Planners violate sector plan on Holiday Inn rezoning

Nick Della VolpeInside 640, On the Grow

Stop the presses!

In addition to ignoring the community wishes for residential zoning and expressed concerns about density and community impact, the Knoxville Planning Commission’s blanket recommendation for CG-1 rezoning the entire seven-acre site of the former Holiday Inn on Asheville Highway ignores – indeed violates – the governing East City Sector Plan.

Knoxville City Council will consider this rezoning on Tuesday, Nov. 3.

The East City Sector Plan in no uncertain terms clearly contemplates extensive community pre-approval involvement and structured project plan approval, incorporating design and other protective standards. Failure to comply with express requirement renders the Planning Commission’s CG-1 recommendation void and illegal. It should be denied by the city council.

The project background for Carl Lansden’s rezoning was set forth here. That article argues for a minimum of separate residential zoning treatment for the 5-acre residential portion of the tract. The current focus is on the mandatory requirements of the East City Sector Plan, which expressly states:

“Recommended Zoning: New form-based district, Corridor Overlay Zone or Planned Residential or Commercial Zones, requiring use on review or zoning conditions are recommended. The recommended zoning should address design standards, such as consistent front and side yard landscaping, allowances in a reduction in parking, consistency in building setbacks/settings, buffers between commercial and adjoining residential properties, and adherence to adopted plans…” (p. 26).

Those types of zones involve neighborhood, business and professional meetings and collaboration. Compare the form-based code effort undertaken on the South Knoxville Waterfront or the more recent future use overlay on the lower Broadway Corridor. Likewise, historically planned residential and commercial zones contemplate advance public review and project plan adjustments and standards before rezoning.

None of that required review or public interaction occurred here. Just a cardboard sign, planted next to the sidewalk in front of the old Holiday Inn, a few days before the Planning Commission’s meeting. It was coupled with non-binding assertions by the applicant. That request was followed by a blanket approval of a general commercial-zone for the developer on the entire seven-acre site. Commercial zoning will include the roughly two-acre portion of the property along the highway and thrust back another five acres into the single-family Established Neighborhood zoning. There was no consideration of Sector Plan required design standards, buffers, setbacks, etc. quoted above.

Conclusion. In sum, the Planning Commission ignored the governing Sector Plan and any impacts on existing residents that may be affected. It just waved its magic wand. Knoxville City Council should deny this rezoning application outright. Future planning should include full community involvement.

Commentary. Let’s step back for a moment and look at this technical zoning stuff in context. The reason that state law requires legislators (like city council) to consider the goals of a Comprehensive Plan (30-year outlook) and Sector Plan (15-year outlook), as well as site specific recommendations of professional planners, is to help assure that such individual decisions are made in the context of a long-term goal of how the area should look and function.

The healthy development and/or redevelopment of the community depends on that context analysis and on public participation. Otherwise we accumulate conflicting messes, requiring crisis management by government to fix problems that could have been avoided. Under state law, legislators are, of course, free to ignore Planning Commission advice but they must first consider it.

Here, the “planners” ignored their big picture role and engaged in old-fashioned decision making in favor of a developer. Public participation and careful planning with design standards and limits fell by the wayside.

Nick Della Volpe is a lawyer, a gardener and a former member of Knoxville City Council.

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