People want Dr. Bill Moore Smith to open a new office on Lookout Mountain — just not on the lovely greenspace known as Verlenden Park in Tennessee.
That was the overwhelming sentiment Thursday night among a crowd of about 150 people who came to Lookout Mountain Elementary School's auditorium.
They gathered for an informational meeting about the idea of Lookout Mountain, Tenn., selling and rezoning the one-acre parklike parcel so Smith, who has Lookout Mountain's only physician's practice, could build a new office.
Nearby residents gathered more than 100 signatures on petitions opposing the rezoning.
"One of the best things about this mountain is it's not developed," said the petition's author, landscaper Carter Parham.
Tom McIntosh, whose dining room overlooks Verlenden Park, said, "I am vehemently opposed to this."
Both men's comments drew loud applause.
Mayor Carol Mutter emceed the meeting and introduced elected officials and city employees who explained how and why the idea developed.
Former Mayor Greg Brown said he suggested it to Smith and developer David DeVaney while golfing.
"Having a medical office up here in the mountain is a great asset for all our residents," Brown said. "We don't care if it's in Tennessee or Georgia."
DeVaney took the microphone and said that until Brown mentioned it, "We never considered the site at all."
"If we knew what an uproar we'd be creating, we never would have started the process on that site," DeVaney said, adding they'd still be open to buying the site if the town decides to sell.
DeVaney said that he and Smith started looking 18 months ago for a Lookout Mountain site on which to open a new, 3,000-square-foot office.
"We'd much rather renovate than build new construction," DeVaney said.
Smith, who's in about 900 square feet of leased space next to Fairyland Pharmacy on the Georgia side of the mountain, has until the end of 2013 to move into a larger space, DeVaney said -- or he'll have to close his office because of new regulations.
Mutter said that currently empty commercial buildings had limitations that prevented the doctor's office from moving in.
For example, there's a lack of parking near the vacant former Hill City Pizza building.
DeVaney and Smith may move into a new town center proposed on the site of the Lookout Mountain, Ga., City Hall. That proposal is still in the works, with developer Jimmy Chapin expected to submit a town center proposal by Sept. 17.
"Why can't y'all move faster?" asked an audience member, when City Councilman David Bennett from the Georgia side of Lookout Mountain took a turn at the microphone.
"It's government," Bennett replied.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.