BY KEN LITTLE
A commercial building in Tusculum that is sorely in need of repair has a new owner who wants to fix it up and open a productive business.
But Lou Marrone has a problem -- no sewer lines.
It's a common lament among owners of commercial properties outside the Town of Greeneville city limits, or those contemplating locating a business outside the town.
A moratorium on extending sewer service to areas outside the Greeneville city limits has been in place for decades.
The city isn't likely to make an exception for one person.
That leaves Marrone, who wants to open a restaurant at the location, high and dry.
IN DOWNTOWN TUSCULUM
The two-story building, at 104 Sam Doak St., is right in the heart of Tusculum.
It's across the street from Doak Elementary School, which is hooked into Greeneville sewer lines.
But Marrone, who purchased the property for $28,000 in August, said he hasn't received much support for plans to renovate the vacant building, which was built in 1920 and had fallen into disrepair.
Right now, the building is an "ugly duckling," said Marrone, 75, a New York native who lived in Florida for many years before moving to Greene County about six years ago.
"My intention is to do something with it. I don't have any sewer. They won't connect me for political reasons," he said.
Marrone isn't even sure where the septic system is located in back of the building. He's hired several contractors to help him with renovation plans.
Not having sewer lines limits Marrone's scope of options.
"It kind of saddles me as to what I can do," he said. "You're just jammed up every time you turn around."
Darrell Bryan, a longtime Greeneville alderman and former mayor, said that once a moratorium exception is made for one person, then the floodgates could open.
One reason for putting the moratorium in place years ago was limiting commercial growth and other development outside town limits.
"I don't know of anything that has changed," Bryan said.
The issue of providing sewer service to areas of Tusculum has intermittently been a point of contention between the two communities.
Federal stimulus funds were available in 2009 to help pay for a proposed $4.8 million sewer system that would have included 365 homes in Tusculum and would have connected into Town of Greeneville sewer lines.
For cost reasons, the plan was opposed by many Tusculum residents.
As a result, it was not acted on by the Tusculum Board of Mayor and Commissioners in 2009, and never went before the Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen for consideration.
Meanwhile, some Tusculum residents and businesses continue to experience problems with their septic systems.
In a separate interview, Greeneville Mayor W.T. Daniels said that he hoped that the sewer service issue, including the moratorium, can be worked out during his time in office in a way satisfactory to both sides.
IMPROVING AN 'EYESORE'
Marrone said it's been difficult to cut through the red tape and find a way to get sewer service for his building.
It's frustrating both for Marrone and his son, Anthony Marrone, an eight-year area resident who is helping with the project.
Marrone said his father "wants to take an eyesore and make it useful," adding jobs in the process and increasing the Tusculum tax base.
"We're all on the same team, aren't we?" Anthony Marrone said. "We're neighbors. It's not like we're putting a strip joint here."
Tusculum officials said they will assist the Marrones to whatever extent possible.
City officials "had heard that the building had been purchased and were in hopes it would be renovated and put to good use," Vice Mayor Alan Corley said in an email response to questions.
The Town of Greeneville sewer service moratorium is a factor, Corley said.
"Even though it's available at Doak [school], they will not allow him to connect due to their moratorium on adding sewer customers outside the Greeneville city limits," he said.
"It's nothing specific to Tusculum, but applies to anyone outside Greeneville's city limits," Corley added. "It's their moratorium, not ours."
TUSCULUM WANTS TO HELP
The Greene County Health Department issues permits for septic systems, so information about building septic systems should be available there, Corley added.
"We will certainly be willing to help Mr. Marrone in any way that we can," he said.
Renovation work on the building had already started. A wood-and-shingle awning was recently removed, and the building's cluttered interior was cleaned out.
Lou Marrone said he is waiting to hear back from the contractors about stripping the building down, and how much it will cost to install a new roof.
If the building can't be used for a restaurant, it may be suitable for offices, Marrone said.
"I wish they would let me hook up with the sewer," he said.
Marrone said the building was purchased from Greeneville Federal Bank.
The former Eric Cobble property has housed various businesses over the years, including a barber shop. There were apartments on the second floor at one time.
REZONED IN 2009
The property was rezoned in 2009 from B-1 (neighborhood business) to mixed-use (MX) zoning. A Mixed-Use zone permits all uses allowed in B-1 (neighborhood business) zones, with the exception of shopping centers and gasoline stations.
Permitted uses in mixed-use districts also include professional offices and commercial establishments with residential dwellings on their upper levels, according to city ordinance.
By a "special exception" clause, mixed-use districts also can include grocery stores, drug stores, hardware stores, shoe repair shops, barber and beauty shops, laundromats, laundry pickup stations, restaurants and similar uses, according to the city ordinance.
Tusculum houses and businesses are already connected to the Town of Greeneville water system. Customers outside the Town of Greeneville pay about double the rate that town residents do, Corley said.
"To my knowledge, residences and businesses have had no issues with Greeneville concerning the availability of water, only sewer," he said.