What’s Happening to the Board of Zoning Appeals?

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.