KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Neighbors of an East Knoxville community became concerned when they learned of a proposed development in a wooded area behind their homes. The undeveloped 32-acre plot had once been a city trash dump, and a 30-year-old state study called the property a potential environmental liability.
The Shangri-La Drive neighborhood in East Knoxville is lined with well-manicured lawns and cared for homes many of them built around 35 to 45 years ago. Just to the south of the neighborhood and bordered by railroad tracks is a 32-acre densely wooded tract of land that was once a city landfill that was closed in the late 1960s, according to city records.
When residents learned the property was recently purchased for potential commercial or residential development they were alarmed.
Today on the property, you find debris and trash, plus whatever else is under the surface that’s not been cleaned up since the 60s. Details of what’s under the surface are documented in a 1991, 150-page Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation report that left a critical analysis.
“The property represents an uncontrolled, unregulated landfill containing industrial, commercial, and residential waste,” said the report.
“If they develop it residentially, you are living on top of that. That is just completely unsafe,” said Kim Cruse, a resident.
“The area is named Shangri-La for a reason, it is peaceful, it’s beautiful. Then when I found out the history that there was a landfill back there. It has to be insane to even consider building something on top of that,” said LaTasha Bryant, a resident.
Long-time neighborhood resident, Michael Osborne led a fight 15 years ago when the site won approval for a condo complex, but the developer went bankrupt, and nothing was built. Osborne says the developer of his neighborhood knew where to build the homes.
“This was Cas Walker’s farm. Cas Walker built all these houses. He built these houses in certain spots for a reason. There were sinkholes, there were caves and there was another reason back there – it had to be trash,” said Osborne. “He only put houses where he thought it was safe.”
The environmental study by TDEC said possible groundwater contamination was an issue. “The property has the potential for enormous environmental liability,” reads the report.
“If they put more houses in, apartments, condos, or anything like that it is going to make the problem much much worse,” said Cruse.
The director of the Metropolitan Planning Commission tells WATE that the site’s original approval for development 15 years ago is no longer valid. Any new owner of the property would have to re-submit plans. To date, no plan has come before the commission for the relief of residents.
The residents’ desire is for the property to be left alone and if there is any development, the site should be cleaned up first.
WATE reached out twice to the agent representing the new property owner, but there was no response. Back in 1991, despite many critical issues raised by that state environmental report, the results of the study did not move the site onto the national clean-up priority list. It’s the hope of people living near the property that the site will be restudied by environmentalists before any development plans move forward.