City prepares to clear abandoned mill site [photos]

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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 1/25/17. The R.L. Stowe Mills in Lupton City on Wednesday, January 25, 2017. Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.
Gallery: City prepares to clear abandoned mill siteCleaning up a Lupton City eyesore

› 1920 – John T. Lupton acquired 1,000 acres of land near the Tennessee River and created the mill town of Lupton City for his Dixie Mercerizing Co.

› 1964 – The Dixie Co. changed its name to Dixie Yarns

› 2009 – The mill shuts down

› 2012 – Lupton City LLC, a real estate partnership connected to the Dockery Group in Peachtree City, Ga., buys the mill site and tears down the mill to recycle usable bricks, metal and wood. But the reclamation effort stops after several months before the mill site is cleaned up and after wood planks treated with creosote are exposed, leaving the mill as a Brownfield site.

› 2017 – City acquires the mill site after Lupton City LLC fails to pay property taxes. Chattanooga budgets $1.5 million for cleanup.

› 2018- Construction documents for cleanup to be published in April and bids published and accepted in May and June to allow the contracted cleanup to begin by July or August. The cleanup is expected to take six to eight months

› 2019- The 12-acre mill site will be sold by the city, although a portion could be used for a park

John Ramsey bought his home near the former Dixie Yarns textile mill in Lupton City in 1970 so he could grow his flower bed and raise his four children in a peaceful mill town adjacent to a golf course, woods and the Tennessee River.

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But since the mill shut down a decade ago and a demolition company toppled the old mill without cleaning it up, Ramsey and other homeowners around the mill have had to live next to the unsightly pile of brick rubble for nearly four years.

“It’s a real eyesore and we’re all anxious to get it cleaned up,” Ramsey said last week while tending his flowers. “This neighborhood has always been dependent on the mill and it’s terrible to see it like this.”

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who promised more than a year ago to start cleaning up the mill by last summer, is now pledging to clean up the site this summer using $1.5 million the city included in its current budget for the cleanup. The former owners of the mill, a limited partnership from Georgia that failed to pay about $100,000 in property taxes or finish its cleanup of the mill, no longer have any redemption rights to reclaim the property after failing to pay property taxes on the site and having the city seize the property.

Donna Williams, administrator of the Chattanooga Office of Economic and Community Development, said the city is working with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to get the required permits for the construction and cleanup of the site, which was designated as a brownfields site after creosote from the wood planks in the former mill was discovered and not properly cleaned up by the former owners.

“It’s taken us a while to acquire the property, but we are moving ahead toward its clean up,” Williams said last week during a meeting of the Fairfax Heights-Bagwell City-Lupton City Neighborhood Association.

Chattanooga City Council member Jerry Mitchell, who represents Lupton City and North Chattanooga, said the cleanup has moved slower than originally projected due to the complexity of acquiring the mill site, delays in approving a city budget last year because of the property tax reappraisal and the need for TDEC approval of the cleanup plan.

“Our capital budgets overall also have had a pattern of slow moving, but I think the administration is finally starting to address that by hiring project managers and working to expedite these type of projects,” Mitchell said. “Unfortunately, the former owners of this mill just tore the place down and then walked away and never paid us a dime in property taxes. To me, it looks like they had a plan to do that all along.”

To avoid a repeat of the problems at the mill site in Lupton City, Mitchell said the council is working to establish a performance bond requirement that the city could require before a building is demolished to ensure that any future building demolitions are properly cleaned up and not left as brownfields or eyesores.

Williams said the cleanup and construction plan for the Lupton City mill, which should be developed by April, will likely include putting a soil cap on the brownfields site, pending required regulatory approval. The city expects to publish bids for the work in May to allow crews to begin work by July or August.

“We expect construction and cleanup to take six to eight months once the work begins,” Williams said.

Once complete, the city will declare the site surplus and sell the 12-acre site, although local residents said they hope some of the land would be used for a park.

“We would like to see a park or an open area, at least on some of this property,” said Mark Mullin, who heads the Fairfax Heights-Bagwell City-Lupton City Neighborhood Association, which represents homeowners in the area.

Patricia Steinaway, a Mercer Road homeowner, said she has had to look at the rubble of the mill site every day out her front door since she bought her home two years ago.

“We all thought this was going to get cleaned up a lot sooner than it has, but we’re glad to hear it’s moving ahead now,” she said. “We’d love to see the whole thing be used as a park, but we understand that might not be feasible.”

The mill cleanup also should help in the development of 210 acres of undeveloped property along Lupton Drive and the Tennessee River, including the 9-hole Lupton City golf course. A newly formed local development group, known as Riverton Development, paid $8.1 million to buy the land from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, which once considered building its corporate headquarters on the riverfront property.

Becky Cope English, the Realtor for the project and one of the principals in Riverton LLC, said the new owners are still preparing a site plan for the development to take to the Chattanooga Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission for any required zoning changes. The plan could ultimately include up to $200 million of houses and small retail shops, restaurants and offices on the site, along with walking trails and recreational amenities.

“The mill site is obviously an important part of this entire region and we’re eager to see it cleaned up and possibly be redeveloped,” English said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340

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