Norris council again takes no action on idea that city purchase downtown complex

A Norris city councilwoman and a few residents who regularly attend council meetings again pushed an idea during Monday night’s council meeting that the city take over ownership of the main commercial building in the downtown area and determine what businesses would be allowed to operate there.

One of the residents even suggested that the city use “the same process” that’s now being used to extend Sawmill Road out to Norris Freeway (U.S. 441).

Resident Spencer Boardman said he believes the city could follow the pattern of the road extension project, in which the Tennessee Department of Transportation is currently buying up private property to use for the roadway.

Such a process is called “eminent domain,” which allows a governmental entity to force the sale of private property to the government for “the public good.” While eminent domain has been used occasionally for commercial developments such as shopping malls and industrial parks, it’s generally invoked just for utility and highway rights-of-way.

The proposal that the city try to buy the downtown shopping complex, which now houses Archer’s Supermarket, the Sweet Café, a dentist’s office and the Norris post office, was originally made by resident George Miceli, during the August council meeting.

Joining him in support of the idea was Councilwoman Jill Holland Ryan, who again Monday night spoke in favor of exploring the idea. She suggested that a committee be formed to look into the proposal.

Miceli, who also has been the council reporter for the Norris Bulletin community newsletter, said at Monday’s meeting that he had given up his reporter role, and that his wife, Susan, would be doing that from now on.

Those who spoke in favor of the proposal said they feared that a new owner might make significant changes to the complex, which dates at least in part to around the time of the city’s founding in the mid-1930s.

They said they wanted the city to be able to control the property so as not to change its historic nature.

Steve Pemberton of LaFollette, who has owned the property about 23 years, said after last month’s council meeting that he was not aware of Miceli’s proposal that the city buy the complex.

Pemberton said then that the property was not officially on the market, but that “an individual has approached me about buying it.”

Some of those commenting about the idea at Monday night’s meeting said that a contract for sale of the property is now pending, but that a closing date had been postponed while the would-be buyer was attempting to obtain financing.

The council took no action on the proposal, including the suggestion by Ryan that a committee be set up to study the idea.