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What the Mayor, Scott Davis and Hancen Sale Didn’t Tell You
Mayor Jacobs and his buddies on County Commission have beaten the last breath out of the magically emotional phrases ‘housing shortage’ and ‘affordable housing’ – to convince you that those poor (multi-million dollar) corporations paving over Knox County like gold rush prospectors are hamstrung by red tape. Seriously? Dang our lying eyes.
Listen to the Mayor for heaven’s sake! He’s from the government and here to help you (er, who)? Our savvy Mayor has worked very worked hard to clear the runway for developers. How many ‘affordable homes’ have been or are being built in the process? By our count, exactly – 0!
Last night, over widespread well-organized opposition, six commissioners, like wheat in a windstorm, bowed to the Mayor and stunningly voted to give real estate developers veto power over (state- law-mandated) citizen appeals of development approvals! They ignored the advice and objections of numerous lawyers who said their action is illegal. But hey, what’s new? They are the government and you are not. Or said another way, they have the county pursestrings and you do not. Who will sue to straighten out yet another bone-brained Knox county $$$ debacle?
Mike Moyers of the County Law Department did yet another bewildering pretzel dance and gave them the legal obfuscation they needed for cover. If the County is sued yet again, so be it. The taxpayers pay. In the meantime, rumor says resistant commissioners fear the prospect of their district’s projects being frozen or slow-walked by the Mayor’s office.
The Mayor and development cabal cleverly led by lame duck commissioner and county employee Randy Smith once again trotted out young Hancen Sale of the Board of Realtors to tug at heartstrings with carefully curried statistics and sympathetic rhetoric. Notorious developer Scott Davis had his say as well.
In all the hoopla over the dreadfully ill-conceived Randy Smith/Glen Jacobs proposal, no one mentioned the real causes of Knoxville’s red hot housing demand that is making millionaires wealthier while pushing first time and low income buyers completely out of the market. How odd they did not mention historically low interest rates, pent up post-Covid demand (with home office space a new necessity), a huge influx of disenchanted blue state refugees, nor the BIG elephant in the room – INSTITUTIONAL BUYERS.
Take a look at Bloomberg Financial’s article on the institutional buyers the Mayor didn’t mention but which are filling Knox County property owners’ mailboxes with cash offers daily.
Knox County Mayor Jacobs is very busy in a community-wide blitz to eliminate citizen appeals of real estate developers’ rezoning proposals. His developer-friendly proposal to County Commission comes up for final vote Monday night.
The Mayor insists we are at risk losing our young people and we must free the developers to provide more housing and, we guess, more jobs? The Board of Zoning Appeals is in the developers’ way, the Mayor insists. We must “green tape”. ??? (Hint – eliminate public process.)
What odd arguments for those of us closely observing and checking the facts of Knox County’s development. In reality, a tiny fraction of decisions (around 2%) are ever appealed and even those, almost without exception, are not denied. They are handled quickly, economically and efficiently by citizen volunteers in less time with fewer steps than in our sister cities in Tennessee.
In reality, Knox County is in the midst of the greatest residential construction boom the county has ever seen. What and where are these imagined obstacles to approvals the Mayor describes?
By our observation, only local small fry asking for small changes encounter any real scrutiny. Sadly, county zoning hearings have become a maddening kind of theater of the absurd. The same few lawyers, the same large developers and the same pro-development commissioners perform skits monthly in an effort to convince angry citizen groups that the decisions being made are actually in their best interest. By our observation, no one’s buying it – except maybe the actors themselves.
The Mayor probably hasn’t noticed the amazing volume of Knox County construction, especially of huge, very similar apartment developments which have gone up in every sector of the community. Those monster developments are supplemented by mid to lower end (of quality) cookie cutter, higher density subdivisions, also in every sector of the community, while few to no provisions have been made along the way for roads and schools.
The Mayor also probably has not noticed the overcrowding of our schools and roadways – without impact fees for developers to help us construct new ones, nor, we imagine, has he noticed that to serve all the new construction, our Knox County quasi-public utility companies are simply passing their costs directly to rate- payers, the rate -payers who should be protected by their elected representatives.
Pubs, breweries, restaurants and entertainment venues now fill Knoxville as never before, well patronized by the young people the Mayor would have you believe are abandoning Knox County. We wonder where they get that money? Jobs?
Meanwhile, ask any serious realtor and they will tell you people are flowing into Knoxville from other areas, also contributing to overcrowding, while driving housing prices way, way up. No doubt, property tax increases will eventually follow. But by then the Mayor and commissioners will likely have moved on to new opportunities and others will be left to deal with the fall out.
These are facts.
What the Mayor is saying is not just nonsense, it is an affront to intelligence. Knox County tax payers are being forced to subsidize big money developers – those guys we just saw pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaigns to elect their buddies.
Last month the Mayor told the nineteen citizen groups who came to speak against his proposal that his speech was inspired by Hancen Sale, spokesperson/analyst of the Board of Realtors. Are we to believe a paid industry spokesperson’s analysis of Knoxville’s housing market and the speeches of an ambitious politician – or should we trust our own eyes and experience?
If you care please contact your commissioner. Some of them care and try very hard.
The will of the people, via their representatives? What a silly notion.
17 Knox County communities sent speakers last night to ask their representatives on Knox County Commission not to remove their (economical and accessible) avenue for appeal of developments that affect their communities. Commissioners said they had also received what seemed to be thousands of emails, most in opposition to the Mayor’s plan. Nevertheless….commissioners voted in favor of an amended motion, that took out an “error” in wording and left developers with the right to veto, or opt out of an appeal. The final vote will come next month.
Commissioner Jay, yet again, scolded the citizens and the Knox Community Planning Alliance, this time for “spreading misinformation”. Kevin Murphy of the Alliance quickly and very thoroughly countered Jay’s assertion by presenting in detail the actual BZA statistics. Murphy, a data analysis professional, was buttressed by Robert Thompson, an attorney. Both men are former BZA Commissioners.
Commissioner Terry Hill also countered Jay’s remarks, reminding the Commissioners that the people do, indeed feel they have a legal right that is being removed – since the BZA has been in existence for many years, has been quite effective and is not the time consuming obstruction to developers’ ability to make profits, as the Mayor’s team suggests.
Commissioner Dailey pleaded with his fellow commissioners, not to set up yet another reason for citizens to sue the county, saying he is tired of paying lawyers – hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Apparently, the Mayor has had a come-to-Poppa meeting with the Commissioners and his directors of Law, Engineering and Planning. When called on by the commissioners, most worked very hard to heap praise on their boss and to find arguments, even if convoluted, in support of the Mayor’s plan.
The directors’ comments were headache worthy, particularly those of Mr. Moyers of the Law Director’s office. In spite of seeming to work very hard to find at least a tiny crack in the law through which the Mayor can run his play, Moyers did admit that the law does allow for BZA appeal authority – something several commissioners seemed to regret.
After the host of very well prepared and articulate citizens spoke, the Mayor weighed in – challenging the Commissioners not to yield to the will of the people.
The Mayor is determined to have his way on eliminating development plan appeals to the Board of Zoning Appeals, to clear the runway for developers.
It seems the will of the people is not being heard in the halls of county government. Thankfully there are still elections.
Please take 3 minutes to read this.
NCA thanks Sandra Clark and Nick DelaVolpe of KnoxTNToday for once again providing us insight and in-depth coverage of a critical community issue.
We are not just deeply concerned but outraged by a pending Mayor/County Commission action. Our early opposition has caused the Mayor and certain commissioners to “tweak” their plan to get it past the citizens. We believe the actions are not just wrong, but likely illegal. All of us must act together now – by Friday. Please join us!
Call to Action by Friday, July 22nd! Save your rights!
For years, citizens have always been able to file development appeals at the local Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). The Mayor now wants to take away this right, and let the developer choose the venue they think they have the best shot at – BZA, or court! They are trying to rig the system even more in favor of developers, and take your existing rights away.
The citizens of Knox County elected our Mayor to represent them. Why is he working for the developers? He wants to change our ordinance to make it harder for you to have a voice in how Knox County develops. Shouldn’t he be working to make it easier for citizens to participate?
Take action this week – County Commission needs to hear from you by Friday, July 22 and this is a quick and easy way to do it! https://sites.google.com/kcpa.us/kcpa/home
Ask them to vote against the Mayor’s zoning ordinance proposal. Tell them you want the right to appeal Planning Commission decisions to the locally appointed Board of Zoning Appeals, and that you can see that this is taking away the rights you’ve had for years and handing the development community a big gift.
Also add this to the bottom:
For comprehensive information, see this post from KCPA: https://www.kcpa.us/…/kcpa-comments-for-county…
Planning Commission represents whom?
Knoxville Knox County Planning Commission is where the county’s land use decisions are made. It should represent the best interests of the county’s citizens – all of the citizens.
When we hear from citizens, they tell us the Planning Commision (formerly MPC) is dominated by real estate developers, realtors and representatives of their downstream industries. It is very hard to dispute that long held perception when one looks at the makeup of the Commission. Hard working, fair-minded citizen servant members are tarnished in the public mind by their apparently conflicted peers.
Mayor Jacobs has compounded that problem by appointing yet another realtor and a long time developer to fill upcoming vacancies on the commission. We wonder what the Mayor’s rationale could possibly be? Are only realtors and developers capable of analyzing the county’s land use needs and making thoughtful decisions? Wouldn’t it be possible for the commissioners to call upon industry experts if they feel the need for consultation? How is it possible to avoid conflicts of interests or the appearance of conflicts when active members of the industry fill the seats and have such opportunity to influence decisions?
Both of the Mayor’s nominees, Rich Levenson and John Huber, have long made their livings in Knox County’s residential real estate industry, Levenson as the owner of a major real estate franchise and Huber as builder of subsidized housing projects. Both are deeply connected in the industry.
We aren’t questioning whether either is a good person. The relevant question is one of public confidence in the Commission. Members must not only be conflict free, the public must have confidence that they are. Appearances matter.
How can the citizens possibly have confidence in a panel apparently riddled with conflicts?
What’s Happening to the Board of Zoning Appeals?
Last week, in what seems to us a rather unusual step, the County Law Director’s office stepped in with its own proposal in the matter of the Knox County Mayor’s move to largely eliminate appeal authority from the Board of Zoning Appeals. The Mayor wishes to streamline the approvals process for developers.
As you may recall, faced with the Mayors’ controversial proposal, County Commissioners chose not to vote on it as presented by Commissioner Smith. Instead, they voted to ask the Planning Commissioners for an opinion.
We are not sure who invited (or ordered?) the Law Director’s office into the matter but that is what happened. Mike Moyers of the Law Director’s staff entered the process with a new proposal.
That proposal would remove from the Board of Zoning Appeals the citizens’ right to appeal site plan issues to BZA but it would retain the BZA’s authority for (re)zoning reviews (which these days are almost never denied).
Planning Commission voted to accept the Law Director’s unique proposal.
What does this mean?
In practice, the surprise proposal from the Law Director’s Office would allow citizens to appeal only zoning changes and it would remove their right to appeal site plans. We are not lawyers but here’s how it looks to us.
The right to review site plans (what a developer says he wants to do) would take place only within the planning process, largely behind closed doors. Developers’ proposed site plans could not then be appealed to the Board of Zoning Appeals. Citizens would therefore depend completely on Planning Staff and Planning Commissioners to determine what site planning is good for the community. (Recall that Planning Commissioners are appointed by the mayors, Planning staff report to the County Mayor.)
As we understand it, that means that citizens could still object to a parcel being rezoned, (for example from agricultural to commercial or residential use), but could not appeal a decision that would place place a sewer plant in a neighborhood. Theoretically, citizens should be able to trust the planners, however, we should remind you:
Northshore Corridor Association learned after-the-fact, the developer had done just exactly that – placed a sewer plant in a proposed site plan. The developer, (whose CEO was, and is still on the Planning Commission), had worked it out with the Planning Staff, and both the Planning Commission and the County Commission approved, an illegal plan.
In the NCA case, critical documents did not move forward as they should have, to the Board of Zoning Appeals. Had they been available for review by the BZA citizen commissioners, it is very likely that the non-conforming use would have been stopped there, eliminating the very costly and time-consuming litigation that followed.
On it’s face the Law Director’s proposal smacks of the same old insider dealing Knox County citizens have come to expect.
County Commissioners must still vote on the Planning Commission’s rubber stamp of the Law Director’s plan. We hope you will join us in strongly urging Commissioners to just say no.
Today Knox County Planning Commission considers Mayor Jacobs’ proposal (presented by County Commissioner Randy Smith), to eliminate citizens’ right to appeal zoning decisions to the Board of Zoning Appeals. County Commision last month deferred to Planning Commission to make a recommendation on the proposal that would force citizens and citizen groups directly to court. That, in the opinion of some, would greatly increase appellants’ costs, would increase the time involved and would remove the likelihood of plan modifications and amicable settlement.
Not surprisingly, the proposal has met considerable opposition and criticism, particularly following, as it does, the Mayor’s other attempts to reduce or remove citizen input, and in his words “streamline” the rezoning process.
The Mayor has made several public appearances promoting his proposal. Comments he has made publicly have been challenged as inaccurate.
A representative of the Knox County Planning Alliance will be speaking to Planning Commissioners today and presenting a comprehensive history of BZA’s actions and results. Stay tuned…