Knoxville’s zoning ordinance hasn’t undergone a thorough review in half a century, and many of the current provisions are so obsolete that they hinder quality sustainable development – but that’s about to change.


Mayor Madeline Rogero proposed that the Metropolitan Planning Commission conduct a complete review and update of the City’s zoning ordinance. At its May 24 meeting, City Council unanimously voted to amend the 2015-16 operating budget, increasing funding to MPC by $300,000. The new funds will allow MPC to hire and direct a consultant to start the review.


“Our zoning ordinance was written decades ago, for land-use patterns of a very different era – the post-World War II suburban model,” Mayor Rogero said. “The ordinance may have made sense then. But as we’ve grown, and lifestyle choices have changed, the ordinance no longer fits our needs in 2016.


“In many cases, the outdated, rigid ordinance actually prevents some neighborhoods from achieving their full potential. We need an up-to-date ordinance that protects the things we all value in our neighborhoods and commercial areas while allowing the kinds of smart, sustainable growth that will move Knoxville forward.”


Mayor Rogero said public input is encouraged – and needed.


“This will not be a top-down review,” the Mayor said. “We need to hear what works best from residents, business owners and developers. I look forward to everybody’s help in making this new zoning ordinance insightful and comprehensive.”

The list of issues to be discussed is lengthy in overhauling and modernizing such an old zoning ordinance. MPC will be smoothing out a variety of inconsistencies and gaps in the existing ordinance. For example, the ordinance update will establish clear and objective standards that can be used to help guide consistent use-on-review decisions.


Among the issues to be addressed:

  • Is more flexibility needed in allowing mixed-use development in commercial districts?
  • The existing ordinance lacks uniform, consistent landscaping requirements, and flood-zone development standards are unclear.
  • Standards for lighting do not take advantage of current technology to reduce the light impact of new development and redevelopment.
  • Regulations of setbacks in current non-residential districts make it difficult or impossible to redevelop many of the properties located in the older sections of the City initially developed prior to World War II.
  • Standards for preserving the community character of the City’s residential neighborhoods can be clarified and strengthened.

The MPC review will look at best practices and hear from Knoxville community and business leaders about what requirements they would like.

Gerald Green, MPC’s Executive Director, said, “MPC is looking forward to working with the City and selecting a consultant to assist us in moving the zoning ordinance into the 21st century.”


Green noted that Knox County is projected to grow in population by another 170,000 residents by 2040 – another reason why an up-to-date City zoning ordinance is imperative.


“The growth will be the equivalent of adding another Knoxville,” he said. “We’ll need to create opportunities to live, work and shop within the city and not just default to sprawl development.”


MPC hopes to hire a consultant in about a month and have an overhauled ordinance to City Council 15 months after that.