steps were taken at the meeting to secure property for industrial recruitment. The board voted unanimously to place an option on a nearly 21-acre piece of land along Zane Whitson Drive in the county’s Dry Creek area.
The board would place a five-year option on the 20.91-acre parcel at $3,000 per year. The purchase price of the property, located at the intersection of Zane Whitson Drive and Dry Creek Road, is $397,000, and monies paid toward the option would be applied to the purchase price.
Board Chairman Lee Brown said the board has spoken with the property owner, who has agreed to allow the board to place a three- to five-year option on the land. The board’s desire to place a five-year option on the property will now be presented to the property owner, Oldham said.
“We had talked with the owner about that and the owner had agreed to work with the Economic Development Board to secure an option on that,” Brown said.
This property is adjacent to 10.25 acres of available land. The board will now attempt to secure an option on that property. Oldham said this additional land could be utilized if an industry or manufacturer looks to expand beyond the 21 acres.
In June, the board’s Executive Committee recommended the full group look at placing an option on available land for economic development. It has been several years since the county held an option on property, previously holding an option on the Unicoi property where Specialty Tires would eventually locate. That deal came together in the mid-1990s.
“We really have not had any property for development in many, many years, so I feel like that this property is definitely a good location,” Brown said. “It’s fairly close to the Tinker Road Exit on the interstate. There’s hurdles to go over — there’s road improvements and various things — but if we have the right industry, I think we could probably get FastTrack funding to assist with the development and infrastructure needs to improve that property and improve access to it.”
Brown said sewer lines would have to be extended to the property, but depending on the type of industry that may locate on the land, power and water services are in “good shape.”
“For most things, I think we’re in adequate shape for power and certainly in good shape for water,” he said.
Erwin Town Recorder Glenn Rosenoff said the town has been looking at the area for around six months as it prepares to update its urban growth plan, adding that the Dry Creek area is the boundary of Erwin’s urban growth boundary. He said if the topic would have been discussed several months ago, the move to bring the area into the city and provide Erwin services to the site would have been a “no-brainer.”
“We would look at providing urban services to a potential manufacturer, like fire, police, emergency services,” Rosenoff said. “We would probably already be talking to the potential prospect. It would be an easy transition to be annexed into the city, as long as the city is looking at the feasibility of annexing it in.”
However, Rosenoff said recent changes to annexation laws have put a “little bit of a wrinkle” in providing urban services to a potential manufacturer. On April 14, Gov. Bill Haslam signed legislation that essentially has repealed a municipality’s authority to annex areas, instead mandating referendums and letting property owners decide if they wish to be annexed into established growth boundaries. Still, Oldham said these changes should not delay action to secure the property.
“I think what the state has done is going to cause a lot of people to push the pause button, but Unicoi County does not have time to push the pause button because of what happened in Nashville,” Oldham said. “I think something has to be done here and regardless of what’s going on with policy and politics in Nashville, we have to do business in Unicoi County. This piece of land is available for us and we need to decide on what’s best for this community.”
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said securing the option on the property would go a long way toward industrial recruitment and retention. He said jobs must be created in Unicoi County, and the Dry Creek property, along with the former Morgan Insulation property already held by the town of Erwin, has put the board in a better position to accomplish this.
“Really, this is long overdue for the county to start looking at this,” Lynch said. “But the way the national economy has been and industrial sector’s been shrinking, it probably wouldn’t have made a lot of sense for us to try to get a piece of property. But I think everybody’s kind of getting the feeling that things are coming back now, so getting an option on the property will be a definite plus and kind of get us rolling again as far as industrial recruitment.”