Closing the book on September

Betty BeanKnox Scene

Knox County Commission’s September meeting could pick up a nickname. It was that bad.

Attendance was limited by order of the Knox County Board of Health, which was also the major target of this endless meeting. It went on until after 1 a.m., and those who couldn’t get in congregated outside the City County Building and made their presence known by shouting and banging on the plate glass windows (something I have never seen in 30-plus years of covering meetings).

There was considerable confusion about who was supposed to enforce law and order. The law was present – as represented by Sheriff Tom Spangler and several deputies. But things were not orderly.

The sheriff, who refuses to enforce any of the health board’s emergency measures, made it clear that he was not there to do much but discourage those who complained about his lackadaisical approach to law enforcement. Neither the Public Building Authority nor the Knoxville Police Department showed up. Meanwhile, the commissioners worked their way through an agenda full of rezoning and other normal business.

But what ate up the most time Monday were two resolutions: one to add a citizen member to the health board, which is primarily made up of healthcare professionals – the other an expression of disapproval of the board that has no force of law, but which afforded cosponsor Justin Biggs and Law Director David Buuck an opportunity to suggest that the health board might come for our guns.

The disapproval resolution began life as a move to do away with the board entirely, but the sponsors, Commissioners Justin Biggs and Kyle Ward, were persuaded to water it down because it wasn’t legal. The health board was created by state law and was added to the Knox County Charter.

So, between the statement of displeasure (the preferred term is “aspirational”) and the appointment of the new member to the board they still want to abolish, three hours worth of speakers presented themselves at the podium – several of them anti-maskers who had been routed to the balcony to distance them from the rest of the crowd (the one safety measure the deputies did try to enforce), but who refused to use the microphone set up for them up there and came downstairs to speak – and mingle. One 73-year-old left early rather than rub elbows with speakers who were unwilling to follow recommended protocols.

No nickname has emerged yet, but it felt like Blue Monday to me.

Meanwhile, down on the Strip

Last week, Knoxville City Council green lighted another gargantuan Soviet-style student housing project on Cumberland Avenue.

This one will occupy the 2100 block of Cumberland and Lake Avenues. Council approved Greystar Development East’s request for a PILOT (payments in lieu of taxes) deal to build a 300,000 square-foot, 712 bed mixed-use project that will accommodate 6,000 square feet of retail and a three-story, 549-space parking garage.

It will have lots of amenities – pool, fitness center, computer rooms, safe parking spots for 225 bicycles and will doubtless be counted in the inventory of investments that the Cumberland Avenue redesign project has attracted. The first such “big box” Cumberland Avenue student apartment building was pitched to the public as a way of reducing the area traffic count, since students would leave their cars at home and embrace a pedestrian lifestyle.

Same story now:

“Union Knoxville will create an exciting student environment while connecting students closer to the UT campus and services along Cumberland Avenue.”

Maybe. Good luck to anyone who has to drive the Strip or look for a parking spot there.

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for

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