Some Jasper High­lands res­i­dents un­happy

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - BUSINESS - BY MIKE PARE STAFF WRITER

JASPER, Tenn. — Some res­i­dents of the moun­tain­top com­mu­nity of Jasper High­lands are up­set with de­vel­oper John “Thun­der” Thorn­ton, say­ing his com­pany is us­ing heavy-handed tac­tics in busi­ness dis­putes.

James and Shirley Long said Fri­day that a Thorn­ton com­pany has cut off their in­ter­net ser­vice and sought to ban them from the com­mon ar­eas of Jasper High­lands un­der threat of ar­rest. Also, the com­pany tried court ac­tion to keep them from speak­ing badly about the pro­ject, they said.

But Thorn­ton said the cou­ple owes his com­pany $27,700 af­ter build­ing their house and have re­fused to pay. His com­pany, JHH LLC, sued the Longs in Marion County Chancery Court in Jan­uary.

“It’s not an in­signif­i­cant amount,” he said Fri­day af­ter a court hear­ing re­lated to the suit.

Dane Brad­shaw, pres­i­dent of Thun­der En­ter­prises, added that Jasper High­lands has dealt with about 1,300 peo­ple since the start of the de­vel­op­ment and had few dis­putes.

Still, an­other cou­ple build­ing a home in the de­vel­op­ment, Robert and Ch­eryl Sch­lenkert, said they’re in­volved in a dis­agree­ment with Thorn­ton’s com­pany over a builder’s fee.

On Fri­day, they of­fered an email from Brad­shaw in which he talked about not pro­vid­ing in­ter­net ser­vice.

Brad­shaw said in the email that if the com­pany be­lieves some­one “owes us funds or has wronged us that we aren’t mo­ti­vated to pro­vide in­ter­net or Dish.”

Ch­eryl Sch­lenkert said there are oth­ers who live in the de­vel­op­ment who are un­happy about the builder’s fee but afraid to speak out.

In Jan­uary, Thorn­ton com­pany JHH LLC brought the suit against the Longs, say­ing there was a con­tract price of $685,000 for con­struc­tion of their house, though the price was later in­creased by change or­ders and over­ages on al­lowances.

“JHH has per­formed all of its obli­ga­tions un­der the con­tract with the ex­cep­tion of cer­tain in­con­se­quen­tial punch list items,” the suit said, adding the Longs re­fused to pay the re­main­ing amount of $27,727.

But the Longs de­nied the al­le­ga­tions and coun­ter­sued, say­ing that JHH failed to and refuses to com­plete the home’s con­struc­tion. James Long said that JHH pro­vided ma­te­ri­als, such as kitchen coun­ter­tops, which didn’t meet the qual­ity to which was agreed.

Also, JHH hasn’t made re­quested re­pairs un­der a one-year war­ranty, the coun­ter­claim said.

At Fri­day’s court hear­ing, the Long’s at­tor­ney, Jared Smith, said his clients’ in­ter­net and phone ser­vice were sev­ered, though phone was later re­stored. He said a Thorn­ton com­pany op­er­ates the in­ter­net ser­vice.

Also, Smith said Thorn­ton warned that if the Longs came on the de­vel­op­ment’s com­mon prop­erty, “they’ll be ar­rested.”

“To threaten them with ar­rest is noth­ing more than bul­ly­ing tac­tics,” he said.

Long said she didn’t say any­thing that wasn’t the truth.

Smith said the com­pany’s ef­fort to stop deroga­tory re­marks is “afoul of First Amend­ment rights. It’s like a gag or­der. They have a right to talk.”

How­ever, JHH at­tor­ney Bill Pe­mer­ton said that af­ter the com­pany fin­ished con­struc­tion, the Longs with­held “the last draw,” re­fer­ring to the $27,700.

Pe­mer­ton also said that a sep­a­rate com­pany, not JHH, owns the in­ter­net com­pany and it’s “a to­tally dif­fer­ent en­tity.”

In ad­di­tion, he said, Jasper High­lands’ covenants say that if money is owed to the de­vel­oper, there’s a right to with­hold ac­cess to com­mon ar­eas. Ad­di­tion­ally, Pe­mer­ton said, the in­ter­net com­pany is per­mit­ted to cut off ser­vices.

“We pro­vided writ­ten no­tice and the ser­vice was ter­mi­nated,” he said, adding that there is other in­ter­net ser­vice com­pa­nies avail­able to the Longs.

Pe­mer­ton said the re­quest to stop the Longs’ re­marks was made be­cause those have been “very dis­parag­ing” and that the com­ments are in dis­pute.

Chan­cel­lor Melissa T. Blevins said the in­ter­net ser­vice is of­fered by a com­pany dif­fer­ent than JHH, and she de­clined to rule on Fri­day on that is­sue. But she said she’d per­mit the Longs’ at­tor­ney to amend the com­plaint to in­clude that com­pany.

The chan­cel­lor did rule that try­ing to keep the Longs from speak­ing about the com­pany was in­ap­pro­pri­ate and de­nied JHH’s re­quest.

In terms of ac­cess to com­mon prop­erty, Shirley Long tes­ti­fied she uses a park area and a pavil­ion, but hasn’t uti­lized ten­nis courts or a pool. The chan­cel­lor ruled she could ac­cess the park and pavil­ion, but not the courts or pool.

The chan­cel­lor said plans are for the full law­suit to be heard next June.

Thorn­ton said ear­lier this year that af­ter in­vest­ing $55 mil­lion build­ing roads, util­i­ties, parks and even a fire hall, his dream of build­ing one of Ten­nessee’s big­gest moun­tain­top com­mu­ni­ties is tak­ing shape and grow­ing.

He said then that more than 500 res­i­den­tial lots atop Jasper Moun­tain have been sold and nearly 100 homes are ei­ther built or be­ing con­structed in the gated com­mu­nity.

Con­tact Mike Pare at [email protected]­freep­ress. com or 423-757-6318. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @MikePareTFP.

STAFF PHOTO BY TIM BAR­BER

John “Thun­der” Thorn­ton talks about ex­pan­sion of Jasper High­lands in Marion County.

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