Critical County Commission Vote Last Night


NCA and its sister citizen organization, Knox County Planning Alliance, owe big thanks today to several Knox County Commissioners for saving the work of citizen stakeholders on important zoning change wording.

Among commissioners deserving our thanks are John Schoonmaker, Evelyn Gill, Carson Dailey, Hugh Nystrom, Ritchie Beeler and Charles Busler as well as citizen volunteer, Lisa Starbuck. I may be overlooking others. For that, I apologize. It was a tense, long meeting.

Last night’s tension was over wording changes that occurred after the stakeholder committee charged with making changes to our zoning ordinance concluded it’s work and put it in the hands of planning staff to be forwarded to Planning Commission for approval.

Lisa Starbuck, a stakeholder and KCPA committee member, presented what had taken place and respectfully asked commissioners to restore original wording.

Importantly, the changes would have allowed development to intrude into the Growth Plan (ordinance) protected rural areas of Knox County and would also have allowed more aggressive grading of our slopes and hillsides – both historically matters of considerable controversy as they would make available for development areas of our county now protected as unsuitable for development – areas such as farms, small homesteads, slopes, gulleys, ridge tops now valued as green space and buffer zones. It should be understood that some areas the undesirable or impossible-to-develop (ridges, gulleys, ponds and wetlands) become valuable to developers as part of the density calculation for a proposed use.

Several commissioners (named above) expressed concern and asked for clarification of the process which allowed those changes to take place after a good faith meeting of the minds of the parties.

There is widespread agreement that vague wording causes a great deal of trouble for our county in the expenditure of time and money as citizen groups, builder/developers, attorneys, planners and commissioners interpret the ordinances.

Changes now in process come in the wake of the sweeping changes in zoning that become effective Jan. 1st as a result of the City of Knoxville’s very controversial Recode process throughout which tensions have run high. Untold hours of work have been donated by citizen advocates to be sure the community is well-served. Some view ReCode as a template that could become the county-wide model for zoning.

Commissioners ultimately voted last night to restore the committee’s original wording but that came over the objection and strong opposition by commissioners Randy Smith and Brad Anders who are widely seen as strongly pro-development advocates. Those two commissioners seem to work in tandem to set the stage for their desired results skillfully using procedural moves to stop discussion, to substitute additional opposing motions and to quickly force votes.

Commissioner Smith, apparently understanding he was outvoted last night, asked the law director if there would be an opportunity to revisit the issue. The answer was yes – at the Commission’s Jan. 21st meeting. So it appears we will see another effort to change the outcome at that time.

Thank you to our county commissioners and the citizen volunteers of KCPA who have given enormous amounts of their time and expertise.