KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knox County Planning Alliance is speaking out against Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs’ zoning ordinance proposal that would remove the right of citizens to appeal Planning Commission decisions on development plans.

Knox County Commission will hold a public hearing on Monday, July 25th at 5:00 p.m. on a possible ordinance change that would remove the right of citizens to appeal Planning Commission decisions on Development Plans to the locally appointed Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA).

The meeting will be held in the main assembly room of the City-County Building at 400 West Main Street.

Currently, citizens of Knox County are able to file development appeals to the local Board of Zoning Appeals. According to the a statement to the Planning Commission, the proposal would cause “Uses on Review” appeals to need to be filed through Chancery Court.

The argument in favor of the proposal is that the BZA should not have the power to hear development plan appeals.

“The Law Director’s position, as stated in the memorandum, is that the terms “use on review” and “development plan” have been conflated for the purposes of review of applications over the years. Accordingly, per the memorandum, this conflation of the two terms has created a scenario in which BZA has been hearing appeals regarding both uses on review and development plans, though the authorizing provision in the Knox County Zoning Code at § 6.60.03 only contemplates uses on review.” according to the agenda item, 6-K-22-OA Agenda Item #51.

On the other hand, there are multiple reasons that the KCPA is against the provision. In their statement, they argue that the proposed changes would increase costs and turn a board review that could take a few months into a court case that could take much longer. They argue that the proposal would remove community involvement in developments. The proposal would remove the option that the BZA currently has to make modifications or restrictions according to the statement.

According to the statement, four cases have been filed in the last 15 years where minor modifications were able to improve compatibility and were able to settle the appeal much quicker and in a way that courts would not have been able to. Those modifications include:

  • 6-F-14-UR: modified setbacks to be more compatible with neighboring houses.
  • 5-E-15-UR: modified how sidewalks were required to be constructed to better fit the slopes and terrain, requested by the development applicant.
  • 8-D-20-UR: addressed a UoR that was approved without the required storm water plan; added condition that storm water plan would be provided to neighbors for comment and input.
  • 12-A-20-UR: addressed access to an amenity area.

It should also be noted that according to the KCPA’s statement, Uses on Review appeals have not been slowing down the development process. Only 16 appeals have been filed in the last 15 years, and 11 of those were resolved at the BZA within a few months and without the appeal going to court.

“We would like Commissioners to know that there is widespread opposition to this move from neighborhoods and all over the county. Citizen engagement in the zoning and development process is critical to ensure fair treatment for everyone concerned,” said KCPA President Kevin Murphy. “Citizen involvement with the detailed development plans often results in better, more compatible projects. We ask Commissioners to reconsider taking this unprecedented action and codify that appeals of Development Plans are appealed first to the BZA, thus upholding the citizen’s right to appeal.”