Recode vote imminent: It’s time to call your council member

Nick Della VolpeOur Town Leaders

Knoxville City Council could vote next Tuesday (July 16) on Recode Knoxville. Residents cannot sit on the sidelines. Speak up. Council answers to you. No rezoning until it’s right. Here are five discussion points:

Public notice/input: Council should insist that all zoning applications and changes include advance public notice and an opportunity to participate. Being invited to speak late in the process might be futile – once a staff-negotiated plan is baked in. See more here.

Hillside/ridgetop protection: The current draft of Recode (5+), approved by the council in May, covers all steep property, regardless of zone. The Planning Commission, urged by Chamber cronies, voted to cut it back to residential property only. Yet environmental and aesthetic impacts flow from excessive clearing/grading and resultant runoff in any zone. Keep protection universal. More here.

Respect suburban neighborhoods: Does one-size zoning fit all? Planners’ desire for greater density (duplex and multifamily housing) should not be allowed to disrupt the character of Knoxville’s suburban neighborhoods. Increased density downtown or along major corridors on bus lines makes sense. By contrast, suburban residents have invested their life savings in the houses and neighborhoods they consider appropriate to raise a family. Not everyone wants to live downtown or can realistically ride a bus to the four or five places they must go to daily.

Limit “granny houses” and other avant-garde crazes: Too much “innovation” can damage our neighborhoods. If council wants to approve ADUs, a property owner should be required to file a “special use” application, complete with a public hearing, before getting a permit to build one next door. Recode currently gives an automatic right to build an ADU on any residential lot.

Likewise, if your neighborhood is opposed to eliminating features in the current R-1 and R-1E zones, now is the time to voice your concerns. Ask your council member: Why are we doing this? What happens to schools, traffic and noise in neighborhoods? Test new ideas first before broadscale application.

Improve codes enforcement – which currently trails off once the construction permit/inspection phase is completed.

Lot size/teardowns: Developers/builders have a right to ply their trade, but let’s not blindly rejigger lot sizes to be smaller (e.g., Recode reduces RN-2 lots from 7,000 to 5,000 square feet). That may inadvertently encourage speculators to buy and divide lots in existing neighborhoods, then tear down and replace single-family houses with denser “skinny houses” (like in East Nashville). More here.

Conclusion. Council originally set out to modernize the text of Knoxville’s existing zoning law, not jettison rules that work or the healthy community that exists. Recode makes some helpful fixes. But it is only half baked. It’s up to you to speak up before council completely replaces the existing zoning law with unknowns under Recode.

Zoning remains important to Knoxville’s future. We need to get it right.

The clock is ticking. Call or write your council person. Let them know your concerns and that you are looking to them to preserve the Knoxville where you have chosen to live, work and play.

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

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