Norris BZA, Planning Commission reject Covenant church RV park requests

  • Covenant Life Church attorney Daniel Sanders addresses the Norris Planning Commission on the church’s application for rezon- ing for its Solid Rock RV Park on Monday evening at the Norris Community Building. - G. Chambers Williams III

  • Katherine Birkbeck, director of the Historic Downtown Clinton organization, talked to Clinton Mayor Scott Burton after the June 24 City Council meeting. During the meeting, she discussed the possibility of bringing broadband and loudspeakers to downtown Clinton. - G. Chambers Williams III

Covenant Life Church has one more opportunity to gain city of Norris approval to operate a recreational vehicle park/retreat on its property after both the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals and Planning Commission rejected the church’s request Monday evening.

Votes against the church’s requests were unanimous in both of the meetings, the first of which was an appeal to the BZA to overturn the city’s denial of a certificate of occupancy, followed by an application to the Planning Commission for rezoning part of the church’s property to commercial (C2) status.

While the BZA’s decision is final, the Planning Commission’s denial of rezoning must still be considered by the full City Council, which Mayor Chris Mitchell said will have on its agenda for the next regular meeting, Monday, July 8.

The Planning Commission voted 7-0 against the rezoning, citing documents from 1937 and 1959 in which the Tennessee Valley Authority required that the land along Norris Freeway from Andersonville Highway to beyond Norris Dam be preserved as a greenway, and not be used for commercial purposes.

Mitchell, who supplied the Planning Commission with the documents, led the discussion Monday night in his dual role as a member of the commission.

“The city and TVA have valued this as a special area,” Mitchell said before the vote on the rezoning request, adding that the “intent is to keep the area beautiful.”

Also cited during the Planning Commission discussion was the recently created Norris Freeway Scenic Byway, part of a state/federal program that gives special recognition to and protection of certain designated scenic routes from development and commercialization across the United States.

The two requests from the church that were dealt with Monday came in late May and early June, after the church had cleared the last of the RVs from the 16-space pull-though campsites by May 31, as required by a federal court order May 1.

The church, at the northwest corner of Andersonville Highway and Norris Freeway (U.S. 441), had been operating the Solid Rock RV Park, which it later renamed the Solid Rock Retreat, without required city zoning and approvals since 2019 before being shut down by the U.S. District Court in Knoxville by way of the May 1 order.

After that, the church decided to follow the rules and ask the city to rezone the site to allow for the campground.

The church’s request would have resulted in rezoning of a 3.3-acre tract on the church’s 17.6-acre campus to commercial use from the present P1 (professional and civic) zoning.

Although the church’s attorney, Daniel A. Sanders of Knoxville, acknowledged that the RV park initially charged campers for staying on the site, he said that after the city made an issue of that, the church began accepting donations from campers, rather than directly charging them for overnight stays.

He told the commission, however, that the church might go back to operating the campground as a commercial enterprise if the rezoning was approved. But the church would also collect hotel/motel taxes that would be turned over to the city, which he said would be a new revenue source for the city.

While it was operating commercially, the church charged campers $800 a month for an RV site, and advertised the park on its own website, where people could reserve a space and pay for it online.

Many of the park’s users had been living in their RVs on the site for more than a year.

If the City Council subsequently overrules the Planning Commission and grants the rezoning – which is not expected to happen – the church would still be required to submit an engineered site plan to the Planning Commission to obtain building permits, a prerequisite to getting a certificate of occupancy for the RV park to operate.

The church’s appeal heard by the BZA Monday was an attempt to overturn the city building inspector’s denial in mid-May of a certificate of occupancy that would have allowed the church to continue operating the retreat.

Covenant Life carved out the 3.3-acre site for the RV park from its 17.6-acre church campus at 151 Sycamore Place.

The RV park is accessible by entry from Andersonville Highway via Sycamore Place, or from Norris Freeway/U.S. 441 near Cross Pike Road.

A site plan filed with the rezoning application included a satellite photo that outlined the 3.3-acre parcel, and also showed the RV park in operation with 15 travel trailers parked in the 16 spaces that were constructed in 2018-19.

The sites included water, sewer and electrical hookups, along with picnic tables for each.