Huge development on West Blount approved by city council

By Mike Steely

Senior Writer

In a split vote, the Knoxville City Council denied the appeal on a Board of Zoning Appeals’ approval of a huge apartment building proposed for 451 West Blount Avenue. The appeal, requested by Janice Tocher, was supported by neighboring homeowners who said the new building will violate several aspects of the South Waterfront codes, was approved without public input and will block views of the river for an entire block.

Five speakers spoke in favor of the appeal and three spoke in support of the decision.

City Attorney Charles Swanson spoke to the confusion over the permission to build, the appeal, and what the city council can do in the issue. He said the decision to permit a Level II approval, versus a Level III which would permit public input, was made by Plans Review and Inspections Director Peter Ahrens. If the council approved the appeal the matter would go to the planning commission or even to court.

Ahrens told the council he approved the Level II classification after reviewing the proposal.

Benjamin Mullins, representing the developer, said if the appeal is granted it would discourage other major developers from building in Knoxville. Opponents of the appeal said the window for filing an appeal had expired and that $1.5 million has already been spent on plans. The site has yet to be purchased apparently because of the appeal being processed.

South Knoxville Councilman Tommy Smith, who represents the area, sided with the homeowners and spoke of the many variance grants given to the development and urged a review of the city’s codes dealing with new developments. He said the council has a right to rule on the issue.

The question of “vested interest” by a developer and when that takes place was discussed. Mullins claimed the project has been approved and a ruling in favor of the appeal would set the development back six months.

Several council members spoke and Amelia Parker said approving the appeal could set the city up for a lawsuit and noted that the proper process was followed. Janet Testerman said the lack of a time limit on filing an appeal should be changed. Lauren Rider defended Ahrens’ approval.

Attorney Swanson said that Ahrens’ decision was the only thing the council could vote on and Smith replied that the approval of a Level II review should have been made with strict adherence to the code. Councilman Charles Thomas cited major deviations from the code including lot size, setbacks, footprint and height.

Councilwoman Gwen McKenzie said approving the appeal would penalize the developer.

Smith’s motion to approve the appeal failed in a 3-5 vote. A motion to deny the appeal passed with the same number of votes.

Voting to deny were Janet Testerman, McKenzie, Parker, Andrew Roberto and Lauren Rider. Voting to approve the appeal were Smith, Thomas and Seema Singh.