By Steve Hunley

On February 7, Knoxville City Council held the first council workshop on Recode and there were many property owners expressing their concern about the 287-page document that may replace all commercial and residential zoning in the city of Knoxville.  The next council workshop for Recode is Wednesday, February 20 at 5:30 p.m. in the main auditorium at the City-County Building. If you care about your property rights and your neighborhood you should make time to attend.

Former Knoxville City Council member and longtime neighborhood advocate Carlene Malone told council the property owners had to be notified about Recode. This began a long discussion about whether city council had met the letter of the law on notification for zoning changes. While no firm decision was made it appears council is considering notifying all 50,000 plus property owners about Recode before council votes on approval. Malone also said that Recode was incoherent and needed much more work.

Local developer John Shirley told city council he had $200 million dollars of property development in play now with $35 million dollars of development across from West Town Mall. He explained that Recode would put this development in jeopardy and that local developers were lawyering up to sue the City of Knoxville about Recode.

Larry Silverstein of Community Forum waited three and a half hours to speak in Public Forum and also warned the council of impending lawsuits on Recode. He implored the council to slow down and get the zoning right.

After the first Recode Workshop in city council a radio listener named Michael from Holston Hills called into WETR 92.3 FM and said he was very concerned that some out-of-state developer would buy a few houses in Holston Hills and knock them down to build a five-story Mixed Use apartment building with bars and restaurants on the first floor. He asked if that could happen with Recode. This is a legitimate concern. Minneapolis is the first major city in America to open up every neighborhood to denser housing options by ending single family zoning. Seattle is now considering doing the same thing. Is Recode the path to ending single family zoning in Knoxville? What will that mean for premier Knoxville neighborhoods like Holston Hills, Sequoyah Hills, West Hills, and Cumberland Estates?

It is my understanding that Recode is currently $189,000 over budget and the zoning consultant Camiros of Chicago may not have done what the planning commission expected or needed. The original budget for Recode was $300,000. In the end $289,000 went to Camiros. The planning commission expected to spend $11,000 of staff time on Recode but in the end spent $200,000 in staff time for Recode. Executive Gerald Green of the Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission said he expected Camiros would do more groundwork but instead they only provided a template for zoning and presentation material for Recode and the planning commission staff had to do the actual zoning groundwork.

In my opinion, Recode as it exists now with Draft 4 is a failed, flawed and incomplete product. It uses Mixed Use Urban Planning from the 1900s resulting in an unsafe design due to side and back alleys. All parking for Recode Mixed Use apartments must be in the back or on the side. Yet the town of Farragut uses a modern safe mixed use design. The difference can be seen at the new Starbucks and shops of the Farragut Gateway shopping center at 11400 Kingston Pike and Campbell Station Road. There are no side and back alleys in the Farragut design. The back of the Mixed Use building faces the street. You go down a side street and find the parking lot. The front of the building faces the parking lot. This is a much safer design that meets ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards. Something that Recode may not achieve with its ancient Mixed Use designs.

When the zoning consultant Camiros of Chicago was hired by the City of Knoxville supposedly there was no Recode; Camiros was hired in the beginning only to tweak and upgrade the existing Knoxville city zoning code.  The planning commission and city council later decided that Camiros should replace the entire existing zoning code with Recode and invalidate fifty years of case law that protects the property rights of the people of Knoxville.  Recode is a sort of Omnibus zoning that has never been done in Tennessee. Why wasn’t Recode broken into sections so it could be vetted and have sufficient public input?

Many property owners are asking why Recode is needed at all. The answer is simple. The city wants more tax revenue. Since the city can no longer annex people in the county into the city to get more tax dollars because of the State Urban Growth Plan, the growth has to be inside the city and has to be done by increasing population density. So to get new people into Knoxville and tax them the planning commission and city council told Camiros to use Recode to increase the population of the city. Is this why Recode morphed from just tweaking and updating Knoxville zoning into a complete replacement of zoning?

What solutions did Camiros come up with for Recode to increase population density? Apartments everywhere. Literally everywhere. On Broadway, Kingston Pike, Cumberland Avenue, Central Street, Chapman Highway, Alcoa Highway, Northshore and every other main street in Knoxville. The new zoning ideas in Recode are called Mixed Use apartments and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU). Both of these can be done now by asking the Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission and city council for a zoning variance. Mixed Use is like what you see in New York City  where a five or six- story building has apartments on the second floor and above and the first floor is shops, offices, bars, and restaurants and so on. A new example of Mixed Use is on the new apartment building on Cumberland Avenue and it is hideous. It is out of scale to the other buildings, right next to the street, and has almost no parking. Current Knoxville zoning requires adequate parking requirements for all apartments built in Knoxville. Recode tremendously reduces those needed parking requirements which means new Mixed Use apartments will compete for parking with existing neighborhoods.

Recode also plans to have apartments in your neighbor’s backyard to increase population density. These are called Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU), also known as Granny Flats, Carriage Houses, garage apartments and so on. Would you have bought your current home if you knew your neighbor could build an apartment in their backyard? Zoning is a contract. Recode is a unilateral way to void that contract. It appears that lawsuits against the city are inevitable. This is not planning. This is over reach.

In a desire to increase the population of Knoxville will its city council try to end single family zoning exposing every neighborhood to apartments they do not want? Did anyone ask for more population density by injecting apartments where they are not wanted? Call your city council representative today and let them know how you feel about Recode. You can find their contact information here: