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Neighbors see annex as best use of farm

Members of the Commercial, Industrial and Agricultural Committee were asked to consider designating the county farm for use as an annex for the Agricultural Extension Office during their Nov. 3 meeting.
Marie Jackson introduced herself as co-chair of the Association of Property Owners Who Border the Washington County Greenfield County Farm. The association, formed earlier this year, is made up of the 18 members who say their property value and security is the most vulnerable to changes in the farm’s use.
Jackson said she met separately with Mayor Dan Eldridge and UT Extension Office Director Connie Sharpe regarding the resolution passed in November 2013 that designates use of the county farm building for the extension office.
According to Jackson, both indicated the building is too small and not centrally located, but Sharpe would be interested in using it as an annex for storage. “This would keep the agricultural theme, and the community I’m a part of would not be opposed,” she said.
A second consideration is the longtime use of the property to house large animals confiscated by the Animal Control Center. “Those animals can be there for up to a year awaiting court dates,” Jackson said. “What will you do without it, and where will the animals go?”
Something else to think about, according to Jackson, is the farm’s use as a graveyard. “There are approximately 130 graves documented, but there could be more,” she said. “There is an area that is fenced in, but they could be anywhere.”
Commissioner Todd Hensley asked how the group would feel about a multi-use facility, referring to the farm’s former use as a home for the poor.
“The community was very sad when the county farm stopped being used as an indigent home,” Jackson said, noting there were strict guidelines on no alcohol use and her community never had a problem with any of the people staying there while they were down on their luck.
She said her group’s objection to the county farm’s housing homeless veterans, which was proposed a couple of years ago, had to do with a lack of transportation if they needed medical help. Hensley pointed out that would be true of any transient population.
Security issues were cited by property owners during March when they voiced their opposition of establishing a community garden at the farm, but Jackson said using the facility for storage and maybe a few meetings would be acceptable.
“This is an idea that was presented to me, and I don’t want to see it pushed under the carpet,” she said. “I’m proposing a use, and I think we need to look at it.”
Commissioner Robbie Tester asked why the topic is back on the agenda if a resolution for intended use was approved last year.
“I can answer that,” Eldridge said. “The resolution sought to relocate the Agriculture Extension Office, and UT flatly said no.” Any public occupancy would involve a minimum cost of $500,000, he added.
Jackson questioned Eldridge’s figure and asked if he requested a formal bid. “Where are you getting renovations of half a million dollars?”
The roof, windows, HVAC and asbestos removal are the biggest dollar items on the estimate from Burleson Construction, according to Eldridge. “The building also is not air-conditioned and has baseboard heat,” he said.
Committee members were among approximately 30 people who toured the farm a couple of days later. “The perception is the location is out of the way, but it’s only 3 miles out of Jonesborough,” Hensley said.
While not a formal meeting, Alex Crumley of the Zoning Department presented a plan to use the county farm location for a Washington County Conservancy that, among other uses, could serve as a 21st century classroom to teach sustainable agriculture.
CIA Chair David Tomita said discussion on the best use of the property will continue at the next committee meeting.