The Regional Review

Volume IV - Nos. 4 & 5

April-May, 1940

Eight Tennessee Counties Provide for Public Planning
Director of Regional Planning,
Tennessee State Planning Commission

It became apparent last year to the Tennessee Department of Conservation that it would have to take steps to prevent the extension of undesirable developments in the vicinity of and adjacent to the parks and lakes under its jurisdiction. These objectionable developments were found mainly along the approach roads to parks and lakes. They were usually bill boards and snipe signs, roadside stands, unsightly filling stations and "honky-tonks" . In the fall of 1939, the Department and the Tennessee State Planning Commission initiated a cooperative program, based on existing planning and zoning legislation, for the protection of the areas. Because the problem is not peculiar to Tennessee, the methods employed should be of interest to recreational area supervisors in other states.

In general, parks require protection from undesirable development only along approach roads. If a park is designed properly, its developed area is protected by existing or created buffers which prevent from be coming a nuisance any undesirable development adjacent to the area. In contrast, lakes need this as well as additional protection around their entire shorelines. When the lake properties in Tennessee were first acquired, it was believed that a 100-foot strip of land around the shoreline would provide sufficient protection. While this strip does prevent immediate access to the lake, it does not safeguard against undesirable and harmful developments just beyond the 100-foot protective strip.

At present Tennessee has a state and regional planning act (Public Acts of 1935, Chapter No. 43) which permits the creation of regional planning commissions for areas consisting of one or more counties or parts of counties. A regional planning commission is authorized to prepare plans for the development of the region, and it may recommend all or any part of the region for a zoning plan. There are on the statutes private zoning acts for eight counties (Carter, Davidson, Hamilton, Johnson, Shelby, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington) located in different parts of the state [See map on page 17.]

map of Tennessee
Legend: 1. Watagua State Park; 2. Whiteville Lake; 3. Shelby Forest Recreational Demonstration Area; 4. Shelby Negro State Park. Shaded areas indicate counties having private zoning enabling acts.

There is also a Community Planning Act (Public Acts of 1939, Chapter No. 158) authorizing the State Planning Commission, on receipt of a petition signed by at least 100 residents, to define and create a planning commission for an unincorporated community. The area cannot exceed ten square miles and must contain at least 500 inhabitants. The commission is granted full power to plan, zone and control subdivision of land within its area. The court of the county in which the community is located has the authority to adopt and endorse the zoning plan.

There are two other acts which may be employed in conjunction with one already described. One is the regional subdivision control act (Public Acts of 1935, Chapter No. 35) which permits regional planning commissions to adopt and enforce subdivision regulations. The other is the outdoor advertising act (Public Acts of 1939, Chapter No. 83) which prohibits signs within highway rights-of-way and which requires licensing of signs outside of corporate areas.

As existing legislation does not fit all cases, it is necessary to resort to deed restrictions, or property owners' agreements, in an effort to hold off undesirable uses about the property until adequate legislation can be obtained. Such interim protection is not satisfactory over a long period of time and its use should be considered an emergency.

While experience with areas now in operation has shown the need for protection, the program for the establishment of protective measures has been directed mainly toward areas still under development. This procedure has been adopted in order to prevent any undesirable developments where none now exists. Attention will be directed later to the older areas which are now in operation.

The Department of Conservation has provided the services of a field representative who works under the direction of the Tennessee State Planning Commission. After acquainting himself with the specific problems of the recreational area under consideration, he returns to the office of the Commission to discuss the situation, to ascertain what legislation best may be used, and to learn what protective measures are agreeable to the Department of Conservation. On reaching the necessary decision, he returns to the field and explains to the local authorities the methods, purposes and benefits of the proposed protection. If interested, the local community or the local planning commission then becomes active in its solicitation for the enactment of the protective measure.

Watauga State Park near Bristol, in Sullivan County, has been under development for some time. This county is one of the five making up the Northeastern Tennessee planning region and it has a private act (Private Acts of 1937, Chapter No. 520) which enables it to adopt and to enforce a zoning resolution. The first step there was to explain the general program to the members of the Northeastern Tennessee Regional Planning Commission. On their expression of approval, a land use survey was made. The data obtained from this survey form a basis for the determination of boundaries of the proposed zoning district surrounding the park area. A resolution, which is being prepared with the advice of the State Planning Commission, will be submitted by the Regional Planning Commission to the Sullivan County Court for adoption. It is expected that the final resolution will recognize certain zones as agricultural, residential and commercial. To be sure that there is no misunderstanding concerning the purpose of this resolution, the field man expects to explain its aims to all property owners whose land is affected. [Editor's Note: The Sullivan County Court approved the resolution April 1 by a 27-5 vote.]

Whiteville Lake, recently completed by the State Division of Fish and Game, is just outside the community of Whiteville in Hardeman County, and about 35 miles southeast of Jackson. Original plans called for a 50-foot easement for the approach road, as well as a 100-foot strip around the shoreline. Since Hardeman County does not have the power to adopt and enforce a zoning resolution, it appears best, until such time as the county may acquire such powers, to use deed restrictions for the control of the land.

This method of control was adopted because the landholders around the lake, only three in number, were definitely interested in the character of eventual development about its shores and were willing to enter into a restrictive covenant. The main points of this covenant are that all land and buildings within 2,400 feet of the shoreline "may be utilized for:

(a) Private dwellings, hunting and fishing lodges and accessory uses thereto but not including the conduct of any business.

(b) Agricultural and forestry uses permitting the raising of any type of agricultural or forestry crops and the production of all types of farm and forest products. Also, including any necessary accessory uses thereto."

This covenant was entered into for a period of four and one-half years. That length of time was chosen because the Tennessee General Assembly will have met twice within the period. If a state-wide zoning enabling act is not introduced and passed during these sessions, then a private act may be obtained for Hardeman County.

Shelby Forest Recreational Demonstration Area and Shelby Negro State Park are in Shelby County, one of the eight counties which have private zoning acts. It has had an effective zoning resolution in force for several years. Both areas are in the agricultural zone which affords them the desired protection. The Shelby County Planning Commission has expressed its willingness to cooperate with the Department of Conservation by carefully restricting the issuance of nonconforming use permits in the vicinity of the parks.

The approach roads to Shelby Forest, which are indirect and in poor physical condition, have many unsightly, nonconforming commercial uses along their routes. For these reasons, in particular the first, a new approach road to the Forest is being considered. It will go through land zoned for agriculture and therefore will receive adequate protection under the existing resolution. Since the respect and the authority of the Commission are well established, protection of the areas appears assured.

As this program has been undertaken only recently and is still far from completion, it is impossible to state with any precision what results may be expected from existing legislation or present field methods. Knowledge gained thus far, however, suggests that probably the most practical method of protecting recreational areas and their approaches is through zoning. At present the only areas which may have this protection in Tennessee are those located within counties which have private zoning enabling acts. While the purchase of additional land or easements around certain parks and lakes will afford definite control of immediately adjacent lands, the method is far too costly to obtain control over the areas necessary for complete protection. Until such time as there is a county zoning enabling act, state-wide in effect, reliance for protecting recreational areas will have to be placed in private acts, restrictive covenants, acquisition of sufficient additional land, or easements.


A further example of the effectiveness of the policy of giving the museum visitor something to do was shown by Acadia National Park in its preparation of an exhibit for the recent Bangor Sportsmen's Show.

An electrical punchboard was devised as an accompaniment to a display of nine mounted hawks. The visitor wishing to test his identification of one of the birds, say No. 2, plugged in at the numeral 2 and with a second connection indicated the name which he chose. A buzzer sounded when the selection was ornithologically correct. So popular was the "bird board" that some of the visitors tested themselves until they had learned to identify all the hawks on display. It was a successful flank approach to naturalist pedagogy.

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Date: 04-Jul-2002