A controversial plan to build a 210-unit subdivision on a steep ridge over flood-prone White’s Creek at Beverly Road was shelved Monday night when the developer withdrew his rezoning request from Knox County Commission’s agenda after failing to get a 90-day postponement.
Some 120 neighbors turned out for the meeting to show their opposition to the subdivision, which sits on a steep ridge on the county side of the city limits. White’s Creek is a major tributary to First Creek, which frequently overflows its banks from Fountain City to the Broadway Shopping Center.
Arthur Parris, the nearest neighbor to the proposed subdivision, is hoping that city and county officials can find a way to get together and fix the area’s existing flooding and traffic problems. Parris said he remains hopeful even though he’s still waiting for public amenities the city promised when it annexed his family’s property more than 50 years ago.
But he’s pretty sure that developer Randy Guignard will be back with another version of the subdivision, although he must wait a year to resubmit his plan unless he can come up with something substantially different.
“County commission did what they should have done last night,” Parris said. “I believe they were getting ready to vote against (Guignard’s) postponement, so he withdrew it – again. He’s hell bent and high water to build something over there, and I think the city and the county need to get together for the benefit of the people and look at flooding and traffic issues. Make it a bird sanctuary or a dog park or a biking trail. Turn it into a community asset.”
Meanwhile, Parris’s neighbors don’t appear to like this development any better than they did nearly two years ago when Guignard withdrew his proposal from the commission agenda rather than face a vote on a motion to limit the project to 100 total dwelling units on the 88-acre tract. He said he needed 2.75 per acre to break even.
This time around, Guignard had reason to hope for a better result.
In December, the Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission (formerly MPC) green lighted his project by a unanimous vote and approved 210 units. He had a gaggle of experienced local consultants on his team, including professional planner Michael Brusseau, one of the project’s toughest critics in 2018, when Brusseau worked for the planning commission. Former county stormwater engineering chief Chris Granju, now a consultant, is on Guignard’s payroll as well as real estate and land use lawyer John King, a veteran of decades of rezoning battles. Another team member is longtime Realtor Kim Isenberg, who displayed a drawing of an alternative project Guignard could build, which involves metal industrial buildings and an apartment complex.
James McMillan, whose family farm adjoins the east side of Guignard’s property isn’t as hopeful as Parris. He believes that the county has given Guignard more than his fair share of breaks.
“Six or seven years ago, Guignard came to me looking at that property. I warned him – told him it wasn’t fit for nothing. And now he’s bought it … it’s on him. The way they’ve dragged this out is total disrespect to the public. They just want to pander to him, and the hell with us.”
The Parris family owned 14 acres along Beverly Road when they were annexed into the city. In the years that passed, Arthur Parris sold off nine acres because of the increased tax burden.
“When we were first annexed, we were promised sidewalks, for one thing. I was a little kid. I’ll be 64 my next birthday and I’m still waiting.”
It’s not easy oppose developers
Unlike consultants or commissioners, citizens aren’t compensated for the time they spent getting involved in local government decisions. Here is a rough timeline of public meetings involved with the Beverly Road project. It does not include this week’s commission meeting or December’s planning commission meeting:
March 8, 2018 – Rezoning on MPC’s agenda
May 14, 2018 – More than 100 residents met with the developer – all opposed to the desired density.
May 22, 2018 – Scheduled to be heard on county commission’s May 29, 2018, agenda; developer appeared at May 22 work session and asked for a postponement. (Commission Rules Rule I Section N 10, pages 7-8) “An applicant shall be granted one automatic deferral if the deferral request is received in the Commission office before the end of the day prior to the Agenda work session.” No decisions or votes are to be taken at the work session. The postponement was granted.
June 25, 2018 – The rezoning was back on county commission’s 7 p.m. agenda. A large group was there, but the Fresinius rezoning on John Sevier Highway was moved ahead, so the Beverly Road rezoning did not begin until 10 p.m. and continued until midnight. After a motion and a second, Guignard’s attorney said he didn’t want a vote to be taken. The chair complied and withdrew the motion. (Commission Rule I Section J 6, page 3): A motion that has been seconded may only be withdrawn by the maker of the motion. In the event a member objects to the withdrawal, or if the person who seconded the motion refuses to withdraw the second, the motion becomes the property of the body and can only be withdrawn by a motion to permit withdrawal that requires a second and a majority vote of the body. The maker and seconder of the motion were not asked about the withdrawal.
June 7, 2019 – The developer asked for a meeting at a local restaurant with Commissioners Biggs and Carringer. Twelve neighborhood residents crashed the meeting. The developer didn’t speak or present anything.
Betty Bean is a veteran reporter for Knox and Sevier counties. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.