On Wednesday evening, East Knoxville residents “participated” in a Zoom “meeting” about developer Carl Lansden’s plan to build 110 apartment units of subsidized housing on the back five acres of the seven-acre, former Holiday Inn hotel site, bordering on Asheville Highway and Carta Road. The rezoning is set to be heard by Knoxville City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
The planning commission recommended that city council zone the entire seven-acre parcel as General Commercial CG-1, as requested by the developer. It ignored objections by residents, including a community spokesperson for Town Hall East. Only two acres (of the 7), fronting on Asheville Highway, are planned for commercial use. The balance is for 110 units of subsidized housing and should be zoned residential.
Lansden’s project is controversial, and has many neighbors upset. There are several issues in play.
First, there is no question that this derelict site needs rehabilitation. The hotel was closed over a decade ago, when Mr. Seaton, the owner, gave it to Chilhowee Baptist Church to develop a school there. That particular Freedom Academy plan never materialized at the site, and it remained unoccupied and deteriorating.
Commercial redevelopment of the Asheville Highway frontage makes sense, and is generally well received by the community. A commercial zone on that two-acre frontage is not controversial.
Second, the balance of the property is tucked back into Chilhowee Hills, a primarily single-family residential neighborhood with over 150 mostly ranch style homes that have been there dating back to the ’50s. Lansden is proposing to build 110 apartment units on that five acres. He plans to erect 3-story buildings to reach the maximum allowed density of 24 units per acre. He said the two bedroom “workingman’s housing” are to be subsidized by a city grant to build affordable housing and a state tax credit from the Tennessee Housing Development Authority. Subsidized rents would be set at 60% of area income levels, and could include Section 8 housing where they met the 60% income threshold.
The zoning issue is a hot topic. These apartments, if built, should be zoned residential in keeping with the surrounding residential use and zoning. The current Office zone would actually allow residential, and Recode has multi-family RN zones available if needed. Lansden rejects that separate, logical treatment because it might affect his timing or inconvenience his yet-to-be-completed layout. General Commercial zoning has no place inside a residential neighborhood. If Lansden abandons his current plan, the tract is open to more harmful uses under the Code. Moreover, he wouldn’t be the first developer to get a commercial zone then flip the property on a resale.
The high-density issue has not been addressed. That’s adding several hundred folks on five acres. What happens to roads, and schools, and property values of the existing single-family homes? There will be no forum for that.
Yes, affordable housing is important. But some residents are concerned that the city is unfairly concentrating low income housing in this area. How much can you assimilate without overwhelming an area? Home Source has just completed some 25 to 30 units across the roadway, with the community’s blessing. Another developer has recently broken ground on 50 more low-income units just a few blocks away. Is anyone asking: What is the long-term impact on the area’s business development? Shouldn’t we be spreading this burden more fairly around the city?
Folks are unhappy.
Nick Della Volpe is a lawyer, a gardener and a former member of Knoxville City Council.