Recode: City Council begins editing text

Nick Della VolpeFeature

The close work of legislative review of the 400-page Recode Knoxville text began at last night’s special-called council meeting. Kudos to both the council and the mayor for recognizing the work that was still needed to be done.

Zoning Text. Council waded through both the policy and specific lines of text in Articles 1-9 of Recode (5th edition, May 1 current draft) during the 6.5-hour meeting. Remaining Articles 10-17 will be tackled at the May 30 resumption. If that gets done – and it is a big if given the sheer volume of text and importance of the work – it will still leave for future review the 73,000-parcel zoning map. To be effective, the new zoning law needs both a defining/guiding text and a parcel-by-parcel application of the specific zones to the map in order to be complete.

Mayor Rogero took the lead last night. She began the session outlining an article-by-article review approach that council adopted. She suggested they move any overall vote on the resulting “cleaned up” text to May 30, for a true first reading of the ordinance. A required second reading of the text would then be deferred at least 30 days, to early July, in order to allow more time for community outreach and also to allow council needed time to resolve other pending city issues, like holding hearings on and adoption of the city’s proposed annual budget (the new fiscal year begins on July 1).

A vote on the suggested adoption schedule was deferred until the end of last night’s meeting. By then it became apparent there is still a lot to chew on, in order to get a basic draft ready for action. More time will be needed.

It takes what it takes.

Zoning Map. Even if council completes that big bite on cleaning up the Recode text, a review of the detailed zoning map would still remain. The assignment of a parcel-by-parcel zone for each of the 73,000 parcels is “where the rubber meets the road.” The mayor suggested that council could tackle that thorny task in three ways, ranging from a “zoning-neutral” transfer of existing zones to nearest-equivalent new zones, to a total revision like the one the planning commission staff is still working to complete in map revision 4. Alternatively, council could wade through, sector-by-sector, to establish map details. That complex and time-consuming question is still open.

Several preliminary observations:

  • It takes time to make this sausage right. No more rush to the finish line. Zoning legislation is serious business with financial and property-rights consequences. The devil is in the details. Every word in an ordinance matters.
  • Council and the mayor realize they need to respect the differing neighborhood needs and wishes. The Chamber of Commerce and other special interests also have a voice, but that should best be discussed in the open. Transparency matters.
  • As Gerald Green (planning commission chief) reminds us, we are planning for the future, so some changes in our code will have to be made, at least as part of a working toolbox, even if applying those novelties to specific parcels needs to be deferred for separate discussion and adoption, once Recode is complete.
  • The mayor and council are inviting public textual and policy comment at their meetings to help build a better mousetrap.
  • Textual changes will be online for your careful review. Don’t assume someone else will grasp and protect your interest.
  • Draft 5 is being corrected by legal and planning staff during the meetings, not being sent back to and through the Chicago consultant.
  • There will be no reissues of the entire text until the final is ready for approval. Notify the mayor’s office if you need a hard copy. Given its size, only a limited number will be printed.

Future articles will highlight some of the nitty-gritty details adopted and as they continue to unfold. Citizens must keep involved and keep their council representatives engaged.

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

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