Zombie Heights: Developer makes third try for zoning

Betty BeanFountain City, Knox Scene

Twice before, Randy Guignard has asked Knox County Commission to let him build a subdivision on the side of a steep ridge near Fountain City. The land is bounded on its north by the White’s Creek Basin, a major culprit in North Knoxville/Fountain City’s flooding woes. It’s bounded on the west side by narrow, hilly and already-congested Beverly Road.

The land is constricted on its top by slope and at its base by floodplain. Former Commissioner Michele Carringer championed the opposition at the previous meetings. She has moved on to Nashville as the area’s state representative.

Both times before, Guignard has been met by busloads of Beverly Road/Tazewell Pike neighbors, and Fountain City and North Knoxville residents who turned out to oppose him. They believe a new subdivision on that parcel will make flooding worse and further snarl traffic.

Because of pandemic restrictions, there won’t be a room full of people at the Feb. 22 meeting when Guignard presents the 2021 version of his plan for consideration. Guignard won’t be there either. He will appear remotely, via Zoom, to ask to be allowed to build 196 houses on the 88-acre tract. Presumably, representatives of his opposition will appear also. Judging from the number of comments appended to his Knoxville Knox County Planning file, the opposition hasn’t gone anywhere.

Knoxville-Knox County Planning (formerly named MPC) voted to approve Guignard’s request, despite pleas from Courtney Shea, representing Fountain City Town Hall and a long list of other neighborhood and homeowner groups. Shea reminded planning commissioners that in 2018, their professional staff recommended one dwelling unit per acre on the site’s 61 usable acres.

Sixty-one units in 2018 vs. 196 units in 2021. What’s changed?

Basically, just the composition of the planning commission and its staff, now functioning with an interim director.

Shea argued that flooding, hillside erosion and traffic hazards that will be increased by the subdivision’s single entrance on a steep, blind curve of Beverly Road should outweigh Guignard’s contention that he needs more units to make a profit on his investment. She said the professional staff’s original 2018 recommendation of 61 dwelling units — one per acre would give Guignard reasonable use of the land that he optioned in 2018, but didn’t purchase until 2019.

She also reminded them of former MPC Executive Director Gerald Greene’s observation that this was the “worst piece of property that’s ever come before MPC” and of Commissioner Scott Smith’s prediction that the site offers, “A big opportunity to make a big mess.”

Guignard kept reminding the planners that part of the property is already zoned industrial, which would allow undesirable uses, which evidently made an impact on several commissioners and MPC staff, who mentioned it when listing the reasons to allow more density than the original recommendation (while failing to observe that the parcel had been up for sale for decades without attracting industrial uses).

The planning commissioners and staff were more sympathetic to Guignard’s pleas that he needs more units in order to turn a profit than to the neighborhoods’ flooding and traffic concerns.

In 2018, Guignard’s attorney abruptly withdrew his request from the county commission agenda (with a seconded motion on the floor) when it became clear that it was not going to be approved. In 2019, he settled for half a loaf when the county commission (whose members were visibly confused about what they were voting for) approved the sector plan amendment he requested but declined to give him the density he requested.

It is unclear which way this next vote will go, but it is clear that Guignard will get what he’s asking for or he’ll be back to take another whack at it soon as the law allows.

Email comments to be included in County Commission’s Feb. 22 meeting to commission@lmpxcpimty.org. Deadline is Feb. 10.

Previous stories here, here, here and here.

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.

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