By Steve Hunley

We have many new readers in the past few months from our in depth coverage of Recode Knoxville. For our readers who haven’t heard about Recode yet, it  is the wiping out of our current Knoxville zoning code that has sixty years of case law protecting people’s property rights. Recode replaces all current Knoxville City zoning with a 425-page zoning manifesto that has been written over the past two and a half years by the Knoxville-Knox County Planning commission which was formerly known as the Knoxville Metropolitan Planning Commission. Recode affects 73,000 properties in Knoxville. Eighty percent of those properties are residential. The remaining twenty percent are commercial.  These properties are owned by 50,000 individuals.

On Thursday, May 30 city council will again attempt to have the first vote on Recode. The first attempt on May 14 did not go well. Most of council wanted to delay the vote and attempt to fix the many problems with Recode. Mayor Madeline Rogero advised them to work as hard as possible and see if they could vote later in the evening. Even though the meeting started at 3:00 p.m., after over six and a half hours the council felt they were only half way done.

How did this happen? The Knoxville-Knox County Planning commission voted to approve Recode and pass Recode on to city council after Draft 4 came out but the planning commission did not have time to vet Draft 4 before the approval vote. Draft 5 was left to city council to figure out. Recode Draft 5 grew 48% from 287 pages in Draft 4 to 425 pages in Draft 5. There are no zoning experts on city council. Council had no way to understand the 425-page zoning manifesto. Recode should have never been passed on to city council. The problem was that the planning commission was sick of it and wanted no more. City council has reached that point now. This is very poor representation for the people of Knoxville.

How bad was the May 14 vote/workshop/nightmare? In law the words “may, shall, and will” have special meaning. So how in the world after two and a half years of Recode staff work was council trying to fix all the may, shall, and will wording errors? This happened because the planning commission did not do their job. This is what happens when an unelected bureaucratic body decides to try to re-write sixty years of zoning case law in two and a half years. It cannot be done and that is obvious to everyone except the city council that is still trying to ram Recode through.

New readers may ask, “Why have so few people learned about Recode?” The first rule of Recode is, you don’t talk about Recode. At least not in the main stream local Knoxville media. There is not a single story in Knoxville media except in The Knoxville Focus newspaper and on WETR 92.3 FM Real News  talk radio about the city Ordinance O-187-2018 that city council passed unanimously on December 18, 2018. You can find that Ordinance here:

The purpose of that ordinance was to state that the City of Knoxville did not have to notify property owners about Recode. In the second workshop in city council on Recode the council reluctantly decided they would notify the 50,000 property owners affected by mail even though council claimed they had no requirement by law to do so. Council did this because so many people forcefully spoke from the podium and demanded that the people be notified. The Recode mailing notice that was sent out to property owners told them to go to and enter their address to pull up a map they could look at. It was a homework assigned from a government with very poor customer service. It did not inform the property owner if their property would be up-zoned or down-zoned. If a property is up-zoned the property taxes will go up. If it is down-zoned the property value goes down. It did not tell a commercial business owner if they were being zoned out of business. It was up to the business owner to figure that out. It was not a notice. It was a PR fluff piece designed to be thrown in the trash.

It is very doubtful that the city did mail out 50,000 Recode PR puff piece notices. Gerald Green, executive director of the planning commission, told city council the planning commission received only 350 phone calls after the Recode notices were mailed out. In the public forum of the third workshop on Recode in city council Danny Kirby of Turkey Creek Land Partners told council he represented 21 properties in the Turkey Creek shopping complex and none of them received the “written notice” about Recode. That is a 100% failure rate for some of the biggest stores in Knoxville in getting the notice on Recode.

What city council seems deaf to is that Knoxville is having a real estate boom with our current zoning. There is no reason for Recode. The Accessory Dwelling Units can be built now by requesting a variance in the planning commission. The Mixed Use apartments can be built now by requesting a variance in the planning commission. There are two new Mixed Use apartments in Knoxville. The first is the Evolve apartments at 1913 Cumberland Avenue. The second is Crozier building at the corner of Central and Willow Avenues. Both of these Mixed Use apartments have reduced parking requirements just like in the Recode plan. Not that this is a good thing.

So why is Recode needed? Is it because city council wants to use Recode to do social engineering to increase KAT bus ridership? To increase bicycle riding in the city? To get people walking so they can be healthier? To save the planet? Recode is not an improvement over our current zoning. Recode is an anti-car  anti-property rights egregious government overreach.

First District city council member Stephanie Welch was asked in a radio interview on Real News WETR FM 92.3 recently, “How do we get people to understand that taking public transportation is a good thing?” Councilwoman Welch replied, “I absolutely think it is a good thing and nobody will like my answer on this but I think you have to make it harder for people to drive. When it is so much easier to get in your car and drive, people don’t take public transportation. That is really what it comes down to.”

For two and a half years the city government has not been telling the truth that our current Knoxville zoning has not been updated for sixty years and is stale, outmoded, antiquated, and obsolete.

Section 801 of the City Charter describes the mayor’s duties in regard to zoning: “The mayor shall submit to the council such plans that will include a fifteen-year, five-year and one-year comprehensive development plan, along with a comprehensive zoning plan of all properties within city limits. The fifteen-year and five-year plans, updated annually, shall be submitted to the council before its second regular meeting in January of each year.”

The real truth was accidently spoken by Mayor Rogero on the Sunday, May 5 episode of WATE’s Tennessee This Week. Mayor Madeline Rogero was interviewed by Blake Stevens of WATE. Stevens asked the mayor about Recode and her response was that Recode would be a living document just like the current zoning has been. That it would be updated every year like the current zoning has been for the last fifty years.

If you are a city of Knoxville resident or a person who works in the city you need to ask yourself an important question. Is this the representation you deserve? Recode serves no purpose other than to take away the rights of people in Knoxville. Demand from your elected city council members that it be voted down. Protect your property rights.