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BMA dispute brings call for tighter event guidelines

By LISA WHALEY

Publisher

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A special event request brought before the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen Monday night carried more than its share of fireworks, both during and after the May10 meeting.

“I’m here to ask you to deny the special event permit application by Tennessee Hills for their Bike Nights,” Dr. Bill Kennedy, Jonesborough’s local historic expert and a former Historic Zoning Commission chair, said to the board during Citizens Comments.

In the request, Tennessee Hills sought use — on alternating Thursdays beginning May 13 and ending in August —the town-owned parking lot across from Tennessee Hills, known locally as “the Parson’s Table” parking lot for use on “Bike Nights,” which was promised to feature food trucks, music and a bar. Tennessee Hills is owned by Alderman Stephen Callahan, who was not in attendance Monday night.

According to Kennedy and other local residents who also spoke opposing the event, it had the potential to not only severely impact the quality of life of Woodrow Avenue residents, it could also be detrimental to the town’s appeal. 

The secret to Jonesborough’s growth and appeal, Kennedy said, was to always remember town residents in any planning. 

It is all about, he told the board, “what is good for our citizens.”

“Anything that we do for our visitors should also be good for our citizens,” he continued. “And, if you think about it, almost everything we have done has passed that test. Storytelling. Jonesborough Repertory Theatre. Music on the Square.”

Kennedy did not believe that “Bike Nights” met the required criteria.

Noise issues and increased traffic were the two main issues cited.

“We need to respect (the residents’) needs to have peace and quiet at a reasonable time of the evening,” Kennedy stressed.

Herman Jenkins, a 40-year resident of the town, as well as the original owner of Main Street Café, also cited Bike Nights’ incompatibility with Jonesborough’s commitment to “family friendly” events.

“What kind of image do we want for this town?” he asked of the board member. “All of our events are very family friendly. All of them. This is an adult event.”

Back to the board, discussion centered not only on issues raised by citizens comments, but also by what many board members perceived as a lack of  detail in the current rules and regulations, as well as a desperate need for a fine tuning of town ordinances.

Alderman Terry Countermine made the motion to deny the Tennessee Hills request and was followed by Alderwoman Virginia Causey, who recommended an immediate series of workshops to clarify guidelines and the town’s position.

“My role is to keep this on a front burner and to represent who I feel are my constituents and the people who elected me,” Countermine said later, remarking on what he called an angry Facebook post made earlier by Callahan in response to the vote. The post has since been taken down.

“We also just have got to enforce what we know to be the ordinances. We have certain ordinances and the limits of those have probably been stretched.”

As for Callahan, who spoke to the  Herald & Tribune Tuesday, he said he saw the vote as an “unfortunate decision” by the board. He cited not only his and his wife, Jessica’s, contribution to the town, but also their reputation for past events.

“I’m really kind of scratching my head on this one,” Callahan admitted. 

But he also reiterated his commitment to work with the board to solve the issue.

“We will go back to the town and work with them and figure out what they need us to do,” Callahan said.

The Tennessee Hills owner also expressed regret for his Facebook statement which he said he posted in frustration before he had a chance to think.

“We’ve worked really hard to get our business where we are,” he said. 

“Do I regret making the post? Yes. It’s not a good reflection of our values and who we are. We are all people.”

“I sent a letter to all the board members today, apologizing for putting them in this spot.”

Mayor Chuck Vest, as well as other town officials approached, also expressed their assurance that the board would be able to move forward to reach a solution that respects all parties involved.  

“Stephen loves our town,” Vest said. “We’ll come up with some kind of solution here.”