There is too much at stake to get this wrong

By Steve Hunley, Publisher

How should Knoxville residential and commercial property owners respond to the rewriting of fifty years of Knoxville City Zoning code that defines and protects their property rights with the proposed omnibus rezoning code legislation known as Knoxville Recode? No Knoxville citizen or property owner asked for Recode. When zoning consultant Camiros of Chicago was hired by the City of Knoxville there was no Recode. Camrios was hired only to tweak and upgrade the existing Knoxville City zoning code. Later the Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission and the Knoxville City Council decided that Camiros should replace the entire existing zoning code with Knoxville Recode. This has never been done in Tennessee. For two years the planning commission has worked on the Recode project. How can fifty years of zoning case law be replaced in only two years? This Recode project is grossly over budget and has gone through four drafts with a fifth draft coming at the end of April.

This entire process was done with very little input from citizens and property owners. This was done with questionable legal notice. Was every property owner mailed a proper legal planning commission Recode notice? The sad little PR notice mailed out by the planning commission in early March did not tell property owners their property might be upzoned causing them to pay higher property taxes. There were no little planning commission signs placed on properties. The vote in the planning commission that approved Recode was also questionable because it had only a ten-day review period not the 30-day review period required by law. Why can’t the planning commission and city council be more open and transparent?

Recode invalidates 50 years of case law that protects the property rights of the people of Knoxville. Recode affects 73,000 properties in the City of Knoxville. Less than one percent of the 180,000 people who live in Knoxville attended Recode workshops. Only 1756 people went to 80 some odd public Recode meetings. There were only 603 comments on the Recode website.

Recode is based on false population growth numbers. Nick Della Volpe, attorney and former city councilman, said, “Seems like they just can’t shake that outrageous claim about future population growth rate in Knoxville…The current population of the city is roughly 187,000. We have only added about 13,000 residents in the 17 years since 2000… Hardly meteoric growth.”

While Recode is the biggest zoning news event in Knoxville in the last fifty years there has been almost no media coverage of Recode other than a few local radio stations and The Knoxville Focus.

Current zoning requires adequate parking requirements for all apartments built in Knoxville. Recode tremendously reduces those parking requirements for the new Recode Mixed Use apartments which means these new Recode apartments will compete for parking with existing neighborhoods.

The proposed parking requirements in Recode may cause expensive lawsuits with the American with Disabilities Act. Parking for new Mixed Use buildings in Recode is moved from the front of the building to the rear or side of the building. This hurts the elderly and those with handicaps. City council claims Knoxville needs Recode to “modernize” our zoning code. The truth is the Mixed Use apartment buildings and Accessory Dwelling Units are zoning design from the 1900s, years before the advent of the automobile. Recode is not modern at all. It is simply anti-automobile. A large part of Recode is about “sustainability” which means that people should not have cars and should walk, ride a bike, or take the bus. It seems city council has forgotten that they are supposed to represent the voters rather than tell them how to live their lives. Having an automobile is a right in Tennessee. With an aging population in Knoxville Recode is a danger to elderly citizens and those with physical handicaps.

In the two years of Recode there have been over 80 public meetings where less than one percent of the people in Knoxville have repeatedly told the planning commission it does not want or need Recode. You can watch these Recode meetings on Vimeo here:

In the meeting above at minute 27:35 a gentleman who works for the University of Tennessee tells Gerald Green, executive director of the Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission, that he is concerned about how Recode will affect the quality of life in Knoxville. What Mr. Green says in response to this question is a summary of how the so called public meetings on Recode have gone. Green never answers the question and goes on to say that the quality of life is good in West Knoxville but not so good in East Knoxville. Say what? What does that even mean?

There have been multiple Recode workshops in the planning commission. There have been two Recode workshops in city council and a third city council Recode workshop coming April 4 at 5:30 p.m. in the Main Auditorium in the City-County Building. Citizens who own residential and commercial property have spoken at length about the many deficiencies, flaws, and problems with Recode but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

What can the people of Knoxville do to defend themselves from this run away, out of control project that will harm their quality of life, increase their taxes for no reason, and possibly endanger their safety? There is one thing the people of Knoxville can do to defend themselves and their property and that is to collect enough signatures to place Recode on the ballot for the people to vote on in the upcoming city election. This has been done before. In the early 2000s the people of Knoxville and Knox County collected over 24,000 signatures to place the proposed Wheel Tax on the ballot. They needed only 12,000 signatures to be on the ballot. The amount of signatures to place Recode on the ballot is a fraction of the number for the Wheel Tax.

City council could also choose to place Recode on the ballot for the people to vote on. I believe this would be in the best interest of all parties concerned and would avoid citizens having to get the signatures necessary to place it on the ballot themselves. This would ensure that every property owner can have their say. I encourage city council to do this. If they refuse, then the people of Knoxville can collect the signatures to place Recode on the ballot. It is time to defend our property rights. The people must be heard.

After all, what’s the hurry? There is too much at stake to get this wrong.