Growth Plan Squeaks By – Again

NCA volunteers attended last night’s County Commission meeting to hear and address if necessary, the second-reading of the Knox County Growth Plan ordinance which has faced repeated attempts at removal and weakening to allow dense development in the currently legally protected rural areas.

Commissioner Randy Smith with the support of Brad Anders (both Knox County employees) had proposed amendments to weaken the plan on it’s first reading. That attempt was defeated. Last night, Smith again proposed an amendment to the plan – to would allow dense development in the rural areas.

An east Knox County spokesperson, Lisa Starbuck pleaded politely with commissioners that development of the remaining rural areas is a very serious matter for the county that should only be done cautiously and slowly as it’s effects are irreversible.

Commissioner John Schoonmaker (West Knox/Farragut) worked hard to preserve the ordinance as Chairman Nystrom (Bearden, Northshore corridor) worked to keep commissioners within the law and procedure. (Also at the meeting was Scott Broyles, candidate for Nystrom’s seat. Broyles was there to become better informed. He posed many good process and other questions for our volunteers.)

After several procedural wrangles, the amendment was very narrowly defeated and the ordinance passed. With Schoonmaker, Dailey, Beeler, Busler and Nystrom voting to defeat the amendment.

Also on last night’s agenda was a proposed amendment to reduce the requirement for developers to provide limited sidewalks in their new residential developments. Several citizens, including medical doctor, Caroline Cooley, MD spoke eloquently to the need for a walkable community, citing CDC and other statistics that strongly make the case for movement – something essential to disease prevention in an America now beset by a heart, lung and diabetes epidemic.

Don Lindsey, East TN AAA retired director spoke to the need to reduce dependence on autos for essential daily needs, especially among the less affluent. They were joined by Roland Shankles, CPA who argued effectively that it appears the amendment shifts cost for sidewalks from the developers to the taxpayers.

Then Jim Snowden, Director of County engineering was called to the podium by Larsen Jay. Led through a series of questions for which Snowden had prepared notes, he supported the position of developers that the engineering office should have more discretion when reviewing their proposals.

The citizen pleas were set aside and the sidewalk ordinance was weakened, lessening costs for developers and giving county staff more discretion.

Last night’s meeting ran a grueling five hours (5 p.m. to approx. 10:30 p.m.) Much of that time was consumed by wrangling that saw the Law Director’s office repeatedly called on. Two large, well-organized groups of citizens ready to speak in defense of their neighborhoods were forced to wait the long hours as the parliamentary maneuvers and requests to the county’s legal team for opinions consumed meeting time, wearing down and frustrating those waiting to speak.

The largest citizen group, from the Beverly Road area in North Knoxville came in opposition to a repeatedly proposed development that residents believe would create worse problems in a flood zone – imperiling their homes while also contributing to already existing difficult traffic issues.

Michelle Carringer, Commission representative for the large North Knoxville group was ill with the flu, but none-the-less was present for her constituents, waiting for the matter to be heard. She made a forceful, impassioned plea that the residents should be heard on the matter that has come up several previous times, regardless of an untimely last minute request for postponement. Ultimately, the matter was withdrawn from consideration.

A second large group of citizens, from South Knoxville came to speak in opposition to an also repeatedly considered unpopular development proposal off John Sevier Highway. Those residents were less fortunate. They they sat through hours of other matters before their issue came up and it was discovered that the developer and his lawyer had left the room and texted their wish to postpone.

Last night’s meeting highlighted the daunting combination of development-zealous commissioners, real estate developers and the lawyers which citizen groups face when they attempt to defend their neighborhoods. It is an ongoing with struggle in which citizens plead for commissioners to hold development within the established zoning ordinances and hold to the law while the development industry repeatedly pushes the commissioners to change, amend or otherwise mitigate zoning protections.

It is an ironic battle. Knox County development is proceeding at a dizzying pace – while the development industry complains of being overburdened by zoning ordinances.