Recode rambles on; council holds workshop

Nick Della VolpeInside 640

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Last night (2/7) Knoxville City Council held a three-hour workshop on Recode’s treatment of the commercial, office and industrial zones. The residential zones will be addressed later, in a Feb. 20 workshop, and a third workshop is planned. But there many other working parts to this 287-page Recode tome that will need review and adjustment by our city legislators.

The meeting started with Knox Planning executive director Gerald Green’s now-familiar slideshow on the background of how the current draft evolved, the number of public comments, and the highlights and changes made in the evening’s three topic zones. But then the meeting morphed into the individual council members’ questions and concerns. Comments were also allowed from the audience after each topic.

We can’t summarize the details of a three-hour meeting … and there were oodles of them. But here are a few things to ponder from topside.

First, bravo to our City Council members. Somebody (beyond local zoning bird dog Carlene Malone) is finally reading this damn thing and starting to ask some of the big questions:

What are we trying to achieve here?

How is this new wording from Camiros, the mayor’s Chicago consultant that still holds the drafting pen, better than the standards we have adopted, litigated and honed over the past few decades?

If we do X, how will that impact our efforts to encourage redevelopment of older buildings along older corridors like Broadway, Central and Magnolia?

Is this parking or landscaping too much of a leap in one jump? Or should it be stricter?

How will we enforce this requirement (bonding, staff inspection, requiring certified as-built drawings)?

You get the point. There are a lot of details that must be vetted before this passes into law.

Notice. Council member Andrew Roberto asked how the city will notify property owners, since this new law would affect every piece of property in the city (73,000 parcels). After debate, it appears the city will authorize a mailing to property owners of record (presumably from the official property or tax cards).

Green expressed concern that this would trigger hundreds of phone calls, tying up a staff-year of time, and time, of course, is money. (Face it: Not everybody reads the atrophying News Sentinel, rumored to be written in a Memphis basement by a live-at-home young journalist.) Realistically, who the heck would want to litigate an improper notice/due-process issue later?

Yet Another Draft! Director Green revealed that more changes are being incorporated into the Recode draft, and that he initially expected to have that next draft by Feb. 18, two days before the next workshop. Yikes!

Good news/bad news: While it’s good that the planning staff is still evaluating changes rolling in from citizens and developers, that’s too little time to evaluate the changes. After discussion, it was agreed the Feb. 20 workshop on residential zone changes will move forward as planned, and the new/clean draft will await suggested changes that emerge from that discussion. Council members expressed concern that it is hard to hit a moving target.

Aside: the frown on Bill Lyons’ face apparently expressed the administration’s frustration that they could not just ram this baby home, and avoid too much scrutiny. Hey, we the citizens “hire” the City Council to represent us, and they should set the timeline, not the mayor or the planners. We are making law here, and everyone hopes we will do the best we can to get this right. Of course, we will later learn some things the hard way and have to make adjustments in the future. But thus far, the prior “let’s pass this and see what’s inside later” attitude seems to have been rejected.


Nick Della Volpe is an attorney and former member of Knoxville City Council.

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