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Did you ever work with a salesman that gave you all the facts you needed – but only after you inked the deal? Sometimes timing is everything.
After recent experiences a few Knox Countians are asking some questions. Us too.
Is information useful if it isn’t timely?
Is it really “available” if it is hard to get and the cost is out of the reach of average citizens?
Recently, when a community group wanted solid information to intelligently participate in county processes, they report that the requested information not only took weeks to get, but it cost hundreds of dollars. We wonder who knows that far in advance all the right questions to ask. Whose citizen/volunteer crown is stuffed with hundreds of folding bills?
Another citizen group is still waiting for information requested at least weeks ago, this time through a commissioner well known for his fiscal vigilance and ability to drill down into a spread sheet. They wonder if the sloggery is just coincidence or foot dragging. We all recognize there are many excellent public servants in the county offices who work hard. We do not wish to disparage them. We just want information when we need it.
The county sheriff’s department was successfully sued last year when a request for information was impeded and/or denied.
It’s no coincidence and no insignificant matter that citizens in our nation and state have demanded and gotten freedom of information and open meetings laws. Governments do not run well in darkness.
Is it a coincidence that just days from the start of early voting,
in an administration not free of scandals, getting Knox County information is like pulling logs off the river bottom? A number of county incumbents are running for re-election. One wonders, was there a secret handshake sealing a vow that no bad news should cross the threshold of any County office before the election? (humor)
The county information atmosphere seems to have moved from snail’s pace to glacial after an engineer/economist presented an analysis in January showing that, rather than increasing the county’s revenue, as commissioners have claimed, newly built subdivisions are actually costing, not returning revenue.
The analyst’s figures showed that the fiscal impact on schools alone, was around $5,000 annually per dwelling unit, and when other infrastructure essentials, like roads and sewers were added in, the figure rose to the around $8,000 – and he pointed out that those costs were perpetual. There were literally red faces in the room that night.
Several citizens who attended the recent public events and asked county representatives fiscal questions report that their queries were uniformly answered with a strong an emphasis on “other” county revenue sources such as county service fees (document recording fees, permits, licenses) and bond revenues. The citizens we talked with felt it should be pointed out that bonds are debt, not income and that just as with personal credit card debt, the county pays interest. Bonds are also accompanied by handsome, some say eye-watering, fees that are associated with the issuance or restructuring of municipal debt.
It is Knox County election time. How can citizens hope to make educated decisions on how well their government is being run if they cannot readily access the facts?
The issues we address affect the whole county and beyond. Many people beyond our immediate area do not know we exist. Would you help us reach them?
Knox County will elect new people to represent us starting this month with early voting. It is our goal to bring you “inside baseball” information as it comes to us. Stay tuned and share.
Former Knoxville Mayor, Victor Ashe in his column for the Shopper News last week sounded an alert, that maybe not all is well with our Knoxville Mayor’s well packaged new plan, Advance Knox. Mayor Ashe is concerned that the initial meeting for Advance Knox was held behind closed doors. Knox County has an embarrassing history with that (please search Black Wednesday, New York Times, if you are not aware). Not all the players have changed since then.
Mayor Ashe also told us the price tag of Advance Knox is a million dollars. Let’s use those dollars wisely and show up at the meetings -tonight at Hardin Valley Middle School and tomorrow night at Northshore Elementary where the consultants will record our views. At a price tag of upwards of $50,000 per public meeting we should certainly work to get our money’s worth.
Also last week, Hancen Sale, a very young man with a very long title and on the payroll of the Board of Realtors, appeared on the Realtors’ behalf before the County Commission. He presented an alarmist report on Knoxville’s housing crisis. The press covered and ran with it, likely primed by advance press releases.
There’s no denying it’s a red hot seller’s market and housing affordability is a major concern. However, those who have combed the report’s stats suggest a major caveat.
The baseline for the report is the Covid years, certainly major statistical anomalies. People were working from home, many others homebound due to illness or trying to avoid it, homes could not be shown for sale, and a time when our schools were closed and businesses shuttered or struggling.
Should we base important decisions on such of data? Those who have lived through boom bust cycles understand that a significant overnight hike in interest rates, the very thing the Federal Reserve is already discussing may put the brakes on and turn the boom to bust. They ask what then will happen to the thousands of apartment units already adorning the slopes around Knoxville. If history is a good teacher, therein may lie the answer to affordable housing. Facing huge mortgage payments and a dwindling pool of capable high rent payers, will the absentee investor owners then turn to the subsidy programs of the federal government? Worse, will some of those go into default and sit neglected for the years it takes lenders to foreclose and eventually remarket?
For close observers the most interesting part of Mr. Sale’s presentation came at the conclusion by way Commissioner comments. Both Mr. Jay and Mr. Smith showed they were well pleased with what to others may have looked like a dog and pony show designed to gird the effort to gut zoning and allow the build-out of Knox County’s remaining land. Caveat emptor, let the buyer beware, is enduring advice. A message crafted by an industry spokesperson should always be viewed with a discerning eye. All information needs context.
(Please share and ask your friends to like this Facebook page, OK? It’s important.)
The County Mayor has hired a consulting firm to lead a process to update the Knox County Growth Plan – that really, really, really important thing that we talk about here so often.
The process is called Advance Knox. You will find a link to the schedule for “Ideas Week” below. Meetings begin next week. Yikes. (Don’t blame us. We just got the information.)
We strongly urge you to show up at a nearby school and share your ideas and concerns regarding Knox County’s future.
The Mayor (Same guy. I swear.) and development community, led by Scott Davis (I don’t have to remind you who he is, right?), previously mounted a very strong effort to eliminate the County Growth Plan (that document that defines and mandates the best use of county land), saying it was time consuming and costly. Only the unwillingness of the Town of Farragut to endorse their proposal stopped that effort. Whew!
A little later on, the Knox County Law Director’s Office took the position that the Growth Plan had sunset, died, dead, done! But that was in conflict with opinions of the State Attorney General. That left an unfortunate state of confusion as to whether County Commission was bound by it. Seems they chose – they’d rather not.
Last month, the Law Director’s office reversed its decision back into alignment with opinions of the State Attorney General (they didn’t tell us why.) As a result of these challenges and changes there is understandable wide skepticism among citizen groups across the county.
Still. Nevertheless. No excuses. For real. This Is It.
Advance Knox does provide an important opportunity for citizens to speak up and hopefully (if there are enough of us and we look like sorta like voters) we taxpayers can have an important impact in re-crafting this very important law.
Inside Baseball (Mayor’s Office) Wait. I forgot. Inside Wrestling
An Advance Knox citizen “stakeholder” committee has been appointed to help shape the process. We have only a little information about the members and their role but it appears they will not be a voting body (so they get to meet in the dark, away from prying eyes like yours). It is our early perception that, like the predecessor committee, after the Mayor’s earlier effort, its membership may be weighted toward the development community (Secret. – from which the Mayor and several sitting commissioners and commission candidates have received major $$$$$ campaign funding. Shhh. ).
Who Cares? You do!
If you care about the direction Knox County is headed, this is your big chance to get a seat at the table, see what’s afoot and speak up. (If we don’t participate should we complain later? What would your mother say?)
Why Does it Matter?
In spite of well organized efforts by many citizen groups to retain current zoning to protect their neighborhoods, farms and green spaces; to save a teeny little bit for parks, etc., hundreds of Knox County acres have been rezoned for development and thousands of building permits have been granted – with grossly inadequate fiscal planning for the impact on schools, roads and utilities. Actually, it seems nobody really knows how much. We’re trying to find out.
Unfortunately, there is no readily accessible snapshot of the permits issued, their status or their expected impact that we can show you. We have asked for the information and will share it here if we obtain it. We believe this lack of information is a serious flaw in County planning and just one of many problems the new plan should address.
Let’s be better informed. We hope you will not only participate in Advance Knox but that you will start preparing right now to vote in the upcoming County election. Early voting starts in April! We hope you will begin by taking a look at required campaign disclosures. That’s where the rubber meets the road, where you can actually see who’s putting their money behind who and maybe figure out why, then decide for yourself who you want representing you.
Here’s the Election Commission link:
While we maintain healthy skepticism about Advance Knox, we know there are some very good citizen members on the stakeholder committee, as there are also some excellent County Commissioners. We will participate. See you there?
Here Are A Few Facts for Your Use:
1) Knox County is experiencing an unprecedented building boom
2) Already upwards of 80-90% of Knox County land is developed.
3) Housing demand is tremendous as people abandon high crime, high tax communities and flee to communities they perceive to be safer and more affordable.
4) Knox County is high on that list. We welcome our new neighbors but know –
5) Knox County is not prepared!
6) As we have reported here before, developers ask County Commission monthly, and most frequently it approves requests to rezone rural or otherwise low density land such as farms, ridges, hills and flood prone parcels (hint – that’s why they are zoned low density). This is done without an overall vision/plan that is respected and adhered to by County Commission.
7) Much more land has already been approved for development.
In fact, according to the Board of Realtors 16 percent of all building permits and site approvals for the state for 2021 were issued in Knox County alone!
Now is the moment for citizens to be engaged with Advance Knox and with our County elections.
Early Voting is April 13-28. Primary is May 3rd and the General Election is August 4. Next year will be too late.
Northshore Corridor friends,
At last. It’s here! Drum roll…
The long awaited study of Northshore Drive traffic issues has been released by the TPO(Transportation Planning Organization).
One of our diligent volunteers snagged the presentation on CTV for us and had this summary comment:
“As everybody knows there are serious traffic congestion issues and many dangerous areas all along Northshore Dr. A total overhaul of Northshore is really not feasible, but would cost at least $100 million, so we know that won’t ever happen.”
The study analyzed 10 intersections from the Lakeshore/Rocky Hill area to Concord. We have attached it here for your bedtime reading. Each troublesome intersection is evaluated and suggested improvements are detailed.
Not to be a spoiler but, realizing you may not have the time for reading and working to understand the full lengthy document, we recommend going to the end for the actual bottom line most of us seek-
Will the improvements happen and when? Bottom line. Funding for much or most of the proposed work does not currently exist, costs are based on 2020 prices. (A few things have changed since then?) Acquiring funding and approvals will require the cooperation of numerous entities and then there is an acquisition of rights of way process. One suggested source of funding is developers who are contributing to the traffic build-up.
(It appears that the Northshore Drive part of the study predates the demise of the proposed Post Oak Bend development and improvements, specifically the addition of a traffic signal would have been dependent on some level of developer funding (typically a negotiated percentage of actual costs.) Hmmm.
Here we go…
3.6 Northshore Drive and Tooles Bend Road
The unsignalized intersection of Northshore Drive and Tooles Bend Road currently operates at acceptable LOS during both peak hours for existing and future conditions. However, the northbound approach of Tooles Bend Road operates at LOS E and LOS F during the PM peak hour under existing and future conditions, respectively. The increase in vehicular delay under future conditions is largely due to the planned development to the south as well as increased volumes expected along Northshore Drive, making it difficult for vehicles to turn onto the corridor from Tooles Bend Road. However, because the approach is stop controlled along a high-volume arterial, the poor LOS is not unexpected. Knox County is currently working with a private development located along Tooles Bend Road regarding improvements at the intersection of Northshore Drive and Tooles Bend Road, specifically the likely installation of a traffic signal. Therefore, further mitigation of existing operational deficiencies is not recommended as part of this study. Consistent with the other study locations, the Knox County Greenway Corridor Study does recommend a 10-foot greenway be constructed on the south side of Northshore Drive through this intersection.
From the study. Conclusion:
4.0 Cost Estimates and Implementation Timeframes
Following the identification of recommended improvements at each of the 10 study intersections, planning level cost estimates were developed using TDOT’s cost estimation tool. This spreadsheet tool utilizes regionally specific unit prices to estimate costs for the various project elements including preliminary engineering and design, ROW acquisition, utility relocation, and construction. Based on this tool, Table 4-1 shows the estimated cost for the improvements at each intersection in 2020 dollars. The timeframe for implementing these recommended improvements is dependent on many factors, many of which relate to the need for funding. As shown, many of these improvements will necessitate acquisition of right-of-way and/or the relocation of utilities, both of which can take significant time, money, and coordination. However, future development and redevelopment along the corridor creates the opportunity for cost sharing between private developers and the public implementing agencies. Given these factors, the City of Knoxville, Knox County, and TDOT should work to prioritize and ultimately implement these recommendations with consideration for existing deficiencies, timing of future development, funding availability, and constructability.
For those who want it all:
Jim Snowden, Knox County Senior Engineer has posted:
12:25 PM (2 minutes ago)
I’m sure everyone is glad to see the dry and sunny days! Thankfully, the combination of our pumping efforts and these dry days has removed the short-term threat of damage. To summarize, we have used our portable pump almost continuously (minus Saturday’s miscommunication) for one week. By doing so, we conservatively estimate we have pumped 41,000,000 gallons of water from the lake, not including the water discharged by the culvert, providing at least 5 -6 inches of capacity. In light of these events, we will be removing the pump today to allow the drainage crew to resume their day-to-day activities.
Please keep in mind we will continue to monitor the forecast and lake levels and remobilize if need be. To assist in this effort, we will also be installing a reflective gauge at the outlet to help everyone understand the levels.
As Cathy (Olsen, also of KC Engineering) noted previously, we continue to work towards a long-term solution and hope to have more definitive answers with Federal funding very soon.
Jim Snowden, P.E.
Engineering and Public Works
205 West Baxter Avenue
Knoxville, TN 37917
Bluegrass Lake Update
When the lake rose last week and once again threatened to breach its banks, we sent a list of questions to the Knox County Engineering Department. They have replied. We have also gathered detailed current and historic information from neighbors along the lake who understandably, are closely monitoring the situation. Our thanks to all for helping us to provide a better understanding to the wider community.
Nearby construction in the last decade or so, with related blasting apparently dislodged boulders that may be obstructing the underground cavern into which the lake drained successfully since the 1950’s. (Whittington Creek residents have reported unexplained rumbling noises in recent years). There is an underground spring in the cavern that at times back flowed into the lake but the cavern acted as a natural reservoir and prevented flooding until recently.
Increased runoff and siltation, exacerbated by the addition of many, many new hard surfaces in the lake’s catchment area complicate the problem. Doubtless, the lake itself has also become more shallow. The two original galvanized culverts, one on each side of the cavern, are believed to be compromised and tending to fill with debris when flooding brings large amounts downstream from the six mile lake catchment area.
The proposed fix for the lake is estimated to cost $13 million.
What is intended is reworking the culverts but continuing to pump water from the lake UP to the culverts which cross Keller Bend Road and drop only slightly before emptying into Ft. Loudon Lake near Fort Loudon Yacht Club. Apparently, renovations to add enough drop to eliminate the need for pumping are too costly for the County to consider.
The Funding Issue
Unsurprisingly, the County does not have
$13 million for the proposed fix. Additionally, the County faces many, many other flooding and drainage problems county-wide .
Outcries from very concerned neighbors when the County announced last week that it was removing the mobile pump currently being used to try to hold down the lake level revealed that the pump is not only needed elsewhere, but that it requires constant monitoring. The County has been paying staff overtime to monitor it. Pumps previously used to hold the level down actually belonged to Lenoir City Utility Board and are no longer available.
The convergence of Keller Bend Road, Hunter Valley Lane and the overhead crossing of the Pellissippi Parkway at the Lake’s discharge point led to some fiscal responsibility finger pointing and probably contributed greatly to the delays the community has struggled to understand.
The funding issue, along with assessment of the problem as the county has probed other funding sources seems to account for much of the years’ long delay in repairs.
At this point the City of Knoxville is cooperating in funding and some of the construction is underway. The County is now in the process of appealing to the state to approve the project for eligibility for a part of the Federal Covid Relief Infrastructure funding. It is our understanding that funding is still in question as the project is viewed as a flooding issue and apparently does not strictly qualify under water quality improvement guidelines.
Once more Bluegrass Lake is threatening the homes and businesses surrounding it. This is still happening more than two years after it flooded those homes and businesses and trapped many residents in their neighborhood for days. One man died when nearby Ebenezer Road was deeply flooded and his car became trapped in the floodwaters.
We have been part of a group pressing Knox County for corrective action. What has taken place is a very prolonged back and forth in which the county has looked to other parties to fund or to participate financially in the much needed corrective work.
At first there was extended back and forth with the City of Knoxville. More recently, the county has looked to the state and this week we have been told they are looking into seeking federal (Covid recovery) funds. All along, numerous neighbors have reminded the county of their peril and asked for action. The most recent county response has been a conversation about the use and whereabouts of pumps the community was told were purchased to pump out the overflow.
Bluegrass Lake has become a symbolic and sadly glaring example of the lack of planning and funding to keep our roads,homes, neighborhoods and businesses safe as County Commission continues to override zoning and permit runaway building with no plan for essential supporting infrastructure.
Dry Hollow Rezoning Decision Postponed
I drove to the City County Building last night wondering how many people might even brave the cool temperatures and heavy rain to attend a zoning hearing. I did not have to wonder long. While there were many proposed rezonings on the agenda and nearly all were approved, one stood out.
I had not cleared building security when I was met by a large crowd citizens carrying red signs that read “No Rezone”. The group had already overfilled the Small Assembly Room and were now being moved, of necessity to the building’s largest space. The group was polite, cheerful, orderly and organized; their goal was to once more prevail upon the County Commissioners to preserve their historic rural community.
The Dry Hollow community is comprised of mostly farmland, woodland, a high ridge shelters it. There are scattered homes (fewer than 25), some historic, most old, as well as a large church and cemetery and a limited light manufacturing area. The community is not supported by public sewer, water or improved roads. On one side it adjoins Chapman Highway, long regarded as the most dangerous road in the state. The valley is bounded on the opposite side by Sevierville Pike, a road that except for paving is little improved since pioneer days when the stagecoach originated there in Dry Hollow and served travelers to Sevierville. At least one home is of particular historic significance, many are older and have remained in the same families for generations.
Opening the meeting the Commission Chair, Ritchie Beeler told those in attendance that eleven citizens had complied with the rules and signed up in advance for the opportunity to speak. He read a statement which promised to punish any citizen who was disorderly or who falsely testified before the Commission. That was, through my eyes, an unfortunate opening insult to a group of modest people, many of whom were elderly, speaking from their hearts to and of a community they clearly love.
Ultimately, only two were allowed to speak. They told the commissioners of homes their families had inhabited for generations and they pointed to their children behind them who hoped to do the same. They spoke of the wildlife and streams, of memories, of their lifestyles, the sadness and anxiety the potential change was causing. When others of their group stood to be recognized or tried to speak out in response, Commissioner Jay told them, more than once, to “speak through your leader!” They were also cautioned by the chair to “be respectful” or he might clear the room. No other citizens were given the opportunity to address the Commission.
The citizens had wisely, and I suppose, of necessity, retained the counsel of Dan Sanders, formerly of the Knox County Law Department and recently the former advisor to the Commissioners.
It is interesting and important to note that earlier in the meeting the current representative of the County Law Director’s Office, Mike Moyers informed the Commissioners that his Office was now reversing it’s previous position and would after all, uphold the state-mandated Knox County Growth Plan that he had told the group last month was no longer valid.
Mr. Sanders had argued, accurately (if one believes numerous opinions of the State Attorney General) last month that the Plan was valid. Last night he again proceeded under that assumption. He told the Commissioners that the developers’ proposal did not adhere to the Growth Plan and he outlined the many ways that it did not. He also told the Commissioners the developers were already injuring the historic community by starting preparatory work before any permitted rezoning. He also said that the developer had made little or no effort to meet with or work with the community to ease tensions or to possibly find a compromise. He told the commissioners, that already, Thunder Mountain Properties was in the process of bulldozing, of removing trees, of pushing down fences, forcing debris into the steams and destroying wildlife habitat.
Much of the meeting was consumed with the district Commissioner, Carson Daily outlining how South Knoxville was growing and the residents should embrace the changes as new residents flow into the area and demand housing. Mr. Daily ultimately offered a motion – a proposed compromise that would allow the developer 180 rather than the 255 homes being sought. The Dry Hollow residents answered in unison “No!”.
For some time after Mr. Dailey’s proposal no other commissioner offered a second to the motion. Finally, another commissioner, Mr. Busler seconded the motion, but it did not advance. Finally, a third commissioner, Mr. Jay moved to postpone the matter for sixty days. That was met with applause.