Knox family fights to keep land from eminent domain takeover

West Knox County family fights to keep land from eminent domain takeover

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Ann Ralston owns about five acres of Callaway's Landing and the "big house." Ann Ralston owns about five acres of Callaway's Landing and the "big house."
"For a place to survive it has to have someone that has the passion to save it," Ann Ralston said. "For a place to survive it has to have someone that has the passion to save it," Ann Ralston said.
After a big legal battle First Utility District condemned 10 acres of the family's land to build a wastewater treatment plant. After a big legal battle First Utility District condemned 10 acres of the family's land to build a wastewater treatment plant.
The family sold a chunk of land for a new senior living facility to help ease finances. The family sold a chunk of land for a new senior living facility to help ease finances.
The Tennessee Department wants some of the land to widen Concord Road. The Tennessee Department wants some of the land to widen Concord Road.
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By KRISTIN FARLEY
6 News Anchor/Reporter

CONCORD (WATE) - East Tennessee residents are no stranger to land being taken through eminent domain. When the Tennessee Valley Authority condemned thousands of acres since the 1930s to dam rivers and create reservoirs is a notable example.

A West Knox County family, who lost most of their farm when Fort Loudoun Lake was formed, is fighting another battle.

Callaway's Landing was at one time a 300-acre family farm. It dated back to the 1850s. The land sits at the corner of Concord Road and Northshore Drive.

After Fort Loudoun Lake was formed, the family says, about 50 acres of the farm remained.

Then in 1970s, First Utility District decided to build its wastewater treatment plant in the area.

After a big legal battle FUD condemned 10 acres of the family's land. Another 10 acres was taken in 1991 and 11 more acres in 2005.

The family is now down to about 30 acres, divided between several family members.

Anne Ralston grew up on the property and has been vocal in trying to save their land.

"For a place to survive it has to have someone that has the passion to save it," she said. "I definitely have the passion. I just haven't figured out the means to do it."

Ralston and her husband Lee have spear-headed the fights to keep much of their land. The couple started a website about their family's history . They hope to memorialize Anne's ancestors' dreams by turning the big house built in 1911 into a local museum.

Ralston is the family's self-proclaimed historian. She owns about five acres of Callaway's Landing and the "big house," which is a treasure trove of antique furniture, magazine collections and signs of time gone by.

She also owns an old sharecroppers shack that has been moved and partially restored, and a garage apartment, once used to house people working in Oak Ridge.

There are lots of stories here, but Ralston and her husband have found preserving history has a price tag.

"Lee is going, ''Okay are we going to choose between our nice home off Choto Road or this place?'" Ralston said. "He stopped asking me because he always knew the answer. We'll pitch a tent in the front yard if we have to."

In the past few years they have sold a chunk of land for a new senior living facility to help ease finances, but now yet another condemnation may be looming for the property. The Tennessee Department wants some of the land to widen Concord Road.

"They are going from two lanes to four lanes," TDOT spokesman Mark Nagi explained. "There is also going to be a center turn lane. We're talking about the distance between Turkey Creek Road and Northshore Drive."

The widening project, complete with planned sidewalks and a greenway, will cut into Callaway's Landing, ultimately taking about a 1/3 of an acre.

TDOT officials say they know the history here, but say this is necessary.

"We are estimating that in the next 20 years, if nothing was done, we are going to see about 27,000-28,000 vehicles going through that area." Nagi explained. "There is a lot of growth around there by widening that roadway. We will have a more efficient roadway and safer roadway as well."

Lee and Anne, civil engineers themselves, are not convinced there is enough traffic flow to warrant this project, but after all, they've been through they say efforts won't wither.

"Lightning is not supposed to strike twice," Lee said, "but that does not count TDOT and a few other utility companies and so forth."

People may ask, why not try to get the big house listed on the National Register of Historic Places? After looking at settlement papers with First Utility District, the Ralstons learned they can't legally do that. A settlement agreement signed in 2005 forbids any effort to list the house until after 2025.

We should point out that when the land was acquired through eminent domain, the family was paid what is deemed fair market value. According to legal documents, the relative who lost a majority of the land in 2005 got $1.5 million in the settlement.

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