By Steve Hunley

The Knoxville Focus received phone calls and emails on last week’s Publisher’s Position “Too Many Recode Missteps.” Of interest was a question about the missing zoning map for Recode. For many months the text of Recode has been discussed and amended by the city council but the Knoxville-Knox County Planning commission has lagged far behind producing the zoning maps that apply to the text of Recode. In both Draft 4 and Draft 5 of Recode the planning commission has not kept up. The latest target for the Draft 5 zoning map of Recode is sometime in August which may be after Recode has been approved by city council and signed by the mayor.

So how is it possible to vote on Recode when only the Recode text is available for discussion? Defective notice has long been an issue with Recode. Without the zoning map property owners have no idea what Recode will do to their property. In my opinion this is clearly another notice violation.

The Focus also received an email from a resident of the Parkridge Community with a serious issue that he says appears to be a “premeditated” violation of the city charter. Parkridge resident Christopher Salmons sent an email to The Focus, telling us that three parcels were purchased by the city in 2001 for $237,000.00 as part of the Caswell Baseball Fields Development and they are protected through the city’s Open Space (OS-2) zoning which prohibits sale and development of public park lands. Yet without any public notice or public meetings the city had attempted to rezone these three parcels of land from OS-2 to a high density residential between revisions of the Recode map in an effort to sneak the rezoning through.

Mr. Salmons wrote us, “On May 7, 2019 less than a week after the neighborhood was notified, I attended the city council meeting in which council was to decide whether to move forward with the Myrtle St. closure. At this point I had written all of city council about the illegal rezoning maneuver (to which none replied) and had started a petition which has more than 150 signatures. While sitting in the crowd waiting on the meeting to begin the mayor came down and nervously apologized for the ‘oversight’ and that she would move to have the item tabled for 12 weeks, and that neither herself or Bill Lyons had any knowledge of this matter. Since this meeting a Parkridge resident has submitted an open records request which includes various email chains from Becky Wade and includes Bill Lyons, David Brace, and several other city officials confirming that this project and illegal rezoning was indeed premeditated with messages dating all the way back to the beginning of February 2019.”

The Parkridge community even sought to protect their park land by applying for a city grant proposal to turn part of the hillside into a fruit garden, which the city denied as the “land in question has a disputed use.”

What use did the City of Knoxville decide to take the park land for? Mr. Salmons wrote us, “On May 2, 2019 the Board of the Parkridge Community Organization was present with a plan by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Spangler of the Volunteer Ministry Center (VMC) to turn three parcels facing E 5th Ave, that are currently part of Caswell Park, into a 3-story, 50+ unit housing project for people identified as ‘chronically homeless.’ According to the presentation the VMC has drawn up plans for site development at the direction of Becky Wade, Director of Community Development with the City of Knoxville, and the plans include transfer of public park lands to the private non-profit and the closure of a section of Myrtle St. to accommodate staff parking for the center.”

Mr. Salmons also wrote, “I never received a mailer about the recode for my property. Here in Parkridge the consensus is that only about every 5th house received a mailer.”

A long time ago a well-known and high-ranking Knox County Schools official was fond of saying, “My mentor, School Superintendent Mildred E. Doyle, taught me as long as we have five votes we can do anything we want to do. If people don’t like it they can take us to court.”  It appears the only way to get city council to obey the city charter and state law is to go to court. Multiple lawsuits are in the research phase now. Recode must be passed before standing can be established. Taxpayers will have to pay for these lawsuits.

This Tuesday, July 16 at 6:00 p.m. in the Main Assembly Room of the City-County Building Knoxville City Council will vote on the first of two readings on Recode even though they have no zoning map to match the Recode text. Even though, in my opinion, there has been improper notice on Recode multiple times. Even though city council violated the city charter by not planning for Recode in the city charter required one year, five year, and fifteen year development plans.

On Monday, July 8, well known real estate expert and radio talk show host Victor Jernigan was a guest on WETR 92.3 FM radio show the Knoxville Morning News and corrected a caller who said Recode had cost the taxpayers $490,000. Mr. Jernigan said the current total is closer to $1,000,000 dollars. Since the city council never planned for Recode in the one year, five year, and fifteen year development plans, were these expenditures unauthorized? In addition to this the city paid over $20,000 of printing costs for Recode out of the city budget which was also unauthorized.

Two separate groups have mounted website campaigns to protest the unfair Recode process. The first website to appear was which said “The Knoxville Planning Commission Voted To Rezone Your Property Without Notifying You. Now They Want To Approve An Ordinance to Allow Homeless Shelters, Drug Rehab Facilities and Domestic Violence Shelters in EVERY Neighborhood in Knoxville.”

The second group to appear was “Citizens for Knoxville Government Transparency” whose mission is to collect 8,000 signatures of registered Knoxville voters to place Recode on the November 2019 ballot so voters can decide if they want Recode or the current zoning system. Their website is: Spokesman for the group Daniel Herrera has appeared on WATE’s Tennessee this Week, the George Korda radio program on 98.7 FM, and the Knoxville Morning News on 92.3 FM telling people how his group will place Recode on the ballot for the people of Knoxville to decide. Mr. Herrera’s group has a rally scheduled before the Tuesday vote on Recode, you can learn more at the group’s Facebook page.

City residents need to get involved. Contact your city council members and ask them where they stand on Recode. I believe it is simply unfair to vote before people can see the final Recode zoning map. It would also be wonderful to not have multiple expensive lawsuits that the taxpayers will have to pay for.

Visit here to see Salmons’ email, the letter Becky Wade read to council and a timeline of the Caswell Park situation.