Building On Beverly’s Hills

Thank you Jesse Mayshark and Compass for excellent coverage of Knox County Planning.
We are sharing this Compass story as it is such a good teaching example of the planning process in Knox County. We were present last year when this project was on the agenda. On that occasion a large number of North Knoxville residents had assembled to once again oppose a project, previously considered and declined, they felt was not in the interest of the community. As I recall, the developer withdrew the proposal late that evening – after the residents had waited a very long time to be heard.
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Building on Beverly’s Hills
Third time’s the charm at County Commission for a developer planning a subdivision on a steep and difficult site in North Knoxville.
Developer Randy Guignard had good reason to be ready for the objections raised by local residents Monday to his proposed new subdivision on the side of a ridge in North Knoxville: They had beaten him twice before.
So when attorney Charles Taylor, representing the surrounding neighborhoods, quoted former Knoxville-Knox County Planning Director Gerald Green calling it “the worst piece of property ever to come before” the Planning Commission, Guignard was prepared with a witness for the rebuttal: former Knoxville-Knox County Planning Director Gerald Green.
Calling in to Knox County Commission’s virtual meeting last night from Asheville, N.C., to which he returned after his retirement last year, Green told commissioners that Guignard’s project had been improved in many ways from when he first made that assessment.
“Yes, I did say that, but with more information we change our mind,” Green said. “This is a challenging site, but I believe that by accepting the challenges that this site presents, Mr. Guignard has developed a very feasible development plan.”
The endorsement, along with assurances offered by the developer, was enough for Guignard to finally win support for his project on Beverly Road after failing in 2018 and 2020. But just barely: Six of the 11 commissioners voted to support rezoning the property from industrial to planned residential use. Three voted against, including Commissioner Courtney Durrett — in whose 2nd District the property resides — and two abstained.
The rezoning will allow a density of up to 2.51 housing units per acre, which comes to 196 units across the 78-acre site. Neighbors had requested — and Durrett proposed — limiting development to 61 units, which is what the Planning Commission staff had originally recommended when Guignard proposed the subdivision.
But Guignard told commissioners there was no way he could turn a profit on fewer than 172 units. He warned that if his rezoning were rejected, he could be compelled to put the property to its zoned industrial use.
“The land can be used for parking lots and storage areas for materials that could include but are not limited to tires, asphalt shingles, building materials, scrap cars, parts, and more,” Guignard said.
The two tracts Guignard owns sit on the north side of a ridge that runs along Washington Pike and Beverly Road, behind the shopping center that includes Target and Old Navy. Their lower portion includes a stretch of Whites Creek and its floodplain. The site immediately north of Interstate 640 is in an odd pocket just outside Knoxville city limits but effectively surrounded by city territory.
Guignard bought the properties in 2018 for a combined $560,000 and has been trying to develop them ever since. Neighbors have argued that development on the site will exacerbate flooding problems along Whites Creek and further downstream.
“The flooding doesn’t just affect Whites Creek, because Whites Creek runs into First Creek and then it goes down Broadway,” Taylor, the attorney representing the surrounding neighbors, said. “Neighborhoods miles away are going to suffer from this development.”
But Guignard said he will not build in the floodplain, and he plans to donate 16 acres along the creek to Legacy Parks Foundation. He said the organization is interested in developing a natural stormwater conservation area similar to the county’s Roy Arthur Stormwater Park in West Knox County.
“This land donation also includes a walking trail easement located on the ridge top that leads to shopping and to Knox County parks,” Guignard said. The property is close to the county’s New Harvest Park on Washington Pike.
Also speaking on Guignard’s behalf, former Knox County stormwater director Chris Granju said the developer’s plans for flood mitigation are forward-looking, with an emphasis on infiltration and capturing stormwater on site via pervious pavers and other methods.
“What’s being proposed is something different than the usual development that folks are used to seeing in Knox County,” Granju said.
Legally, development cannot increase the amount of runoff from a piece of property. Granju said Guignard’s project will meet that standard. The plans were sufficient to win a 13-0 vote of approval from the Planning Commission last month.
Commissioner Terry Hill said she had visited the site and been impressed with Guignard’s plans.
“It did not take five minutes once I was back on the property to recognize number one, what a beautiful piece of property it is,” she said. “But also how much it truly does level and flatten.”
But Durrett, who noted that she grew up watching frequent flooding in the Fairmont-Emoriland neighborhood along First Creek, said Guignard’s assurances did not satisfy her constituents. Groups that came out against the project included Fountain City Town Hall and the neighborhood associations of Tazewell Pike-Beverly Station, Fairmont-Emoriland, Alice Bell/Spring Hill and Oakwood-Lincoln Park.
“The community has really expressed their concerns about the flooding that this can potentially cause and exacerbate the current flooding that is there right now,” Durrett said.
She made a motion to allow only 61 units on the site, but that was trumped by a substitute motion by Commissioner Carson Dailey to approve the 196 units recommended by the Planning Commission.
Voting to approve the rezoning were Dailey, Hill, and commissioners Dasha Lundy, Randy Smith, Charles Busler and Chair Larsen Jay. Joining Durrett in opposition were Vice Chair John Schoonmaker and Commissioner Justin Biggs. Commissioners Kyle Ward and Richie Beeler abstained.