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Spring cleaning

Litter picker-uppers earlier this springPlenty of spring cleaning is going on in the community (and I  need to do some at my house, too).

Melton Lake Cleanup. Volunteers are needed on Saturday, March 23 (rain date March 30) to pick up trash on the shores of Melton Lake. TVA has lowered the lake level for the occasion. Oak Ridge Breakfast Rotary, Greenways Oak Ridge, and Keep Anderson County Beautiful  are partnering for the event. Assemble at the new pavilion in Melton Lake Park (Oak Ridge) at 9:00 AM, wear sturdy shoes, and bring work gloves.  The City is supplying the trash bags.

Log your litter collection activity for the Great American Cleanup. The months of March through May are the Keep America Beautiful Great American Cleanup. Citizens who pick up litter and trash around the community or on the lakefront are urged to go to the Keep Anderson County Beautiful website to log your hours of effort and pounds of litter picked up. Many of us pick up litter when we are out walking. If you tell KACB about your efforts, we (I’m on the board) will tell the world (including the state and national organization, as well as Anderson County government) about the amount of work  that volunteers have done on behalf of the community. I’ve logged 27.5 pounds of litter (that was actual weight, but many people estimate) already this spring, just in my own neighborhood.

Garlic mustard pull and wildflower walk. See native wildflowers and help eradicate an invasive weed on April 6 on the Wildflower Greenway behind the Rolling Hills Apartments (formerly Garden Apartments).  This annual event is sponsored by Greenways Oak Ridge and Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning.

Household Hazardous Waste. Saturday, April 13, 2013, from 9 am to 2 pm, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and Anderson County Solid Waste Management will conduct the county’s once-a-year Household Hazardous Waste Collection Event at the Oak Ridge Public Works Building at (100 Woodbury Lane in Oak Ridge, located behind the K-Mart/Kroger shopping center).

This is for waste generated by residents — no commercial or agribusiness waste will be accepted. Wastes they will accept include household cleaners, adhesives, paint removers, herbicides, pesticides, solvents, antifreeze, oil additives, rechargeable batteries, lithium batteries, pool chemicals, an similar items. Don’t bring paint, electronics, empty containers, medical waste, explosives, radioactive materials, or alkaline batteries. (Paint and electronics are accepted year round at Anderson County’s Blockhouse Valley Rd. facility; and alkaline batteries can go in regular trash.) It’s OK to bring household hazardous waste for your friends and relatives who cannot attend.

Contact Anderson County Solid Waste at (865) 463-6845 for more information. The Household Hazardous Waste Mobile Collection Service was established by the Solid Waste Management Act of 1991 to remedy improper disposal and to educate the public. This service is paid for by the Solid Waste Management Fund, which receives its revenue from a surcharge of tipping fees from Tennessee landfills and incinerators and from the $1.35 fee on each new tire sold at retail in Tennessee.

City Trash and Brush Pickups. Finally, the city of Oak Ridge spring trash pickup starts April 1, 2013, followed by brush pickup starting April 29. (Don’t mix trash with brush.)  Details and the trash pickup schedule are on the city website. Trash collection starts in Burnham Woods, followed by Woodland and the city’s southeastern quadrant in the first week, and finishes up in the west end of the city in week number 4.


Online survey on waterfront pavilion

November 30 is the deadline for input in the City’s survey on the design of the planned pavilion at Melton Lake Park. It’s a bit hard to find on the City website, so I’ll provide links to background on the project and possible design concepts,  sketches of possible building shapes (see the background paper for some photos), the descriptions of the design concepts and possible features (scroll down to “Waterfront”) as well as links to the other pages, and the survey itself.

I like the short list of design concepts that the Recreation and Parks Board has settled on. I know they’ve considered construction cost, maintenance cost, functionality, and aesthetics, and I think they’ve identified some options that do an excellent job of balancing all three of these. Their recommended designs include clerestory roofs that will increase light levels inside the pavilion as well as adding aesthetic value.

Public input will  help give confidence that the final decision is one that Oak Ridgers will be happy with. UT-Batelle donated funding for construction, which is something I expect most residents will be very happy with.


Next steps for the marina/lakefront

The City Council agenda for the November 17th meeting included a resolution to direct the Oak Ridge Planning Commission to undertake a planning process for the lakefront, with a defined geographic scope (from Elza Gate to the tower at the finish line of the rowing course) and a schedule (finish up in spring 2009). Council did not act on the resolution, but instead discussed the need for the Planning Commission to define an appropriate scope and schedule. My main concern is that I felt that the schedule should not conclude with “award of contract” in spring 2009 shortly after the conclusion of the planning study, because I don’t believe that we will be in a position to award a contract at that point. Other Council members commented about aspects such as the geographic scope (for example, why should the finish-line tower be a boundary for the plan — why not extend it farther along the lakefront?). I’ve documented some of my thoughts on the process in an op-ed column that the Oak Ridge Observer published on November 13. Rather than writing a new piece for this blog, here (for the benefit of folks who haven’t figured out that they need to read the Observer every week) is what I submitted to the paper:

I imagine that everyone has had the experience of going shopping for something specific, but coming home with something that is completely different, but altogether better, than what we thought we were going to buy.

The City of Oak Ridge seems to be embarking on a similar “shopping” experience regarding the Melton Hill lakefront and marina. It’s likely that Oak Ridge will end up with something far better than what we thought we were looking for, but I see a danger of failing to protect the public’s best interest in this process.

In late May of this year, the city went shopping for a “qualified marina developer/operator” to “construct, manage and operate the Oak Ridge Marina.” The city’s Request for Qualifications (RFQ) envisioned that construction would include the removal of the existing marina and “replacement with covered walkways/slips, new security gates and water/electric service to each slip” and it asked for a “concept plan” for the marina and the “adjoining property” (identified in the RFQ as including the site of the New China Palace restaurant).

The RFQ was sent to experienced marina operators and developers. Several of them attended a pre-submission meeting, but on the September deadline just two proposals were received. One bidder proposed to redevelop the marina and operate it under contract with the City. The other proposal (from R&R Properties) presented a far-reaching plan to redevelop a large swath of the lakefront, including not only a revamped marina but also roadway changes, a new boathouse for rowing, relocation of existing recreational facilities in Melton Lake Park, and new commercial and residential construction on private land and on other city-owned property in the area. In its proposal, R&R pointed out the benefit of a master plan over a piecemeal approach. R&R said the company had worked closely with the Oak Ridge Rowing Association and had toured many waterfronts and rowing boathouses in the eastern United States in the process of developing a comprehensive plan.

R&R was right. Although Oak Ridge went shopping for a marina operator, what the city really needed was a clear vision and a coordinated plan for the lakefront, including the rowing course, park amenities, roads, parking lots, and everything else that connects.

Appropriately, R&R’s proposal has led the city to step back and start a structured public planning process to develop a comprehensive vision and master plan for the lakefront. One thing that became clear at the very first public-input meeting on October 29 is that most of the interested public (not just rowers and other nonmotorized recreational enthusiasts, but also some powerboat owners) thinks that a new powerboat marina would be incompatible with the rowing venue and other things at the lakefront that people value. We could easily end up with a lakefront plan that does not include the one thing that the city thought it was looking for when we first went shopping with that RFQ.

I have high hopes for the outcome of the planning process that the city is about to undertake. However, at the same time I’m concerned that we are setting out on a path we that may not lead to the best decision for the city and its residents — unless we do some additional “comparison shopping.” Regardless of how the planning process is structured, the R&R proposal will be the starting point for most public discussion of the lakefront because it’s the only plan we have seen. The city only asked for proposals for a marina — what other concepts would have been proposed if the city had contacted lakefront developers instead of marina operators? What other possible visions for the lakefront will we overlook because we are focusing on a single proposal?

Also, while the focus of public discussion is on physical aspects of the lakefront, finances are another important part of the picture. City staff was hoping for a private partner to assume the financial risk of any new development, and R&R responded by saying they would build new rowing facilities and other new public amenities, but they would need a 99-year rent-free lease in return for their investment. Before the city signs on to that deal or any other, we should know what our options are. What new public facilities are needed and what are their costs? What are realistic estimates for the revenues from commercial ventures proposed at the lakefront? What are the pros and cons of the city financing some or all of the work?

Oak Ridge is indebted to R&R for showing us that what we went shopping for isn’t what we really wanted. We need to seriously consider the R&R proposal. However, I believe – and I hope my fellow city officials will agree — that the public interest demands some careful comparison shopping before we buy into any new plan for the lakefront.


Proposals for marina and lakefront

People are talking about the Melton Hill Lake waterfront and proposed marina redevelopment. As I noted earlier, there’s a public meeting about the marina next Wednesday evening (October 29). For those who haven’t seen it in print, the Oak Ridge Observer put the highlights of the R&R proposal on the web in a convenient format.

There are things to like about the R&R proposal (I particularly like the roundabout proposed to calm traffic and add aesthetic value at the intersection of Emory Valley Road and Melton Lake Drive), but jaws are dropping over the prospective developer’s request for 99-year rent-free lease. That’s something I can’t possibly support. Also, I’ve heard from people who have specific objections to some of the building that R&R is proposing. I assume that this far-reaching proposal was put forth not as a realiistic proposal, but rather as a starting point for discussion and negotiation.

The other proposal — from an experienced marina operator — was a modest one for installation of new boat docks in the boat basin. I have a hunch that the experienced marina operator has a pretty good idea what the market will truly support.

I expect some lively public discussion on this!


City announces October 29 public meeting on marina proposal(s)

Here’s a slightly edited version of an announcement from City staff:



6:00 PM – 8:00 PM

For more information, please contact the Community Development Department at 865-425-3531.


Marina plans

Supra and Moomba boat owners' reunion on Melton Lake

Earlier this week the local newspapers reported (here and here) that the city had received two proposals for redevelopment at Oak Ridge’s marina site at Melton Lake park. People are talking and wondering about what might happen.

Count me among the many residents who see unfulfilled potential at the marina, but worry that redevelopment — particularly redevelopment with a commercial focus — could get in the way of the public’s enjoyment of this area.

In my opinion, some parts of the marina area (mostly the area around the boat basin) have become run-down and do not make the best possible use of the site. Therefore, I see merit in the notion of considering some sort of “redevelopment,” but obviously redevelopment could take many forms.

The City’s request for proposals sought conceptual proposals, with the expectation that staff would review them and ask City Council for authorization to negotiate with the submitter of the most attractive proposal. I think we were hoping for more than two proposals, but the two submissions give an indication of what’s possible and should offer some real choices…

So far, I’ve seen just one of the proposals (the one from local landowner/developer R&R Properties, headed by Rick Chinn). City staff have said the other one would also be provided to Council members; I just haven’t seen it yet.

The R&R proposal presents a vision for the future of the lakefront that I think most residents would find attractive. Among other things, it includes lakefront entertainment venues, covered boat storage (at a proposed rental fee of $250/month), additional pedestrian/bike trail access next to the water, and new condos and other development on property that R&R owns adjacent to the Flatwater Grill. It definitely would not restrict public access to the area, but it would change the nature of the lakefront.

The City will have to make decisions on the physical changes proposed, as well as on the financial aspects (which I think are likely to be more difficult to evaluate than the physical changes).

Staff projects that Council will see a recommendation in November. Between now and then, it would be helpful to hear about what it is people want and don’t want to see at the lakefront. For example, if you have kept a boat at the existing boat basin or if you would like to keep a boat there in the future, what are you looking for in a boat slip? How would you react to a $250 monthly rental for covered storage?