Knox County is in the midst of a real estate boom featuring high demand, low inventory and ballooning price tags. For a refresher, see all of Nick McBride’s columns for Knox TN Today here. With the squeeze on supply comes the pressure from developers eyeballing whatever open space is left, usually farmland. And with that come the appeals to the Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission for zoning changes.
In response, planning advocacy groups are becoming all the rage these days. Three years ago, the Knox County Planning Alliance was born. Since then, more community specific groups have popped up for Hardin Valley, South Knox and, this year, the new Gibbs Planning Advocates (GPA). The group held its first meeting at the end of January and had a promising turnout.
“This was an initial meeting to engage with citizens and encourage involvement,” said Nadine Porter, a GPA representative. “Most people don’t know about planning and land use until it directly affects them, till it pops up in their own backyard.”
Porter is one of three members of the steering committee along with Krystal Gibson and Phillip Graves.
The 37721 ZIP code that is comprised of Gibbs and Corryton sits within Knox County’s District 8, geographically the largest. District 8 runs from (roughly) US 441 to the Northwest across the eastern most reaches of the county to the Southeast along the French Broad River. The interior border of D8 mostly skirts the Knoxville city limits while leaving Halls in District 7. It touches Anderson, Union, Grainger, Jefferson and Sevier counties. So, it’s a lot of land with a low population density, and that’s why area developers are aiming their sights (and sites). And it’s already started.
Porter said too often discussions about land use and requests for zoning changes dissolve into hard lines of established communities versus developers.
“It’s not about being anti-growth,” Porter said. “Growth is a touchy word for some people. But ‘no growth’ is an unrealistic expectation. We know it’s coming, and, overall, we need it. But we want it to be smart and intentional.”
By smart, Porter said the GPA means sticking to the planning commission’s Northeast County Sector Plan, preserving the rural nature of the community. It also means a preference for infrastructure improvements happening ahead of more densely populated developments.
“A lot of this has to do with traffic and safety,” Porter said. “We have the three Gibbs schools centrally located, so that’s obviously an attraction for people.”
Porter noted the community (pre-GPA) successfully quashed a request for a change to the sector plan for land behind the Midway IGA near Harbison’s Crossroads, the intersection of Emory Road and Tazewell Pike. The land in question was in a flood zone, for one thing, but also within the parental responsibility zone for transport to schools. This was the “in her own backyard” issue that spurred Porter to action. She added the property is once again for sale.
“It really doesn’t make any sense to increase population density within that zone when there are no sidewalks. Traffic in the area is already a huge issue,” she said.
Porter said the GPA was formed to keep a core group of people on top of road, construction and development issues in the community and to be a resource for residents.
“It’s a lot of stuff to learn,” she said. “We want everyone in Gibbs to know we’re here and encourage them to participate.”
To learn more about Gibbs Planning Advocates, go here.