ReCode: Out of the Weeds

At the opening of Council’s last ReCode workshop on September 20th, Vice Mayor Saunders warned us that we were likely to get in the weeds…and we certainly did. Many questions from the community emerged following the release of the initial ReCode drafts, and it’s important that we appropriately address those concerns as we move forward in this process.

During the workshop, Council reviewed the definition of “ancillary” and sought clarity on what was meant by “site.” We also reviewed what standards, if any, should exist for:
• Home occupations in residential zones
• Home daycare in residential zones
• Fencing around pools
• Number of pets allowed on a residential lot
• Proposed changes to addressing text or map amendments
• Removal of descriptive terms like “low” and “medium” density, while “high” density remained

Although this review was tedious at times, I believe it was a necessary exploration.

The key question here is: What do we want to accomplish with this unprecedented opportunity to guide the future of our city?

It’s important to get this right. Our current zoning ordinance is from the 1960s and although it’s been amended over the years, any missteps we make could be around for a long time due to grandfather exemptions. With the third ReCode draft due out shortly, I believe we need to consider the current landscape and how we’d like to see our community evolve in the coming years.

With that in mind, here are four key priorities to consider as we move forward:

An Updated and More User-Friendly Code:
In short, our new zoning code should make the complex simple. Considering the intricacy of the subject matter, revising our existing code with language that’s easier to understand is critical. As much as possible, we need to avoid complex definitions and offer a clear and transparent process. Clarity in definitions makes code enforcement significantly more practical and user friendly for residents. In the current draft, the matrix (Table 9-1) is a good example of increasing ease of use, allowing the user to more easily determine what is and is not permitted at a glance. We can also use this opportunity to remove some outdated uses, such as sections on horse drawn carriages, while adding in more recent trends like solar panels and electric car recharging stations.

Preservation of Our Residential Neighborhoods:
The character of our neighborhoods is important and should be preserved. For more than fifty years, our single-family low-density neighborhoods have been a stable place for residents to build a life and raise a family. It’s important to remember that the homes in these neighborhoods often represent the single largest investment for those residents. As we explore ReCode, we need to also work to maintain the unique character of our urban and suburban neighborhoods. Additionally, we must provide for a diversity of residential options so that everyone can find a place to call home in our community. Reasonable limits on home occupations and use within neighborhoods should remain consistent with the available infrastructure. This will continue to contribute to the relative stability and attractiveness of these neighborhoods and our overall community. There is space in ReCode to protect the unique character of our neighborhoods today and allow for flexibility in the future, as the needs of our community change.

Providing for Density and Affordability:
There has been a lot of discussion about growth in our city, and we must create a plan that allows for expansion and affordability. Unfortunately, as property values have continued to rise, wages have not grown at a similar pace. Should those trends continue, many of us will be priced out of our city. I don’t want to see our nurses, teachers, police, and firefighters move out of Knoxville, further away from where they work, due to lack of affordable housing.

As such, density should be appropriately focused along our corridors. This will provide more affordability and encourage more walkable, connected communities. Many neighborhoods aren’t set up to support density, but our corridors and nodes have the necessary infrastructure and transit options to support this growth. With mixed-use residential and commercial we can encourage a community where our neighbors can walk to work and leisure opportunities or catch a bus to anywhere in our city. By focusing density where it can be properly supported, we can maintain the character of our neighborhoods and provide for a variety of affordable housing options into the future. As we grow, shouldn’t affordable housing include homeownership options as well as rental opportunities?

Expanding Green Spaces:
Encouraging walkability requires key infrastructure investments like sidewalks and greenway expansion. The city has done a fantastic job of expanding and updating our green spaces as well as making existing communities more attractive, accessible, and walkable. We must continue these updates to promote a more interconnected and attractive city by further encouraging space for grass, trees, and plants that make Knoxville such an attractive place to live, work, and play.

Your input is critical in this process. There are a series of public meetings set in October, for a complete list visit http://www.recodeknoxville.com. The next ReCode public meeting in the 2nd District is on October 24th from 6-7PM at the Deane Hill Recreation Center. I hope to see you there and hear your thoughts on this important topic.

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The Innovation City

Knoxville is uniquely poised to work with regional partners to drive economic growth and strengthen our brand as an “Innovation City.” The proximity of Oak Ridge National Lab, The University of Tennessee, and the Tennessee Valley Authority creates an environment for high-tech economic growth that is the envy of many metropolitan areas. These key regional economic partnerships can provide a competitive advantage for Knoxville in many developing technologies, including clean energy, advanced materials, and additive manufacturing.

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Members of Knoxville City Council with a 3D printed Shelby Cobra. From Left to Right: Seema Singh-Perez (3rd District), Lauren Rider (4th District), Gwen McKenzie (6th District), Vice Mayor Finbarr Saunders (At-Large), and Andrew Roberto (2nd District).

According to Knoxville Chamber Vice President of Economic Development, Doug Lawyer, and Deputy to the Mayor, Bill Lyons, we’ve already been successful in attracting technological companies to our region because of the research and innovation taking place here. Local Motors and Cirrus Aircraft, for example, chose our community because the proximity to technology was a differentiator, as was the availability of partnerships with ORNL. Another example is SH Data Technologies, who committed to a major expansion in Knoxville after meeting with ORNL and touring the construction of their Summit super computer, capable of 200,000 trillion calculations per second.

Further demonstration of Knoxville’s unique position as an “Innovation City” occurred in late July when the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, a multi-state partnership led by UT-ORNL, held a conference in Knoxville to showcase its regional capabilities. Over 400 leaders in advanced manufacturing from all over the country participated.

While we have made significant strides in leveraging these economic advantages in developing fields, I believe we can and should do more. The conditions exist to accelerate the creation of new companies and attract and expand existing companies in advanced manufacturing and other emerging technologies, providing a sustainable network of opportunities and new jobs for Knoxville and our region.

There are two key steps we can take to advance this vision. First, we need to expand developing economic hubs in research areas including advanced materials, clean energy, and additive manufacturing. This focus will encourage entrepreneurs to take research technologies developed in our community to market and establish a home here for the high-paying technological industries of the future. The next step involves expanding partnerships with our local public schools and community colleges to establish a jobs pipeline, ensuring we have a workforce that is ready to fill these new jobs.

Recently, I partnered with the Knoxville Chamber and my colleagues on City Council to set up a tour of ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. Key innovations in additive manufacturing, advanced composite materials, and batteries could have a lasting positive impact on our local economy. As a part of our tour, members of council saw a 3D printed Shelby Cobra and examined pellets used by the massive 3D printers to create products and geometries previously impossible to produce.

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Councilmembers Rider (4th District) and Singh-Perez (3rd District) examine the pellets used in one of the 3D printers at the MDF.

These technologies are in the early stages of development, but it’s all happening right here in our back yard. We have a distinct advantage to lead the development of these economic hubs that will continue to emerge. The jobs of the future will go to communities that support innovation and have a skilled and ready workforce. Let’s work together to make sure Knoxville is ready, because opportunity is knocking!

Support Fulton High School – Help Us Stuff the Bus!

We all know that education is critical to the success of our city and our students can’t do their best without the school supplies they need. That’s why, during a recent lunch with Fulton High School Principal Rob Speas, I was saddened to learn that many of his students don’t come to school with the basic school supplies they need to complete their work. That conversation sparked the idea for our upcoming Stuff The Bus event.

What: Stuff the Bus – School Supply Donation Drive
Why: Benefits Fulton High School students for the 2018-19 school year
When: Saturday, July 28 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Tax Free Saturday)
Where: Broadway Shopping Center – 2001 North Broadway

Donations will be collected at the yellow school bus parked next to Suntrust bank
Requested Donations: Pencils, pens, highlighters, dry erase markers, binder clips, paper clips, notecards, folders, binders, spiral notebooks, copy paper, backpacks, sling backpacks, headphones, tissues, hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes.

I frequently receive questions about education from citizens throughout Knoxville and many of our neighbors want to know how council can help support our public schools. The City of Knoxville supports public education by providing 72 cents out of every dollar in sales tax to Knox County Schools, but I believe that council can also help directly by partnering with our schools in collaboration with local businesses and community organizations.

I’m excited to partner with fellow Councilmembers Lauren Rider (District 4) and Mark Campen, (District 5) along with the North Knoxville Business and Professional Association and merchants at the Broadway Shopping Center to collect these much-needed school supplies.

We need your help in supporting these deserving students, so please stop by and see us this Saturday from 10AM-4PM. We look forward to seeing you!

Revisiting Recode: Allowing for Continued Diversity in Residential Options

I have received several follow-up questions regarding my last blog entitled: “Shouldn’t Single-Family Low-Density Neighborhoods Continue in ReCode?” Many have asked how the first ReCode draft impacts specific neighborhoods other than those mentioned in the article. While I am unable to address every neighborhood in any one post, it makes sense to broaden our look at the potential impact Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) may have in several neighborhoods. If you have questions about a specific neighborhood, you can look up additional information at www.kgis.org. Look up your address and then select the zoning map on the left under planning and zoning maps.

In the 2nd District, Timbercrest and Farview Hills are currently zoned R1. The same is true for Middlebrook HIMG_0753eights, which is mainly located in the 6th District. Westwood and Forrest Heights are currently zoned R1E. As these neighborhoods are currently zoned R1 and R1E, ADUs are currently not permitted. However, in the first ReCode draft they would be allowed by right in these and all other residential zones.

I’ve also been asked about other neighborhoods outside the 2nd District. In general, ADUs are currently permitted downtown. As for specific neighborhoods outside of the 2nd District, ADUs are permitted in Parkridge, Edgewood Heights, and 4th and Gill, as these neighborhoods are all currently zoned R1A. The proposed changes in the first draft of ReCode would have no impact on the availability of ADUs in any of these areas, as they currently allow for garage apartments accessory to the principal dwelling by right. Follow this link to review permitted uses in R1A here.

The question about ADUs isn’t about exclusion. It’s a question of how neighborhoods were designed and what kind of use their infrastructure can support. I believe we should have a variety of residential options in Knoxville. I also believe that we shouldn’t make significant changes to those designated low-density single-family neighborhoods without some serious thought and discussion about the potential impact of this change.

As I referenced in the the last Council Workshop, many in R1 and R1E neighborhoods aren’t currently interested in changing their zone to R1A, which would allow them to have ADUs. With this in mind, why not offer subzones like RN-1A with no ADUs, and RN-1E with no Duplexes or ADUs, while allowing ADUs in RN-1? The addition of these subzones would allow for continued diversity in residential options in our community.

With all of the debate surrounding this important issue, I believe that additional public input and discussion is needed. I look forward to continuing to explore this issue with my neighbors in District 2 as well as city-wide.

Shouldn’t Single-Family Low-Density Neighborhoods Continue in ReCode?

What do you think of when you hear Single-Family Low-Density neighborhoods? Two neighborhoods in District 2 immediately come to my mind West Hills and Sequoyah Hills, as well as large sections of established neighborhoods across our city. These neighborhoods are primarily made up of R1 and R1e under Knoxville’s current zoning ordinance. These two zones are the most restrictive residential districts which are intended for low-density residential land uses. Neighborhoods under these zones are generally intended to be protected from non-residential encroachments like commercial activity and higher-density developments like apartments. To review the current R1 and R1e zones, please visit: https://library.municode.com/tn/knoxville/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=APXBZORE_ARTIVSPDIRE_S2BADI_2.1REDI_2.1.1LODEREDI.

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Knoxville is currently attempting to update our city’s Zoning Ordinances, which was originally drafted in the 1960’s, a process that started in 2016 and a first draft is currently available for review at https://recodeknoxville.com/library/documents/. There have been numerous public meetings regarding the ReCode efforts, and since the first draft was released, many more of our neighbors are getting engaged in this process.

At a recent Kingston Pike Sequoyah Hills meeting, I led a neighborhood discussion with MPC Planning Services Manager, Amy Brooks, answering community questions on proposed changes to R1, the dominant low density residential zone in that neighborhood. In the first draft of ReCode, R1 gets a new name RN-1 Single Family Residential District. Please follow the ReCode link above to section 4-1 to learn more RN-1 in the first draft. On whole RN-1 and R1 are very similar except for one very big difference, under the first draft Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU’s) would be allowed by right in all residential zones. An ADU is defined by the first ReCode draft as “an additional dwelling unit located on the same lot with and is incidental to, a principal single-family dwelling.” This ADU can be attached or detached but must include separate cooking and sanitary facilities as well as its own way in and out.

The addition of Accessory Dwelling Units is a significant change to our current ordinance for low-density single-family neighborhoods. If Accessory Dwelling Units are allowed in all residential zones, are we still providing for single-family or low-density neighborhoods? It is certainly true that Knoxville needs a variety of residential zones to accommodate low and high density uses as well as supporting the different ways we, as individual communities, want to organize our neighborhoods. Ultimately, one question for ReCode is do we as a city want to preserve single-family low-density neighborhoods and do the addition of ADUs represent encroachment in these zones we have been protecting against for decades?

It was clear that those in attendance at the Sequoyah meeting were unaware of this proposed change and the majority were against the allowance of ADU’s in their neighborhood. I’m currently planning a similar discussion in West Hills to learn that neighborhood’s perspective.

I believe we should have a variety of residential options while continuing to have low-density single-family neighborhoods in Knoxville. In my opinion, the allowance of ADUs in these zones is a concern as their addition appears to be contrary to the stated purpose of these zones, providing for a single-family low-density environment. There are many good reasons to have ADUs in some, but not all, residential zones including providing lower cost at home options for aging parents or for our children as they go to college or are getting started in their careers. If we as a city have found single-family low-density neighborhoods important enough to protect for almost 70 years, I think we should find a place for them in ReCode.

A Closer Look: Western Plaza and HB2156

Over the last ten days, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding the proposed development at Western Plaza. In order to fully understand what has occurred, I believe that it is important to clarify the history of HB2156 which sought to remove the building height limitation of 35 feet from Western Plaza. In essence, the Bill would treat Western Plaza the same as virtually all property West of that location.

WPHB2156 was filed on 1/31/2018 by Representative Rick Staples. It was then assigned to the House Transportation Committee on 2/5/2018 and later passed by this committee. Several local representatives serve on this committee, including Representative Eddie Smith. You can review the complete history of HB2156 here: http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/BillInfo/Default.aspx?BillNumber=HB2156

At the March 5th Executive Board meeting of the Kingston Pike Sequoyah Hills neighborhood association, I was asked to obtain a copy of HB2156 and confirm that the bill was limited only to the property at Western Plaza. As such, I forwarded the bill to representatives of the neighborhood association that same week. On March 20th, the House Transportation Committee heard HB2156 and it was passed unanimously by voice vote of all committee members, moving the bill forward towards the House floor for a vote. The video can be seen here: http://tnga.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=354&clip_id=14892&meta_id=336774

Then, on April 8th, two months after HB2156 was assigned to the House Transportation Committee, and almost 3 weeks after voting to move the Bill forward, Representative Eddie Smith held a meeting with residents of Sequoyah Hills. I was also in attendance. The majority of those in attendance expressed support for a mixed-use development at Western Plaza, but also indicated that they weren’t comfortable moving forward without an actual plan for the proposal. Based on the very valid concerns of these citizens, I worked on a possible resolution for City Council to consider. The resolution requested that the Knox County delegation consider amendments that would give voice to the concerns of the neighbors at the meeting.

However, as events unfolded that day, it became clear to me that HB2156, in its current state, needed to be withdrawn rather than amended. At first, I thought that a resolution could address the issues raised by our concerned neighbors, but I soon determined that there was not enough time left in this legislative session for a plan from the developer to be, not only created, but reviewed by neighborhood representatives. Therefore, I called Representative Rick Staples and expressed these concerns to him directly. Following our discussion, Representative Staples took the appropriate action to “hold on the desk” the bill. This effectively suspended consideration of HB2156 in this session.

I want to be clear: I stand with the neighborhood majority who support the concept of mixed-use in Western Plaza. Like those in attendance, I believe a concept plan needs to be presented to the neighborhood for consideration and feedback. In the coming weeks, I will continue to meet with neighborhood representatives, the Bearden Council, and the developer to review any proposed plans and set up opportunities for neighborhood input.

I want to extend special thanks to the members of the Kingston Pike Sequoyah Hills neighborhood association and Bearden Council for their collaboration, constant communication, and hard work on behalf of our neighbors in District 2.

“Meet Your Reps” Kicks off with First Meeting!

On February 28th, the first of many “Meet Your Reps” meetings kicked off with approximately 40 in attendance over the 90-minute duration of the meeting. I want to thank 4th District County Commissioner Hugh NystroIMG_0401m and 4th District School Board Representative Lynne Fugate for joining me for this meeting, as well as West Hills Flats and Taps for providing space for us. “Meet Your Reps” was designed as a way for those representing the Bearden/West Knoxville area on City Council, County Commission, and School Board to get together in a casual setting to hear from their common constituents and find opportunities to work together for the good of those they represent. Especially in today’s political climate, this is more important than ever. By fostering relationships with our local representatives and providing an accessible way for constituents to express themselves, I believe we can find ways to work together for the betterment of our community as a whole. The overall success of our community is dependent on continued positive economic development and access to good economic opportunities, a great public-school system that attracts talented students and growing businesses to locate in our community, and vibrant neighborhoods. To achieve this, we will need all our local representatives working together and this meeting was a good start towards building upon and maintaining the relationships necessary for community-wide success.

Lynne, Hugh, and I are already planning to have another “Meet Your Reps” later in the spring. It was great that so many of my colleagues on City Council joined in the discussion, including Vice Mayor Finbarr Saunders, Beer Board Chairman George Wallace, Seema Singh-Perez, and Lauren Rider. Several candidates for Knox County and State office were in attendance as well. Most of the discussion focused on a proposed development on Broome Road in West Hills as well as the need for a sidewalk on Sheffield Drive.

I am looking forward to our next Council meeting on Tuesday, March 13th.

Welcome!

I love Knoxville. I grew up here. I live and work here. And I am so pleased to be raising my daughters in such a warm, welcoming and vibrant community.

As a Knoxville native, I was blessed with a good education and access to opportunity. I ran for City Council because I want to work to ensure that all citizens have access to those same opportunities. I am proud to serve the people of Knoxville in this role and started this blog to help keep you informed of the important work that council is doing.

I look forward to sharing my experiences with you. If you have suggestions or comments, please feel free to contact me at aroberto@knoxvilletn.gov.

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Andrew