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…
IF YOU CARE, ACT LIKE IT!
It’s time to ring commissioner phones until even the super tone deaf get the message (and fill their inboxes, too!). Tell the commissioners NO,NO, NO to the Mayor’s offensive proposal to cut you out of the zoning appeal process and send you right to court $$$$ if you don’t like mega development $$$$ on your doorstep.
(I really hate piling a post on top of another important one. There’s no choice. Monday’s the Commission meeting to decide if we peon citizen taxpayers get another door slammed in our faces by the development- at- all- cost cabal on our county commission.)
HERE’S THE WHAT (statement from Knox County Planning Alliance) AND THE HOW TO:
Remember, there are good commissioners who want to do the right thing but they need you behind them or else they are brow- beaten and worn down by the relentless, well-funded $$$$ development cabal.
Knox County Planning Alliance statement:
Community members! Your county commissioners need to hear from you before Monday night’s meeting. The most impactful way is a phone call! Please pick up the phone and call your district commissioner and your at-large commissioners. Contact info for commissioners is here: https://commission.knoxcountytn.gov/people/
There is a proposal to change the Appeals process for Use on Review. It would remove the Board of Zoning Appeals from the process, and require appeals to be filed directly with court.
We view BZA as more approachable than court – less intimidating. BZA has the authority to reweigh and consider all of the evidence. BZA hearings have been resolved within 2-3 months of filing; court filings and appeals drag on for more than a year.
The proposal is unnecessary and a step backwards.
AND THERE’S MORE –
We don’t seem to be the only people thinking Commissioner Randy Smith’s proposal to smack back the citizens even further smells like _______. (We don’t like bad words so you decide …)
If you need a belly laugh to tamp down the bile and revile, you may want to read long time veteran of KC governance shenanigans, journalist Betty Bean’s view.
Take a look. (Courtesy of Sandra Clark and Betty Bean).
Developers take a licking, keep on ticking.
Here we go again!
County Commissioner Randy Smith is proposing yet another way to remove citizens from the process of Knox County property rezoning. Smith’s proposal will make the process of turning protected areas such as farmland into dense subdivisions much easier for developers. Smith would eliminate the Board of Zoning Appeals!
Once again, we are indebted to Jesse Mayshark and his publication COMPASS for attending the Commission meetings and providing us with the details. Thank you Jesse Mayshark and Scott Barker for your excellent coverage of Knox County government.
Commissioner Smith (a Knox County employee and lame duck commissioner whose term is expiring and who is term-limited) would do the development corporations a huge favor if his proposal succeeds. The proposal would force individuals, communities and neighborhoods that are unhappy with a rezoning decision directly to court. As we know, that is very expensive, time consuming and out of the reach of average citizens.
Here is the story from Jesse Mayshark.
County Commission voted at Monday’s work session to recommend approval of a resolution that could ultimately remove some jurisdiction from the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals.
At issue is the use-on-review approval process. The county’s zoning code allows many potential uses of property in certain zones only “on review,” meaning that each specific project has to be approved by the Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission. Under current county law, anyone who is unhappy with the Planning Commission’s decision to approve or deny a given use can appeal to the BZA, a volunteer board appointed by Commission. After that, parties who are still unhappy can take their case to court.
In practice, appeals are primarily filed by two sets of plaintiffs: developers or property owners upset that a particular use has been denied, or local residents and community groups upset that it has been allowed.
A proposal by Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs and County Commissioner Randy Smith would ask the Planning Commission to consider eliminating BZA’s role in the process, which would mean any appeal would have to be filed directly in court.
“Under the current system, appeals slowly matriculate from the Planning Commission to the Board of Zoning Appeals, and often finally all the way to Chancery Court,” Jacobs told commissioners Monday. “Our proposal would simply eliminate the second step and allow these complex zoning decisions to be made by an elected judge, not an unelected body.”
Jacobs made clear that one of his concerns was the delay that the BZA process can cause for a proposed development. Neighbors opposed to a given use can file an appeal and at least stall a project for a few months.
“The fact of the matter is, we’re in a housing crisis,” Jacobs said. “So when we’re talking about delays, even if they’re only 30 to 90 days in some cases, that is hurting our housing inventory.”
But Commissioner John Schoonmaker, who used to serve on the BZA, said that having to file in court was a higher hurdle for average citizens than filing an appeal with the BZA.
“I think that this body needs to look at this issue very closely,” Schoonmaker said. “When you take an existing right of a citizen away from them to appeal this at a reasonable cost.”
Smith argued that Chancery Court isn’t much more difficult to file an appeal with than the BZA. It costs $200 to file an appeal with BZA. Smith, with support from county Law Director David Buuck, said it costs $259 to file an appeal with Chancery Court — not much more than BZA. And he said people didn’t necessarily have to hire a lawyer to file the appeal.
But Schoonmaker said he had talked to a lawyer familiar with land-use cases who had estimated that an average appeal could cost $10,000.
Commissioners also heard from a concerned member of the public, Bob Thompson, who said he served about six years on the BZA from 2012-18.
“You’re going to price citizens out,” he said. “They’re going to feel like they’re not being heard.” Thompson said that in his time on the board, appeals of use-on-review decisions were relatively rare, and he didn’t consider any of them frivolous.
A few other commissioners raised questions but said they were willing to send it to the Planning Commission for consideration. A final decision would still have to come back to County Commission for approval. Commissioners voted to recommend the resolution by 10-1, with just Schoonmaker opposing it.
Follow the money.
Local political blogger Brian Hornback revealed yesterday that an ethics complaint has been filed with the Election Commission about Devin Driscoll’s campaign.
The allegations – of multiple contributions over the limits, failure to provide required information verifying who the donors are, inaccurate accounting and an oddly short period of receipt of donations are serious matters that may require Attorney Charme Allen to act.
Here is Hornback’s post: