Museum of Appalachia could get an RV park after rezoning is OK’d

Museum of Appalachia visitors might soon be getting a place to stay overnight right next to the museum.

Norris City Council members Monday night unanimously approved on first reading an ordinance to rezone about 17.5 acres adjacent to the museum for commercial use (C2), which city officials have said would accommodate construction of an RV park/campground on the property.

That property, along with the land upon which the museum sits, is now zoned S1 (Scenic), which would not allow the RV park. The acreage is between the museum and Scruggs Cemetery Lane, behind a stone wall, on land the museum has used for overflow parking during special events. It sits back from Andersonville Highway, and the RV park would be accessed only through the museum’s entrance road.

Although there was no mention specifically during the meeting of the RV park, and no plan has yet been submitted to the city for approval, city officials have been told that the founding family of the museum wants to use the two tracts they own connecting to the museum property for the park and campground, which could include cabins.

“The proposal is for an RV park/resort possibly with cabins, tree houses or tiny homes for ‘glamping’ (upscale camping),” Norris City Manager Scott Hackler told The Courier News.

Tract 132 on the Anderson County property map, a total of four acres, lists Elaine Irwin Meyer as the owner.

The other piece of property, Tract 13, would provide the rest of the 17.5 acres for the RV park, but not all of that tract would be used for the park. Owners of that property are listed on county records as “John Rice Irwin and others.” Irwin founded the Museum of Appalachia in 1969, and Elaine Meyer is his daughter.

The move to rezone the property to commercial use is not without controversy. Last week, the Norris Planning Commission rejected the family’s request for commercial zoning, instead suggesting that the S1 zoning class be modified to allow the RV park under a set of strict guidelines.

Planning Commission member Ed Meyer, husband of Elaine Irwin Meyer, abstained from voting on the rezoning, and later resigned from his seat on the commission. The City Council appointed former Councilman Larry Beeman to replace him on the commission Monday night.

The City Council overruled the Planning Commission and voted for the rezoning, with every council member speaking out in favor of the move. They noted that the land along Andersonville Highway where the museum is located was zoned commercial before the city of Norris annexed it several years ago, and they said it was common knowledge that the city annexed that area in anticipation of commercial development.

The museum asked for the original move to S1 zoning to save money on property taxes, Hackler said.

As for the RV park, “council is supportive,” Hackler said. “It gets an overnight destination [for tourists] on this side of the interstate. There is such a demand right now for RV parks, especially after COVID. It’s overwhelming.

“This also fits well with our [Norris Freeway] scenic byway designation, and parks and other attractions on this side of the interstate.”

The council will hold a public hearing on the rezoning ordinance before the start of its monthly meeting May 10, followed by a vote on second/final reading.

Once the rezoning is approved, the Irwin family members will need to present a plan for the RV park to the Planning Commission for approval of building permits.

In other business Monday night, the council tabled a motion to donate a piece of playground equipment – known as “monkey bars” – to a local church after several residents complained at the meeting about the equipment being removed from the Oak Road Playground.

The residents who spoke said they wanted to see the monkey bars reinstalled on the playground, and wanted to stop the city’s pending plans to remove or replace the swing set on the playground.

Both moves were authorized by the city Recreation Commission for safety reasons, although the equipment had been in place for decades with no serious problems.

The Recreation Commission has said that expensive rubber mulch would need to be installed under the monkey bars and swing sets to make them safe.