Sewanee Council: Highway Construction, Emergency Grant

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Jan. 24 Sewanee Community Council meeting, the council grappled with concerns about the construction to narrow Highway 41A. The council unanimously approved an emergency grant from Community Funding Project monies to replace the HVAC unit at the Sewanee Community Center.

Frame Gallery owner Harriet Runkle’s comments about the construction echoed those of other residents—“My main concern is the purpose is to narrow the highway to slow traffic down and it’s not working.” Runkle whose business fronts the highway said traffic travelled in excess of 60 mph. “More police presence is needed,” she insisted. Pointing to the increased safety hazards for motorists and pedestrians due to the construction, and noting construction would not resume until February, she asked, “Who’s minding the store? It’s a dangerous situation…the safety while they’re doing this needs to be addressed.”

Karen Singer, University Assistant Vice President for Facilities Planning & Operations, observed there was “no tax base to support downtown” and “nobody is in charge of it.”

Solutions proposed by residents included flashing lights, a four-way traffic light, speed bumps, and a roundabout.

David Shipps, University Vice President for Economic Development and Community Relations, acknowledged the “active work site” was “a mess” and “disruptive.” The May completion date still held, but the contractors were also committed to a companion project and moved back and forth between the two projects at their leisure. “I have no basis on which to judge other solutions,” Shipps said. Some proposed solutions, like a roundabout, were considered earlier and rejected, but Shipps could not comment on why because the discussion predated his tenure at the University. Shipps recommended residents communicate their concerns to Tennessee Department of Transportation Community Relations Officer Rae Anne Bradley. But Shipps stressed “speeding is 100 percent a law enforcement issue” both now and once construction was completed.

Taking up the request of Community Center Board President Trae Moore, the council approved a $4,000 emergency grant to help offset the cost of replacing the beyond-repair HVAC system at the center. Moore said COVID closures “hurt” the center’s revenue from rental income. The center pledged $2,500 to the project and center supporters donated another $3,500 to the total cost of $10,500.

Normally the Project Funding Committee evaluated grant requests, acting vice-chancellor Nancy Berner said. The council agreed to suspension of rules to approve the $4,000 emergency grant. Project Funding Chair Kate Reed said the program was transitioning from funding COVID emergencies back to funding community enhancement projects. See the Lease Office website for grant applications. Available funds for the spring cycle exceed $15,000.

Sallie Green reported there were 34 leasehold sales in 2021, the most in a single year since she served as Superintendent of Leases. Of the leaseholds sold, 32 were residential and two commercial; 18 sold to employees and 14 to nonemployees; 27 sold to fulltime residents and five to second-home owners. Three new homes were constructed.

The council approved, on second reading, the amendment to the constitution expanding the council voting boundaries and membership eligibility boundaries to include all residents in the 37375 zip code. In the expanded districts, Deep Woods and Midway will be incorporated into District 1, Jump Off into District 2, Sherwood Road into District 3, and Roarks Cove Road into District 4.

Election officer Lynn Stubblefield announced qualifying petitions for the District 4 special election were available at the Lease Office. Council member Mary Priestley moved out of the district leaving her seat vacant. Candidates must present a petition signed by 10 registered voters in District 4 by noon, Thursday, Feb. 3, to the Provost Office.

Updating the community on the cell tower, Berner said construction was complete and Verizon was ready to install the equipment scheduled to arrive in early February.

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