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Rocky Top eyes site for downtown parking lot

The former Martin Funeral Home building at 225 S. Main St. in Rocky Top could be torn down to make way for a public downtown parking lot if the city has its way. (photo:G. Chambers Williams III )
Rocky Top could soon have its first public parking lot in the downtown area.

On the recommendation of Mayor Kerry Templin, the City Council voted last Thursday evening (March 21) to spend up to $125,000 to purchase the old Martin Funeral Home building at 225. S. Main St. to create the parking lot.

“We will never see development until we have dedicated parking downtown,” Templin told the council. “There is no public parking [downtown] now; all parking is privately owned.

“I think the city should look at purchasing the old Martin Funeral Home property,” he said.

“To do this properly, the city needs to purchase all of this property,” Templin said.

That includes the building, which Templin believes should be removed, along with the vacant lot next to it that has been used as a parking lot for the funeral home and the former Coal Creek Barbecue restaurant next door.

“Some of the owners have expressed a willingness to sell,” he said. The property had been tied up in probate for some time, but now apparently is available to be sold.

Templin said part of the property was once the site of a downtown gasoline station, so there are still “at least four old fuel tanks in the ground” that would need to be removed, which is an environmentally necessary operation.

“My recommendation is that we authorize up to $125,000 to the executors to purchase the property,” the mayor said. “I would also like to put in some [electric vehicle] chargers. The more people we can get downtown, the better.”

Councilman Jeff Gilliam made the motion to authorize the purchase, and it was seconded by Councilman Mack Bunch. The motion was approved 4-0, with Councilman Zack Green absent.

No timetable was given for buying the property and turning it into a parking lot.

But Sandy Smith, one of the owners of the new Thrifty Treasures home décor store that borders the old funeral home property on the south side, said she would like to see the city put a small park there, along with parking.

She and her sister, Susan Riggs, opened their new store two weeks ago in the building that formerly housed the Rocky Top Dentistry practice before it moved to a new location in July 2022.

In other business Thursday, the City Council:

• Heard from Gilliam that a developer had contacted the city Planning Commission about the possibility of building some condominiums on North Main Street.

No further details were provided.

• Heard from the city’s auditor, J.R. Cates of Mitchell Emert & Hill, that the city achieved a “clean” report on its 2022-23 financial condition, in spite of some deficiencies in financial reporting that had to be corrected.

• Approved $2,440 in sewer cost adjustments for residents and businesses during the previous month, mostly due to water line breaks associated with the January snowstorm and deep freeze.

*Heard that the city’s Police Department now has enough staff to provide around-the-clock coverage of the city every day, beginning Feb. 26. Because of a shortage of officers, the city had for several months been relying on the Anderson County and Campbell County sheriffs’ departments to patrol the city and answer police calls from 2-6 a.m.

Chief of Police John Thomas said the city’s police officers are now working in two 12-hour shifts to provide the 24-hour coverage.

He said the department also has hired Dustin Hensley as a patrol officer. He previously held that position in Norris.

Thomas also said that a former homeless camp behind the Executive Inn had been cleaned up, and that work had required the city to bury debris, including used hypodermic needles and camping gear, “in a hole the size of a pickup truck.”