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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Newport council considers West Highway 25/70 Corridor development
The Newport City Council meeting Tuesday hosted a public hearing on the future development of the West Highway 25/70 Corridor. It stretches from Thinwood Drive west to the Highway 411 intersection. Members of the audience heard from consultant John Houghton who currently is working on a study of the thoroughfare to determine the best development plan. Houghton said he expects the construction of the Newport Bypass which will connect to the Corridor at Thinwood Drive, will be underway within five to ten years because it is a priority road for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The consultant talked about the "best practices" for the Corridor. "You have an incredible amount of development potential. It's an opportunity for you to put together a road map for how you want it to develop over time. If done well, it can include streetscapes attract retail including restaurants and even residential development," he told the council. The public hearing was aimed at eliciting public comment on the direction of the development. City Manager James Finchum questioned how the fact that the various parcels along the corridor, some in the city and others in the county, will impact a cohesive development. Houghton said the area can be developed in a consistent way because the parcels, divided 50/50 in the city and county, are connected with the roadway which is in the city. He suggested that the city and county work together to develop a consistent future development plan. The consultant pointed out that over the last 20 years, the city's working age population has decreased by about 25 percent. He also found that 62 percent of the property on the corridor is prime development property because it has never been developed. But Houghton said it is important to remember that the more driveways leading to the Corridor, the more congestion, resulting in more safety issues and crashes. One side of the corridor has 20 feet of right-of-way suitable for a bike trail or walking trail, but the other side has just two feet of right-of-way. Houghton said state grants are available for developing such multi-modal projects. "Some of the things we heard from community input were to encourage maximized growth at the I-40 interchange, consider residential development to the north of the Corridor, make it an attractive place to visit and walk, and attractive to working age adults and families as well as retirees," Houghton told the council. City Planner Gary Carver said development will be easier because the corridor "is a clean slate, rather than having to retrofit" a developed area. He said downtown, the Cosby Highway to Wilton Springs Road, and the West Highway 25/70 Corridor are the best areas for development in the city and "we want to make sure we are doing it right." Another meeting is planned for late June to unveil a draft development plan. Carver also told the council that bids on the Tanner Cultural Center rehabilitation will be opened on April 30. The council changed RGE Boulevard to Cope Boulevard from Broadway to Chemwood Drive. They increased the pay of the Newport Utilities board by $150 monthly. The chair now will receive $450 monthly and board members $400. City Manager James Finchum said the Mayor and council have not had a raise since 1993 and he suggested it is time for an increase. Currently, the mayor is paid $400 monthly and the aldermen are paid $300 monthly. Former Cocke County Fire Chief William "Bear" Smallwood was hired as a new city firefighter to fill a vacancy. The council has scheduled a budget workshop for 5:30 pm April 23, at city hall, to consider the new city budget.

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