published Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Old lawsuit holds key for neighborhood in Marion County

Homeowners in the Cumberlands at Sewanee development on South Pittsburg Mountain in Marion County want to take title to the roads in the development.
Homeowners in the Cumberlands at Sewanee development on South Pittsburg Mountain in Marion County want to take title to the roads in the development.

JASPER, Tenn. — A dispute between property owners and a bankrupt developer someday could lead to several new Marion County roads.

Bill DeFelice, with the Cumberlands at Sewanee Property Owners Association, said his organization wants ownership and control of the roads running through that property on South Pittsburg Mountain.

The county sued Southern Real Estate Survey & Development in Kimball, Tenn., in 2005 to force the company to comply with certain regulations in the county's subdivision requirements, officials said.

County Attorney Billy Gouger said the developer has "not fully complied" with the settlement agreement from 2005, and now the company is bankrupt.

There was "not a lot of paperwork" from 2005 to show what the settlement between the county and the developer actually was, Gouger said.

He said he pieced together the terms of the agreement using correspondence between the attorneys involved in the lawsuit eight years ago. According to that, he said, it is clear that the property owners should have control of roads throughout the development.

DeFelice said the association's goal is to get the subdivision's roads accepted as part of the county's road system.

"Basically, we feel as property owners that the settlement was never fully executed by the developer or enforced by the county," he said.

When the property owners association tried to secure the roads' ownership at the state level, DeFelice said the developer claimed it still owned and controlled the road.

The reason Southern Real Estate wants to keep that control is so its owners can continue using the road "without really any maintenance obligation" for some adjoining properties that they have, Gouger said.

Last week, the Marion County Commission voted 12-1 to pursue enforcement of the 2005 settlement agreement, which, if successful, would give ownership of the property's roads to the property owners association.

"Basically, on the first move, we would not be accepting it as a county road," Commissioner Donald Blansett said.

Officials said the roads have been in "somewhat poor condition," but some landowners have made improvements recently at their own expense.

The property's roads would have to be brought up to a certain standard before the county would ever consider taking them in as a part of its road system, Blansett said.

The county will have to file another lawsuit to force Southern Real Estate to comply with the previous lawsuit's settlement, Gouger said.

County Mayor John Graham said if the road ownership issue can't be settled, nothing else will matter as far as the county's road system is concerned.

"If you can't get that cleaned up, you can't come back [to the board for that] anyway," he said. "That's the first hurdle."

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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