Lisa Starbuck Comments

Apologies for long posts. The issues are complex but you deserve the facts. Our East Knox County friend colleague gave us permission to share with you her recent comments to City Council

By Lisa Starbuck, 6233 Babelay Road, Knoxville

Thank you Mayor Rogero and council members. I am here today speaking on behalf of the Knox County Planning Alliance, a coalition of citizens and community group representatives that advocate effective planning for future growth in Knox County. We request that you vote to deny resolution 11j, the Growth Policy Plan amendment.

Please don’t use the Coordinating Committee’s recommendation as a stamp of a thoroughly vetted amendment. There was little or no discussion about the impacts of this amendment by the Coordinating Committee. When questions were asked about the impacts of passing the amendment, the answer was always “we need to update the General Plan”. KCPA would like to thank Mayor Rogero for her thoughtful comments and questions in the final Coordinating Committee meeting – it’s obvious you understand this domain, Madam Mayor.

The amendment removes density and use restrictions in the Rural Area. This will open up northeast Knox County, East Knox County, South Knox County and Northwest Knox County to sprawl and substantial development.

Sprawl hurts the city in many different ways. Development of greenfields instead of infill means higher costs for taxpayers because of increased infrastructure needs.

Sprawl development means more cars driving more miles, thus more traffic delays, pollution, longer commutes, and safety risks. Decades of traffic data shows that building or expanding roads to serve new or existing sprawl only increases congestion through “induced demand.” Sprawl housing is less affordable because living farther from work means you use more of your monthly budget for transportation.

We have already seen how county development affects the city’s budget. The city’s proposed Washington Pike widening project is estimated at $20 million. More development in the northeast will mean Tazewell Pike and Millertown Pike expansions, which aren’t even in the Mobility Plan. The city taxpayers are going to pay to widen city roads that mostly benefit county residents.

The city and residents will feel the financial impacts of more stormwater runoff, especially on tributaries to Whites Creek and First Creek. Flooding will get worse. The city has spent millions on First Creek flood mitigation and can expect to spend millions more because of sprawl. The city residents can expect more flooding of their homes and businesses.

Sprawl causes the loss of agricultural lands. If the Growth Plan doesn’t include protections for agricultural land, there will be fewer local farmers for the downtown Farmers Market.

Sprawl impacts our schools, especially in the rural area. More residential development means students, which means more schools, which, ironically, need more land. This amendment does nothing to better coordinate planning with the school system.

When asked about the road forward, we have been told that there will be a revamp of the General Plan. But that’s a vague, unfunded promise. There are no guarantees that the strong language and protections from the Growth Plan would be added to the General Plan. This amendment doesn’t improve coordination with local governments, schools, utilities, and services.

While you could view this amendment as staying in the city’s lane, you should also view this as taking down the guardrails, lane stripes, and other barriers. Growth creates challenges, or in other words, “obstacles.” Will the County swerve into your lane as they try to avoid these obstacles? How safe does Council feel from unplanned transportation and stormwater projects? As a city AND county taxpayer, how safe do you feel from unanticipated budget pressures caused by growth, without the city receiving any offsetting revenue?

The rules have been this way for 20 years. If the County wants to change the rules, they should give something at the same time, like an improved General Plan that actually implements Smart Growth and discourages sprawl. But you don’t have that in front of you.

If you vote to approve this amendment, you are choosing to remove one of the only ways the city can minimize the impacts and cost from unrestricted development in the Rural Areas. On behalf of KCPA, I ask you to please deny this amendment.

Thank you.