By Steve Hunley
This past Thursday, April 4, the third City Council Recode Workshop was held. It was different from the first two workshops in that serious questions were finally asked to city council about why Recode is actually needed. In Philosophy there is a concept known as a “false construct.” It is one of the logical fallacies. The claim the zoning code of Knoxville has not been updated for fifty is a false construct. It is simply not true in any way. The zoning code of Knoxville was not written all at once, like the planning commission and city council are trying to do now; it was written over fifty years. Every single year since 1969 the zoning code has been updated. It is modern, coherent, and protects the property rights of the people of Knoxville. Recode has gone on for two years now and the fifth draft of Recode comes out at the end of April. How did anyone think they could rewrite fifty years of Knoxville zoning case law in only two years?
What was the supposed reason for this critical and urgent need to change the zoning of the City of Knoxville? Because according to the Recode Knoxville website fifty years ago there was an “emphasis on suburban development” and that resulted in “a sprawled, less efficient pattern that left some parts of Knoxville behind.” Those quotes are directly from the Recode Knoxville website. What does that mean in English? It means that Recode does not want or need automobiles. Do you want or need your automobile? As the population of Knoxville is aging how intelligent is it to try to ban cars or greatly reduce their use?
First District City Council member Stephanie Welch was asked in a radio interview on 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.”
In France this past winter there were riots in the streets for months when the price of gas was significantly increased with a new gas tax to combat climate change. After months of historic arson, riots, and mayhem across France the government decided to remove the gas tax. The people of France demanded the use of their cars.
Citizens had to wait for three hours to speak to city council in the workshop because unlike the other local governments in East Tennessee, Knoxville City Council holds their public forum at the end of the meeting. Of the ten scheduled speakers only seven remained. Before public forum began, Vice Mayor Finbarr Saunders said that because it was so late that the ten speakers would have only three minutes instead of five minutes otherwise they would be there all night. Two speakers spoke before a person in the crowd said, “This is our meeting, don’t take our time away from us.” Another member in the audience agreed. Councilman Mark Campen then said, “They’ve waited for three hours and they need their chance.” The speaking time then was extended to five minutes per speaker for the last five speakers.
In Thursday’s public forum Danny Kirby of Turkey Creek Land Partners listed a multitude of errors, exaggerations, and disingenuous claims about Recode in the five minutes he was given to speak in public forum. Kirby told council he represented 13 properties and eight other properties under other entity names and none of them received written notice about Recode. That is a 100% failure rate for some of the biggest stores in Knoxville. Kirby described the Recode notice as incomplete in that it did not explain whether properties could be upzoned or downzoned. Kirby explained that in his opinion the planning commission had not followed proper legal procedure for rezoning. Kirby also explained that Recode was not needed to build Mixed Use design buildings. For those who do not know, Knoxville already has several Mixed Use buildings.
Planning Commission Executive Director Gerald Green claimed that 50,000 notices about Recode were mailed to property owners yet the planning commission received only 350 phone calls. That is .7 of one percent. How is that possible? If that is correct, then the written notice was worthless and ineffective. Was that by design?
Recode Knoxville also alleges that there will be no changes to the building code. That is not accurate either. In Draft 4 of Recode plain concrete block is deleted and substituted with the more expensive concrete masonry units (CMU). That is a change in the building code. This will increase the cost of new commercial buildings. Many other design, PR, and marketing claims made by Executive Director Gerald Green and the planning commission have also been found to be questionable.
Executive Director Green explained at the beginning of the meeting that the planning commission had received new comments before the comments would be closed. Some of those comments warned that the Mixed Use design that the planning commission had chosen was not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. Green said, “The Mixed Use design does not violate ADA standards. If they did downtown would be in violation of ADA standards.” This claim is ridiculous. The streets of downtown were laid out long before 1900 and many of the buildings are that old. The Americans with Disabilities Act was not passed until 1986.
Recode has become similar to Obamacare. We have to pass it to find out what’s in it. We’ll fix it after we pass it. The truth is Knoxville does not need Recode. It provides nothing that cannot be done now. It increases the cost of commercial construction. It is anti-automobile. Recode is biased against the elderly and handicapped.
The biggest reason Knoxville does not need Recode is that it could very well be a Trojan Horse property tax increase. Will your property be upzoned? If it is your property tax will go up. How is any of this fair? Incomplete and ineffective written notice. Poor Mixed Use design. Accessory Dwelling Unit apartments next to your house. More taxes. More unwanted population density. You have to ride the bus or walk. Is this the Knoxville you want?
In public forum speaker Michael Stinson asked City Council to place Recode on the ballot in August or November. He was greeted with silent stares, blank expression, and no response. If city council will not place Recode on the ballot for the people to vote on the people will have to place Recode on the ballot by themselves. Speak with your neighbors. Protect your property rights. If the city council won’t vote to let the people decide then the only recourse would be to proceed with their own ballot initiative through the petition process.