Arthur Parris lives on Beverly Road, about 150 yards north of the little railroad bridge. His family has lived in the green valley next to White’s Creek for more than 100 years.
He loves it there, but increased upstream development has him worried about flooding. He’s had creek water in his basement a half dozen times in recent years, and flood water in his back yard more times than he can count. During one flood, the retired KUB employee rescued four kids from the back of a van that that was floating down his back field toward the creek’s main channel. A 2009 news story reported the time he helped pull a woman out of her car after she’d driven off the bridge into high water.
Parris expects woes to multiply if Knox County Commission votes to allow developer Randy Guignard to build 210 units on the steep, rocky hillside above the creek. The rezoning is on the commission’s Jan. 27 agenda. Zoning issues are heard at 7 p.m. He’s hoping that neighbors who oppose the development (which has been named the Preserve at White’s Creek) will join him. There will be a free bus to the meeting in the City County Building leaving Northside Christian Church, 4008 Tazewell Pike, at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 27.
Parris and his neighbors are worried about traffic, too. A 210-unit development will feed an estimated 1,800 trips onto narrow Beverly Road, which already bottlenecks at the heavily traveled Tazewell Pike intersection. There are no sidewalks there, and narrow shoulders. Parris has neighbors who say they cannot safely check their roadside mailboxes.
And the close neighbors aren’t the only ones who are worried. White’s Creek is a major tributary of First Creek, which periodically floods out businesses and neighborhoods up and down the Broadway corridor. The Knoxville/Knox County Planning Commission (formerly MPC) ignored requests from representatives of area neighborhoods asking them to limit the density to one unit per acre, or 61 units after deducting 22 acres of unbuildable floodplain and floodway from the total acreage. A slide show with pictures of flooding is here.
This will be the third year that developer Guignard has pushed to get approval for the parcel that planning commission chief Gerald Green once called the worst piece of property he’d ever seen.
Guignard got MPC approval in 2018, and the county commission voted to approve his request to amend the Sector Plan. The rezoning attempt stalled, however, when a commissioner passed a motion on the floor to limit his project to 100 total dwelling units – far fewer than the 2.75 units per acre than he said he needed to break even. Then, in a questionable legal move, his lawyer yanked the proposal off the agenda. The neighborhoods cried foul, to no avail.
Last year, Parris and a group of his neighbors got wind that Guignard and his Realtor had invited a couple of commissioners to a meeting at a Fountain City restaurant. The neighbors showed up, and Guignard left the building.
This December, Guignard took his proposal back to the planning commission and got approved for 210 units because commissioners said they didn’t want to “penalize” him for donating the land in the floodway to Legacy Parks Foundation. Fountain City Town Hall representatives pointed out that this was a specious contention, since he can’t build in the floodway, anyhow.
Parris is worried about his children and grandchildren.
“My family’s been here over a hundred years,” he said. “And flooding is way worse than it used to be – more frequent and the water gets higher.”
Parris’s observations are consistent with a warning sounded by hydrologist James Smoot, who analyzed flooding potential along Tazewell Pike (in the same watershed) and said the area’s stormwater conveyance system was inadequate to handle dense residential development.
“The cumulative hydrologic effects would be anticipated to be extremely negative and consist of property damaging and nuisance flooding.”
That was 20 years ago, and development has continued unabated.