Who built the wall? Property owner, city of Knoxville in dispute

Local News

A property dispute may cost a Knoxville homeowner thousands of dollars for repairs. He’s been ordered by the city to fix an old retaining wall in front of his home. He believes the city constructed the wall. The city says it didn’t.

A section of Hollywood Road that connects Sutherland Avenue to Papermill Drive was reconstructed in 1963. The road was lowered, plus a sidewalk and retaining wall were built, but the wall is now breaking up. The city of Knoxville says it’s dangerous and has ordered the property owner to make repairs.

A codes officer inspected the wall in early January declaring it unsafe and in need of repair.

“The wall has split and falling toward the road,” said property owner Jason Barnes.

Barnes said the wall stretches about 150 feet. He owns property above the wall. The order he received from the city says Barnes is responsible for fixing the structure, but he questions who put it up.

“I don’t believe I own the wall. The road was built and dug down. The road used to be as high as the wall because the land touches the top of the wall. When the city dug the road down because it was too steep, they had to have put in the wall at that time. And they’ve repaired it a few times as some eyewitnesses, some local residents have seen,” Barnes said.

David Williams is president of the Pond Gap Neighborhood Association. He was in the fifth grade in 1963 and said he rode his bike down the road when the wall was being constructed.     

“We saw the city build this. I remember the description of the city trucks. They built the sidewalk and everything,” said Williams.

The wall has been patched up over the years. Restoring it will likely cost thousands of dollars.

“The city put the wall in and has repaired it twice in the last two to three decades. I feel the city should repair the wall,” said Barnes.

Knoxville’s Better Building Board heard the complaint last week.

“My understanding is the city put the sidewalk in and built the retaining wall. I don’t feel that it’s mine and on the reports, it’s nowhere near my property line,” Barnes told the board.

The administrative hearing officer said Knoxville’s engineering department has determined the wall is located on Barnes’ property and it was not built by the city. Barnes said he was told there would be records of a permit if the wall was built by the original homeowner of his property.

Earlier this week, an assistant attorney said the city has not been able to uncover any plans or project information from 1963 about the retaining wall. 

Barnes met with the city attorney who said they’ll continue looking for records that may be in the archives.  Nevertheless, the city’s order for Barnes to repair the retaining wall at his expense remains in effect.   

The attorney’s office with the city of Knoxville said in its note to Barnes and the Pond Gap Neighborhood Association, it will continue to check through records to determine who built the retaining wall more than 50 years ago.

As with property disputes, most cities provide an opportunity to appeal decisions that go against a property owner. Barnes says he will appeal if no records are located about the retaining wall. He has 60 days to look for any construction or permit records.

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