My family has quietly and happily resided in Grainger Country for 15 years. We love the place we call home. A tad bit frustrated, I find myself writing my second “Dear Editor” letter within a few short months. What’s prompted this letter was my drive home this morning.
As I hit 25E in Grainger County, I drove past new campground after mega new campground. It was, quite frankly, one reminder after another of exactly what my neighborhood, German Creek Cabin Sites, could look like, in the blink of an eye, if our covenants and restrictions are not upheld.
As of today, there are seven new campgrounds within a five mile radius of my home. These have all popped up within the last one to three years. I suppose, if we were’t embroiled in a stressful legal dispute, it might all be a non-issue for me personally. But sadly, that is not the case.
Many folks may be aware of the issues facing the the families of German Creek Cabin Sites. There are four lawsuits currently filed in Circuit Court, citing subdividing, multi-dwelling and commercial use of lots, within our federally restricted residential neighborhood. Campgrounds are the primary culprit. Early November is our first trial date.
This all began quite quietly, and mostly unnoticed by the majority of residents. Violations, over the last couple years, began becoming an increasing occurrence. Within the last year, they have escalated into an uncontrollable problem that threatens the existence of German Creek Cabin Sites as a private, residential community. After reaching out and exhausting every possible avenue of recourse, we were forced to finally file law suits and seek court-ordered injunctions. It is our last, best hope.
German Creek Cabin Sites was created and established by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1949, as a way of giving back to the residents of this community, from whom so much was taken for the creation of Cherokee Reservoir. TVA’s Covenants and Restrictions are written into each and every single deed. The restrictions run into perpetuity, from owner to owner. Each and every single person agreed to these U.S. TVA Covenants and Restrictions when they signed their names on the dotted line of the legal document, called a Warranty Deed.
There are not a whole lot of hoity-toity, country club restrictions in German Creek Cabin Sites. We are pretty simple people. And we have but one, simply written, overriding guarantee we are petitioning; “to foster the development and protect the value of all the said land for private residence purposes.”
To that end, our covenants state that single lots will be used “for private residence purposes only,” and that said owners may not “build or maintain… any building other than a single dwelling… with necessary and appurtenant outbuildings.”
That’s it in a nutshell. That’s all we are asking, as guaranteed to us through the law of our Federal Covenants and Restrictions, signed and agreed to by each and every single resident. While German Creek’s issues are not a concern to most people in Grainger County, what should be, are the entwining issues connecting our problems and pleas with the greater systemic issues at hand in Grainger County.
Our legal issues exist and stem, no doubt, from the lack of any semblance or basic existence of residential zoning, and in our case, even with regard to longstanding federal covenants in place. The overriding sentiment, that “this is Grainger County and I can do what I want with my land,” seems to the reverberating battle cry regardless how overreachingly irrelevant it may be. And in most all cases, that is un-refutably and indeed the law of the land in our county. This notion, while it has its noble merits, has been overwhelmingly supported by local officials. Often rightly so, but also, sometimes, to the detriment of residents.
In German Creek’s particular case, there is no jurisdiction for that sentiment. And yet, here we are. This ambiguity, combined with the unprecedented 2020 surge in Camper/RV living sweeping our nation, has blurred lines, and created for us, the perfect storm.
I grew up camping. Most of my family members have campers today. Some of my fondest childhood memories were summers spent at a KOA in western Pennsylvania with my grandparents and cousins. The campers, per say, are not the problem. Our county’s inability to regulate where or where not these campgrounds - mini or mega - may locate, and the lack of provisions created to see that these businesses are in fact benefiting Grainger County taxpayers, is a problem. For the residents of German Creek Cabin Sites, it has become a burdensome problem.
We saw our property taxes double this year. Our one-lane deteriorating and pot-holed streets have not been repaved since 1949, when TVA laid them. We have no access to city water. Now, that is all fine and dandy. Some things are a trade off; but not when your taxes double and you are asked to pay millions in sewer lines to profitable campground ventures that offer no real return to our county. In a year when the whole country seems to be flocking to East Tennessee, and so much is being asked of us, where and how several million dollars are distributed into our community is a big deal.
I am all for campgrounds and the joy, happiness and relaxation that brings to families, especially in today’s environment and crazy world. But I am also for the responsible protection and preservation of this beautiful place we call home. And when things hit home, well, there is a difference in how you feel about it.
It’s always easier to sit back sometimes, say nothing and suffer the consequences. But sometimes, it’s important enough to try and make a difference. Even if it’s only in your little corner of the world.
I would like to comment on the current COVID-19 pandemic. I know there have been many people who have had their doubts regarding the nature of the pandemic, mask mandates, treatment for COVID-19 and the vaccines.
This has been a very trying time for everyone. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is real, and it is spreading in our community, state and country.
On October 6, there were 293 patients in Ballad Health hospitals admitted with COVID-19. Ninety-one percent of those were unvaccinated. There were 83 COVID-19 patients in the ICU. Ninety-six percent of those were unvaccinated. There were 57 patients on ventilators. Ninety-eight percent of those were unvaccinated.
I know many people out there are afraid of the vaccines. Based on the data from our communities, it appears obvious that vaccinated people do better than unvaccinated people with COVID-19.
Also, having COVID-19 does not ensure you will never have it again. We have seen multiple patients who have had COVID-19 on two separate occasions. It appears natural immunity to COVID-19 declines with time.
The vaccines offer protection to prevent the spread and severity of COVID-19. They are not perfect, but they do give us an opportunity to decrease infections and prevent hospitalizations. I’ve been fully vaccinated and have received a third dose of the vaccine. My symptoms from the vaccine have been minimal compared to having a COVID-19 infection. I have not experienced any long-term side effects to the vaccine since receiving the first dose of the vaccine last December.
Everyone must make up their own mind about taking the vaccine, but if you do not take the vaccine for yourself, you should consider the well-being of your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, children, co-workers and your friends.
John Short, MD, is a family
medicine physician with Ballad
Health Medical Associates