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Sports bar not coming to Riverview neighborhood

Matthew Lane • Jul 3, 2020 at 8:30 AM

KINGSPORT — A zoning variance that would have led to the creation of a sports bar and restaurant in the Riverview neighborhood was denied following strong opposition from a group of local residents, including one former mayor, following a hearing Thursday.

Kingsport resident Carl Swann, who lives in Riverview, was trying to obtain a variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals for his building at 846 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Swann was essentially asking the city to exempt his business from having to provide any parking spaces and saying that any patrons coming to the bar would park along MLK Drive.

According to zoning regulations, the business would normally have to provide 30 parking spaces for patrons.

SWANN’S ARGUMENT

“We’ve always parked on the street,” Swann told the BZA. “To not grant me this parking kills my property value. I can only look at it and pay high taxes on it.”

Swann, who is 72 years old and was born and raised in Riverview, said the property has been in his family since at least 1965. He claimed the city changed the zoning of his property years ago and did not inform him.

“Why did it change and why did it need to change?” Swann asked. “To take this away from me takes the value of my property away.”

Kingsport Planning Manager Ken Weems said the property was rezoned 12 years ago from B3 (highway oriented business district) to PVD (planned village district) and that Swann was notified by letter three times of that proposed change.

Swann denied receiving any letters.

Weems said a sports bar and restaurant is allowable in either district, but that the 30-space parking standard is also required in both.

VOICES OF OPPOSITION

Former Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips, who served during the revitalization of the Riverview neighborhood, spoke about the history of a previous drinking establishment in the neighborhood: Club 229. The club was a trouble spot for law enforcement, with common calls to 911 about drugs, violence and crime all taking place within its walls.

Phillips pointed out how a little girl was shot and killed across the street from Club 229 and that another shot had struck the then-Eastman headquarters.

“If you let another club go in there, you’re going to undo what we spent years doing,” Phillips said. “It would be the gravest mistake the city could make to let the neighborhood go back to what it was 12 to 14 years ago. Please do not allow it.”

Calvin Sneed, the vice-president of the Douglass High School Alumni Association, grew up in Riverview. Although he lives in Chattanooga, he still maintains strong ties to the neighborhood.

Sneed was not only speaking on his behalf during Thursday’s hearing, but for nine other Riverview residents who he said were afraid to come and speak publicly against the variance.

“They’re worried about retaliation and to a person, they all said it’s a return of Club 229 and all its criminal activity and vice problems,” Sneed said. “As a group, you’re being asked to approve the first decision that allows a scourge to come back into Riverview after it was driven back. Please, please say no.”

Following public comment, the board voted unanimously to deny Swann’s request. Swann can appeal the board’s decision to Sullivan County Chancery Court.

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