Institutional Sign Standards and Why It Matters to Neighborhoods

On Tuesday, October 20th, City Council will consider a freestanding sign standard proposal for the Institutional District (INST) that offers a comprehensive resolution to size, height, and illumination of signs in that District. This proposal was created through a collaborative effort of neighborhood and community organizations and was considered by Planning Commission at the their September 10, 2020 meeting.

A Brief History of Council’s Action:

Members of City Council and the public have expressed a desire to participate in determining appropriate sign requirements in the Institutional District (INST) through Council’s legislative process. This interest began when the newly created Institutional District (INST) was drafted at first without any sign standards. When the public and members of Council raised this issue, the Institutional District (INST) was then given the same standards as Commercial and Industrial Districts by the consultants. It is important to note that there are no Commercial or Industrial uses in the Institutional District and the Institutional District is the only Special Purpose and Overlay District without its own freestanding sign standards.

Prior to the passage of a new zoning ordinance on August 13, 2019, Council was assured that sign standards would be provided for Council’s approval before the new ordinance went into effect. When no action was taken, Council, through a Resolution passed on September 24, 2019, requested that Planning Commission consider and make a recommendation to City Council regarding sign standards in the Institutional District. As 2019 was drawing to a close and without a proposal to consider, Council then issued a 120 Day Moratorium on signs in the Institutional District on December 17, 2019. In Spring of 2020, a proposal was still not produced so Council issued a 90 Day Moratorium on signs in the Institutional District on April 21, 2020.

In an effort to move the legislative process along, Council held a workshop on July 9, 2020, where Council again expressed a continued desire to participate in the legislative process and the need for additional options.

A Comprehensive Approach is Preferable:

The option for a free-standing sign standard in the Institutional District (INST) is a preferable option as it addresses not only the illumination of signs, but the type of signs permitted, and the size of permitted signs. Further, as private offices are allowed in the Institutional District, passing this option is preferable as it closes a potential loop-hole where an office use could be allowed to have commercial or industrial signs which would otherwise not be permitted in the Office District (O). Finally, this option is preferable as it provides appropriate sign standards for all uses in the District while insuring needed sign flexibility for healthcare facilities with an emergency room through a master sign plan.

The Institutional District Isn’t Just for a Campus-Like Setting:

One argument that Council has heard several times is that signs in the Institutional District should not be a concern because the District is limited to an area of 5 contiguous acres and is for large “campus-like settings.” The assumption is that since there are not many properties that could meet this very narrow threshold, Council should not be concerned about future rezonings to the Institutional District. This point was made specifically by Planning Staff in comments and recommendations to the Stakeholder Advisory Committee on April 22, 2019 and to Council many times. However, Section 8.2 of the current zoning ordinance is clear that the Institutional District is to have a minimum size of five contiguous acres but may be composed of lots of various sizes with a minimum lot size of less than half an acre. It’s important to note that when efforts to fully address concerns in the Institutional District were unsuccessful during the zoning ordinance update, the word “contiguous” was added by Council to offer some protection from the sign standards as drafted.

This means that a composition of 20,000 square foot lots, with different owners and therefore not a unified or campus-like setting, may be rezoned to Institutional District so long as the lots meet the contiguous five-acre requirement. The 5-acre argument therefore gives little comfort as our city’s sign standards are based on lots and not area, meaning that each lot, not each 5-acre area, has its own individually allowable signs.

Illumination Isn’t the Only Issue:

Sign standards in the Institutional District allow for internally illuminated signs as well as dramatically different sizes and types of signs which are more appropriate for commercial and industrial uses. Currently, in each lot zoned Institutional District you can have pole signs in addition to monument or column signs. The maximum height of detached signs can be up to 35 feet and 220 square feet in size down to 10 feet tall and 100 square feet in size. After considering that signs are based on lots and not area as discussed above, imagine the potential sign clutter from 10 contiguous half acre lots with at least one 10-foot-tall pole sign that is 100 square feet on each individual lot.

The difference between commercial and industrial signs and non-commercial signs is dramatic when we consider that in the Office District only monument and column signs with a maximum height of 6 feet and a 36 square foot sign area are permitted. Further, there are no permitted internally illuminated signs in the Office District.

Given the uses available in the Institutional District (INST), including broadcasting facility, community center, educational facility, public safety facility, and healthcare facility, it was important to provide more flexibility in the type and size of permitted signs in the District. As such, the proposal is more generous than the Office District (O) but not as generous as the signs allowed in Commercial or Industrial Districts. The proposal allows for signs from 6 feet to 15 feet in height and from 36 square feet to 65 square feet based on the roadway type adjacent to the property. Further, the type of sign is limited to monument and column signs and there is an option allowing healthcare facilities with an emergency room to internally illuminate their signs.

When considering the type, size, and illumination of signs available currently in the Institutional District, it is easy to see why many are concerned and want to see a comprehensive approach to sign standards in the District. Knoxville-Knox County Planning staff selected the current location of Institutional Districts, many of which were formerly Office or even Residential Districts. As described above, a future rezoning of ten contiguous half-acre lots could bring Commercial and Industrial signs outside of those pre-determined sites. Therefore, the time to provide comprehensive sign standards is before any new signs go up and before a rezoning is initiated, because once a sign is constructed it will be with us for a very long time.

Council’s Legislative Process:

In 2015, Council used its legislative process to create the sign ordinance and five years later this Council has through previous comments in the July 9th workshop, support for both moratoriums, and the September 2019 resolution expressed a commitment to take similar action today. Only a freestanding sign standard for the Institutional District, just like the other Special Purpose and Overlay Districts in Article 8 of the current zoning ordinance, can resolve size, type, and illumination of signs in the District. This amendment proposal will be the 4th attempt by Council to address this issue. After all the interest and action taken in this debate, I am glad that Council will now be able to consider an option for comprehensive sign standards in the Institutional District.

Lessons from the Past for a Modern Pandemic

Growing up, my father would often entertain us with stories and insights from the book he was currently reading. This fostered my own love of reading at an early age. Given the current increase in Coronavirus cases we’ve seen locally, I recently revisited one of my father’s recommendations from years ago, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry.

The Great Influenza offers a thorough analysis of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic and details the fascinating evolution from heroic medicine to modern science-based practices. The book provides a foundational understanding of how viruses’ function and change or mutate through antigen shift or antigen drift. These mutations can make a deadly virus less so, or a mild virus more lethal. Despite being published over 15 years ago, a type of virus, coronavirus, is mentioned in the book. As I write this, I can hear my father’s voice reviewing parts of the book that I only recently completed. Clearly, I should have taken his advice and read this book years ago when he first recommended it.

Given the continued spread of Coronavirus and the increased number of active cases, I wanted to better understand the 1918 pandemic. I also want to share portions of that true story that I found helpful in gaining a better understanding of how we faced a pandemic over a century ago. The account of that outbreak is as compelling as it is a gruesome tale — a dark time in our Nation’s history.

The 1918 flu, similar to other pandemics that have occurred in 1889, 1957, 1968, and 2009, came in waves. The first wave in the Spring of 1918 was less deadly than the Fall of 1918. The likely origin of the 1918 flu was Haskell County Kansas. Throughout 1918, the health care system was first strained and then pushed to its breaking point or outright collapse as cases soared. It’s interesting to note that social distancing practices were employed back then to help temper the outbreak. Schools were closed, large gatherings were canceled. Entire towns shut down completely. Those who chose to social distance fared better, while cities like Philadelphia that held a huge parade to promote the purchase of war bonds suffered unimaginably. Eventually, the virus spread all over the world even to very remote places. In the buildup to World War I, the press was suppressed and news of illness was dismissed or downplayed. Life and movement sped up to prepare for the war effort at a time when social distancing could have helped slow the impact of the virus. Matters were not helped as thousands of American soldiers were crowded onto transport ships during World War I, becoming ill or dying from the virus during or soon after their Atlantic voyage.

If you’d like to learn more, but don’t have time to read the book, I highly suggest watching American Experience on PBS. Season 10, Episode 5: Influenza 1918.

As we continue to navigate these uncertain times, I find hope and comfort in studying the past. The unknown is our greatest fear, perhaps because our imagination is left to fill in the voids of our knowledge. Although life today is quite different than it was a century ago, reflecting on history can provide us tools to identify patterns, gain perspective, and better solve the challenges of today.

I also find solace in the many modern advantages that we have in 2020 to fight a pandemic:

  1. We have a much better understanding of viruses today.
  2. We’ve seen advancements in anti-viral drugs like Oseltamivir, Zanamivir, and Remdesivir. This class of drugs offers the promise of inhibiting the development of a virus.
  3. We don’t have the massive global assembly and movement of troops seen during World War I which significantly worsened the spread of the 1918 flu. Social distancing was not as feasible during wartime and the talent and focus of our medical system was on the war effort and not the pandemic.
  4. We survived. As terrible as the 1918 flu pandemic was, we survived and went on to see another century of progress as a civilization.

Just like in 1918, we can’t isolate ourselves away from the virus, only a few islands and remote communities successfully accomplished this a century ago and replicating that level of extreme quarantine would be virtually impossible today. We must layer several interventions to promote social distancing to reduce the threat of a significant local outbreak to avoid straining our health care system. If we all re-commit ourselves to slowing the spread, each of us can play a role in slowing this pandemic and saving lives. When we leave home, let’s wear a mask. Let’s establish consistent routines to wash our hands and disinfect anything we’ve brought with us or anything we’ve touched when we leave home. Let’s resolve to stay home if we’re feeling sick and avoid large crowds.
We can all play a role in fighting COVID-19. Remember that we are writing the history of today, the story of our time and what we did. Let’s do our best to write a story about a community that came together, that cared about one another, that protected one another, that kept moving forward in the face of fear.

KAT Worker Appreciation Day — June 5, 2020

The phrase “essential worker” has taken on new meaning over the past several months. During this unprecedented time, we are grateful to our Healthcare Heroes and all essential workers who bravely faced COVID-19 daily to keep our community fed, healthy and safe. Every day, cashiers, grocery store stockers, utility workers, sanitation workers, bus drivers and so many others put their health on the line to keep our city moving forward.

KAT1
Photo Credit: Mattheis/News Sentinel

A few weeks ago, my long-time friend Cameron Brooks reached out with an idea to recognize some of these essential workers. For many of our neighbors, Knoxville Area Transit (KAT) is the only way to get to work, the doctor, or to get essential groceries and medicine. In appreciation of their efforts, Cameron suggested that we host a KAT Worker Appreciation Day on June 5th and provide free lunch to all KAT workers. Cameron set up a GoFundMe page and set our initial goal at $1,000. Thanks to the generosity of our incredible city, that goal was met within hours, and we ultimately raised $2,035.00.

KAT2
Photo Credit: Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel

As we considered who could provide 200 lunches to our friends at KAT, we immediately reached out to our friend Yassin Terou, of Yassin’s Falafel House. Last Friday, Yassin and his crew cheerfully whipped up 200 gyro lunches at their Walnut Avenue location and KAT driver Ventrice Hodge helped us package and deliver the delicious food. Cameron and I are so grateful to Yassin for his kindness and thrilled that we could help support his restaurant during these tough economic times.

The greatest thing about Knoxville is our people and their genuine VOLunteer spirit. After months of being cooped up in the house and participating in Zoom-hosted City Council meetings, it felt great to spend some time downtown. Thank you, Cameron, for allowing me to be involved and a special thank you to Yassin and all our KAT workers for all you do for our community!

 

Finding a Council Member for District One and Moving Forward Together

Your Knoxville City Council was given a difficult task last week. Following Stephanie Welch’s resignation to serve Mayor Kincannon’s administration, council was tasked with selecting her replacement to serve out the remainder of her term, which runs through 2021.

I must take a moment and share how much I will miss Stephanie. She was accessible to her constituents, worked hard for her district and was always a deliberate and thoughtful member of council. One of the best parts of serving on council is meeting and connecting with great people like Stephanie. I am not sure if our paths would have crossed otherwise, but I am glad we had the opportunity to serve together.

Those who step up to serve on council acknowledge that there will be tough calls at nearly every meeting and last Thursday was no exception. Given the weight of the responsibility of selecting a new District 1 council member, I wanted to share my decision-making process.

First, I’d like to mention: As a former Knox County Election Commissioner, I would have preferred to let the people of District 1 select their representative through a traditional election, rather than a council appointment. I believe in our democratic process and continue to encourage community-wide participation in our elections. That being said, let’s clarify the process council had to work with.

The Process:
The Charter sets forth the rules required for replacing a member of council in Chapter 7.5, Article 2, Section 7.5-87(e), Rule 26: Filling Vacancies. Let’s explore the language: “in the first round of voting, applicants not receiving at least one (1) vote shall be eliminated.” The rule goes on to clarify, “in the second and subsequent rounds of voting, the applicant receiving the fewest number of votes shall be eliminated.” In my opinion, this is relatively straight forward and keep in mind council is required to fill a vacant office within thirty days according to Charter Part I, Article 7, Section 705: Vacancies.

Council attorney Rob Frost, who had reviewed the video of the same process in action nine years ago, was concerned about a scenario where more than one candidate would tie with the fewest number of votes. After a good debate, including council members Parker, Fugate, Singh, Rider, and Testerman, a suggestion was made that, in the unlikely event of a tie with the fewest number of votes, a tie would stand and wouldn’t be broken until after five rounds of the same parties being locked in that same tie. This scenario did not occur so only the plain language as directed by the Charter was required during our vote.

How I Reached My Decision:
For reference, I am only detailing my process, no one else’s. Following Stephanie’s announcement, I thought about the unique position a district representative has on Council and how best to identify the right qualities in a candidate. Early on, I felt the best way to identify and evaluate these qualities was to attend as many South Knoxville neighborhood meetings as I could. Of the fourteen neighborhoods listed in the First District with the Office of Neighborhoods, I attended seven meetings leading up to our February 20th meeting. These meetings included: Colonial Village, Island Home, Old Sevier Community, South Haven, South Woodlawn, Southside Waterfront, and the Vestal Community. I learned a lot from those meetings regarding the unique challenges and opportunities in the First District, making a point to stick around after the meeting concluded to allow neighbors to share their thoughts. In the neighborhoods I visited, only Tommy Smith and Janice Tocher attended as well. I can’t tell you who did or did not attend any other meetings where I wasn’t present.

After visiting with those neighborhoods, one thing became very clear: People want an accessible neighborhood advocate to represent them.

Repeatedly, I heard neighbors echoing this same sentiment. You must be accessible and to do that, you have to show-up at community events and engage with those who you wish to serve. One gentleman I sat next to at the Old Sevier Community Group leaned over to me and said, “I like the way you stand up for your neighborhoods.” Balancing the needs of neighborhoods and the city as a whole is our job as council members.

Most of the citizens I spoke to in South Knoxville expressed support for Tommy Smith. I also received numerous emails and letters expressing support for a candidate, but I received the most messages on behalf of Janice Tocher and Tommy Smith. I met with each candidate that asked for a meeting and had great visits with Anne Wallace, Janice Tocher, Rebecca Parr, David Hayes, Ben Ream, and Tommy Smith. I appreciate the opportunity to meet each candidate and get to know them better. Next, I carefully reviewed their applications and entered the special called meeting with an open mind, needing to hear from each candidate in order to make my decision.

Ultimately, I chose Tommy Smith for the reasons I detailed above and because I felt like he demonstrated before and during the special called meeting that he will be an accessible neighborhood advocate for the First District. I also really enjoyed hearing from all the candidates and several times thought how wonderful it is that the First District provided so many good candidates to choose from.

Moving Forward Together:
It’s not often that council is called on to replace one of its own, but I am proud of all our members for their hard work and diligence during this process. It is my absolute privilege to serve on the most diverse council ever, comprised of two thirds female members and one third people of color. What a wonderful moment for our city! Now that we are back to nine members of council, I look forward to getting back to work with this exceptional group of community leaders.

Beer Board Reviews Policy, Considers 2020 Goals to Curb Underage Service

Earlier this week, your Knoxville Beer Board met for the first time in 2020. This was also the first time that I served as chair. I truly appreciate Vice Mayor McKenzie nominating me for this position and for the approval of my colleagues on City Council to take up this role.

Mark Byrd
Mark Byrd, revenue technician with the business and tax division, is ready to assist those seeking a beer permit.

The responsibility of our Beer Board can be generally divided into two areas: customer service and enforcement. In the first area of focus, customer service, Beer Board and the staff in the business tax office assist the public with the application process and familiarize applicants with expectations associated with issuing permits. Last week, I conducted a walkthrough and mock application, as if I were seeking a beer permit. Mark Byrd of the Business Tax Division is on the customer service front lines and skillfully guided me through the process. Mark and Revenue Administrator, Donna Dyer, are committed to assisting applicants throughout the permit process.

The second area of focus is enforcement. The Beer Board works with KPD to reduce the number of establishments serving underage customers. I spoke with Karen Pershing, Executive Director of the Metro Drug Coalition, who showed me a 2018 Knox County Middle School Survey revealing that approximately one in five middle school students in our community have tried alcohol more than a few sips (see: 2018 Knox County Middle School Youth Behavior Study.) It has been and will remain a top priority of the Beer Board to reduce the number of establishments that serve underage customers by ensuring that permit holders have plans in place to prevent these sales in the first place.

“We all play a role in preventing underage drinking, whether we are parents, educators, neighbors, policy makers or business owners. By sharing a consistent message and doing our part to reduce access to alcohol, we can drive down rates of alcohol use by our youth and make our community healthier and safer for all of us,” – Karen Pershing, Executive Director, Metro Drug Coalition

When starting a new role, I believe in taking an inventory of where you are and then determine where you want to go. Prior to our meeting, there were 794 active beer permits in Knoxville. From the beginning of 2018 through the end of 2019, there were 194 approved applications. The number of applicants appearing before the Beer Board increased by almost 16% from 114 in 2018 to 135 in 2019. In the past two years KPD conducted 9 compliance checks visiting 185 establishments of which 34 sold to underage customers in 2018 and 26 in 2019. That’s a failure rate of 18% in 2018, which decreased to 14% in 2019.

Permit holders who fail their compliance check, have no fine for a first offense if they submit a remedial plan detailing how they will prevent underage service in the future. If they fail to submit a plan, the offender will go to a hearing and receive a $250 fine. A second offense will result in a hearing where suspension or revocation can occur as well as a $500 fine (see here for link to current penalties). In our discussion, Beer Board members expressed interest in learning the consequences for failing a compliance check in other local jurisdictions. My preliminary research into this found that in Knox County, failure of a compliance check yields $1,000 in a first offense.

To help stop underage service, both preceding Beer Boards had a focus on server compliance plans. This is a plan that lays out how a business will prevent underage beer sales as well as overserving customers. The requirement was added to beer permit applications in 2017. Then in 2018, the Beer Board passed guidelines I authored for server compliance plans to be added to the beer permit application (see guidelines). In 2018 only 5.2% of those applicants appearing before Beer Board didn’t have a server compliance plan in their application at the time they appeared at Beer Board. That number dropped to 4.4% in 2019. We are making progress as evidenced by the increase in plans being submitted as well as the 4% drop in establishments that sold to an underage informant in 2019 versus 2018. Preventing underage sales is certainly not a new goal. However, we as public servants should constantly seek to improve and work to address challenges.

Beer Board had a thoughtful discussion at the end of our meeting reviewing these statistics as well as our present procedure. From that discussion it is clear that the members would like to consider the following goals for 2020.

  • Ensuring that 100% of applicants produce a server compliance plan before their Beer Board appearance.
  • Ensuring that penalties are appropriate to facilitate further reductions in underage sales.
  • Reviewing the number of compliance checks to see if recommending an increase to KPD would be helpful to ensure better performance in compliance checks.

We want to be data driven and proactive as a Board, so I look forward to upcoming reports allowing future actions to consider as well as hearing further from my colleagues on these important issues.

Support for Sutherland Avenue

Did you know? November 30th is Small Business Saturday! It’s the perfect opportunity to show support for small businesses in our community — businesses that play a critical role in bolstering Knoxville’s economy. Why is our support so critical? 67 cents of every dollar spent at a local business stays in our local community.

Doing our small part, fellow Council-member Gwen McKenzie and I have partnered on a series of lunch mobs to help local businesses along Sutherland Avenue during the closure of Hollywood Road. The closure will last for several months as improvements to Hollywood Road get underway and as the Flats at Pond Gap, an affordable workforce housing development, is built. During the consideration of this project by City Council, the neighborhood expressed legitimate concerns about traffic safety and potential flooding. In order to address those concerns, Hollywood Road will be raised to improve line of sight for drivers, 1,000 feet of new or replacement sidewalks will be installed, a crosswalk will be installed to improve walkability, and critical steps will be taken to address localized flooding in the area. The road improvements and addition of 102 units of affordable workforce housing will be beneficial in the long term, but we are working to minimize any potential impact on local businesses along Sutherland during construction.

Lunch Mob Pic
Former Mayors Victor Ashe and Dan Brown as well as Mayor Rogero and Mayor-elect Kincannon joined Council-member Gwen McKenzie and I for our first Sutherland Ave. lunch mob.

Gwen and I were pleased to host our first lunch mob last Thursday, November 21 at El Charro. The event was well attended and we appreciate the support of neighbors from Sutherland Heights, Westwood, Pond Gap, Forest Heights, and Sequoyah Hills who joined us. The entire community is invited to our next lunch mob on Monday, December 16th from Noon-1pm at Dead End BBQ located at 3621 Sutherland Ave.

Please join us in supporting our local small businesses and merchants along the Sutherland Avenue corridor.

Back To School

On September 8, 2019, I gave the keynote address to a group of University of Tennessee Knoxville students for their fall officer training. Jasmine Wilcox, the president of the United Residence Halls Association (URHC) invited me as I had served as president of the student organization in 1997/98. URHC is a student organization representing all those who live in residence halls at UTK and whose purpose is to “unite the students living in residence halls through leadership, programming, service, and education.”

URHC1
2019 URHC Executive Board

In my remarks, I shared some stories about my race back in 1997 and some of our accomplishments including VolFest, a beginning of the year event designed to show students and residents what their residence halls can do for them and to encourage year-round participation. I believe VolFest continued on for at least another 14 years. We also added a public forum to our agenda and held a Hall Olympics, where each Hall competed in various sporting like events.

It’s been 22 years since my time with URHC which had a significant impact me. I explained to the students that many of the skills they are learning in URHC today are the same as those we need on City Council. In both roles you need to set a budget, outline your priorities, respond to your constituents, be comfortable in public speaking, find ways to work together, and learn Robert’s Rules of Order so you can run a meeting. I told the students that all these skills I started to learn during my time with URHC have served me well after graduation and Law School at UT.

I reminded the students that we will always face challenges in anything worth our effort, but often our greatest challenge is that we underestimate ourselves and what we can accomplish together. At the beginning of 1997, would any of the students in URHC have predicted our success in accomplishing all we did…not likely. But, through the effort of so many students we did. I encouraged the students to be ambitious with their goals while in college and in the next phase of their lives.

I truly appreciate the opportunities serving in URHC gave me and for the chance to visit with these amazing young leaders.

Slashing CO2 Emissions In Half By 2030

Earth from Voyager 1
Earth from 3.7 billion miles away taken by Voyager 1.

There is one bright pixel in this image…can you see it? This is a picture of the Earth suspended in a sunbeam against the emptiness of space. It was taken 3.7 billion miles away by Voyager 1 in 1990. The iconic image was captured as the NASA probe continued its journey, ultimately leaving our solar system in August 2012. Of this image, the late Carl Sagan said: “We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives.”

15_co2_left_040518

There isn’t another place like earth anywhere nearby, and therefore, we are responsible for taking care of it. In recent decades, our nation has met environmental challenges by focusing on the ozone layer, removing lead from gasoline, and taking steps to protect our air and water supply. But today’s challenge is climate change and the buildup of greenhouse gases, which trap heat in our atmosphere increasing our global temperatures. In order to be good stewards of our planet, we must think globally and act locally.

In 2008, Knoxville set a goal to reduce municipal carbon dioxide emissions by 20% relative to emission data from the 2005 baseline. Since setting that goal, investments in energy efficiency in city buildings improved efficiency by 14% in 2018 as compared to energy use in 2010. Further, improvements in the city’s fleet and KAT vehicles have combined to lower emissions by 11% since 2005.

In 2018, after City Council’s approval, Knoxville began replacing high pressure sodium streetlights with energy-efficient LED lights. The installation of LED streetlights resulted in a 60% reduction in streetlight electrical use, the savings from which pays for itself in 8 years and saves taxpayers $2 million each year thereafter. The city of Knoxville exceeded our municipal reduction goal of 20% set in 2008 by implementing this change.

I believe one of our greatest community challenges is our propensity to underestimate what we are capable of accomplishing. In 2008, a 20% reduction in C02 emissions may have seemed ambitious, but with this accomplishment it is time to set a new goal and do more to protect this community we call home.

On Tuesday, August 13, City Council will take up a resolution to set a new goal to reduce municipal greenhouse gas emissions by 50% of 2005 baseline by 2030, and an 80% reduction in our community emissions by 2050. I am very pleased to sponsor this resolution which builds on our city’s progress of proactively addressing climate change. In achieving our previous reduction goal and setting new ambitious objectives, we will be positively impacting our environment while producing overall savings for our taxpayers.

Exploring West Hills and the Established Neighborhood Amendment

One of the Recode amendments I proposed at the last Council meeting has drawn some interest and likewise some misunderstanding. Therefore, I’d like to breakdown some of the key points of the Established Neighborhood Amendment and clarify some misunderstandings about West Hills.

The West Hills Neighborhood
West Hills Community Association president Donnie Ernst recently said, “We are a working-class neighborhood and love our neighborhood as is.”

West Hills has a very active neighborhood association, both in terms of community gatherings and a shared commitment to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In fact, the neighborhood recently received statewide “healthy neighborhood” recognition by Governor’s Health and Wellness Foundation. West Hills Elementary School is located in the heart of the neighborhood, where 52% of students receive free or reduced lunch and approximately 100 of the 750 students speak English as a second language. The assertion that this neighborhood is solely comprised of a certain type of resident is simply not accurate. West Hills is a welcoming, engaged, hard-working and diverse community — one that I’m proud to represent.

The EN Amendment
To clarify, the EN amendment did not specifically single-out or exclude West Hills, or any other neighborhood, from having Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). Rather, the amendment made a change to a zone under Recode called EN or the Established Neighborhood zone. Our city’s current zoning ordinance has examples of EN zoning in Holston Hills and Old Westmoreland. This zone is a neighborhood led process, meaning that neighborhoods must apply for this type of zoning.

The EN zone treats duplexes differently than in other residential zones as duplexes are not allowed in EN under Recode. My amendment added an option for the neighborhood to select whether or not to allow ADUs as well. It is important to note that neighborhoods have the option to limit ADUs only when they apply for and receive EN zone status.

Background: West Hills Zoning
Why do some neighborhoods, like West Hills, want to have an option to decide if ADUs and Duplexes are a good fit for them? The answer is infrastructure.

Like many neighborhoods, West Hills has been dealing with narrow winding roads and lack of sidewaimg_0470lks for a very long time. In fact, in September 1973, The West Hills Community Association published a study of land use in the neighborhood, following a directive from Knoxville City Council. The purpose of the document states: “westerly growth of the city in recent years has created conditions alarming in scope, with no apparent policy by MPC and City Council to provide permanent solutions, and yet those responsible have continued to encourage and approve intensive development in this same section of the city.” According to the study’s introduction, the document was created when a new multi-family development prompted community concern over traffic, street infrastructure, school conditions, flood control, and proper zoning policies

Eight years later, with the passage of O-254-81, a new single-family residential zone was created in the city of Knoxville with the advent of the R1-E zone on October 27, 1981. The R1-E zone is actually mentioned in the 1973 study referenced above, but doesn’t appear to have been codified until 1981. As described in the ordinance, the R1-E zone: “… is a restrictive residential district intended to be used for established single-family residential subdivisions and areas immediately adjacent to such development intended for low population densities. These areas are intended to be denied and protected from encroachment of uses not performing a function necessary to the single-family residential environment.”

West Hills sought and obtained R1-E zoning in 1985 with the passage of 8-H-85-RZ. One could argue that almost 40 years ago, life was different and our perspective on zoning wasn’t the same as it is today. However, only six years ago, another second district neighborhood asked for R1-E status which indicates that the zone is neither obsolete nor outdated. On March 5, 2013, Forest Heights, was granted R1-E zoning in R-77-2013. Consider this quote in the 1973 West Hills study regarding the infrastructure in the neighborhood, “The West Hills subdivision was originally a quiet, peaceful area. The streets were laid out over and around hills in a curving and random fashion without regard to carrying voluminous traffic or high-speed vehicles.”

This is why the West Hills neighborhood and other neighborhoods have been vocal about zoning changes, they simply want a zoning structure that their neighborhood’s infrastructure can support.

What We Learned at the Second District-wide Neighborhood Discussion

More than 60 of our neighbors from Westwood, Forest Heights, Deane Hill, Kingston Pike Sequoyah Hills, West Hills, and Lyons View Community Club attended the May 9th Second District-wide Neighborhood Discussion on Recode. I want to thank Bearden Village Council for co-hosting this event and the League of Women Voters for supplying the PA equipment. We had a very informative discussion and I truly appreciate that so many of our neighbors took part in the dialogue.

The takeaway: Virtually everyone in attendance from neighborhoods, large and small, wanted to keep their current zoning or its equivalency under Recode. Those present from West Hills overwhelmingly wanted to preserve the prohibition on duplexes and ADUs they currently have, those from Forest Heights were less concerned about ADUs but were concerned about duplexes, and those from Kingston Pike Sequoyah Hills expressed continued concern about ADUs. All of those present wanted to restore our current zoning ordinance’s prohibition on temporary outdoor sales and temporary outdoor entertainment in residential zones. The majority also wanted the Hillside and Ridgetop Protection Plan to apply to all property, not just residential as is in the 5th Recode draft.

After reviewing a list of changes that I have been advocating for, we discussed the audience’s remaining concerns. Following this discussion, I have drafted the following potential amendments that our neighborhoods can begin discussing as a vote on Recode approaches:

1. Page 10-4: Accessory Structures
Issue: The removal of #7 creates an ADU without following the section and standards of an ADU.
Amendment Purpose: Restore the language in #7 making sure that the ADU section and standards cannot be bypassed. See: https://recodeknoxville.com/documents/library/drafts/draft5/chapters/Article%2010%20Site%20Development%20Standards.pdf
Amendment Text: Page 10-4, section A, subsection 7: “No accessory structure may contain both a permanent cooking facility and plumbing unless the structure also complies with section 10.3 B.”

Issue: The chart in #6 needs to make it clear that the primary dwelling in a residential zone is dominate to the accessory structures.
Amendment Purpose via Example: On a 10,000 square foot lot. If we apply Recode’s 30% maximum building coverage on page 4-3, you could have a 1,200 square foot house footprint as well as two 750 square foot accessory buildings and one 300 square foot accessory building. Under the current Recode draft, so long as the footprint of dwelling and all the accessory buildings occupies less than 3,000 square feet, and no single accessory building is larger than the primary dwelling structure, you can exceed what is presently allowed under our current zoning ordinance.
• For current ordinance’s “Maximum Size of Accessory Buildings and Structures” chart, see: https://library.municode.com/tn/knoxville/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=APXBZORE_ARTVSUREAPSPSEALDI_S4ACUSBUST
• For Recode’s proposed “Maximum Building Coverage For A Single Accessory Structure” chart, see: https://recodeknoxville.com/documents/library/drafts/draft5/chapters/Article%2010%20Site%20Development%20Standards.pdf
Amendment Text: Page 10-4, section A, subsection 6 chart: restore current zoning ordinance’s chart in #6 found at Article 5, Section 4 C of current zoning ordinance. The current zoning ordinance provides more flexibility as well as control given the second and third columns in the chart and the provisions in section D.

2. Page 10-4: Accessory Dwelling Units
Issue: Given that we are combining the current R1, R1a, and R1e zones into Recode’s RN1, we need to consider that each of these zones has different infrastructure and will have differing ability to handle ADUs.
Amendment Purpose: Make ADUs a special use in RN1 and RN2 residential districts so that differing infrastructure in different neighborhoods can be considered by staff while making sure that all standards have been upheld. It is important to note that in Recode a Duplex needs special use approval in RN1 and RN2 in the chart on page 9-3 under Dwelling- Two Family. This amendment would give an ADU the same treatment as a duplex. See: https://recodeknoxville.com/documents/library/drafts/draft5/chapters/Article%2010%20Site%20Development%20Standards.pdf
Amendment Text: Page 10-4, section B, subsection 2: “An ADU may be located only on a lot with one single-family dwelling in EN, RN1, and RN2 with special use approval. One of the dwelling units must be occupied by the owner of the property.”

3. In Article 4: Make ADUs optional in Established Neighborhoods (EN)
Issue: Since some, but not all, of the neighborhoods present are concerned about ADUs, a potential amendment in the EN zone could provide the neighborhood choice over these accessory structures. The existing Established Neighborhood zone under the current code in EN1 and EN2 in Article 4 section 2.1.4., the neighborhood can make decisions regarding design guidelines, etc. during the application process. Established neighborhoods have larger lot sizes around a half acre, have design guidelines, and Recode does not permit duplexes in EN.
Amendment Purpose: EN is a neighborhood led designation, so giving neighborhoods the ability to make choices regarding ADU’s is consistent with this process. See: https://recodeknoxville.com/documents/library/drafts/draft5/chapters/Article%2010%20Site%20Development%20Standards.pdf
Amendment Text: Page 10-4, section B, subsection 2: “An ADU may be located only on a lot with one single-family dwelling in RN1 and RN2 with special use approval and shall be permitted in EN only if the neighborhood so designates in a new EN application. One of the dwelling units must be occupied by the owner of the property.”

4. Page 2-24: Temporary Outdoor Sales
Issue: Temporary Outdoor Sales according to the matrix on page 9-6 is a temporary use in all residential zones in Recode.
• This does not refer to garage sales, rather, the definition on page 2-24 refers to “temporary structures, where goods are sold, such as consignment auctions, arts and crafts fairs, flea markets, rummage sales, temporary vehicle sales, and holiday sales.”
• The changes in draft 5, added in time limits but our current zoning ordinance, specifically references residential areas and states, “the provisions of this article do not seek to control sales by individual selling a few of their household or personal items.” So, the prohibition in our current zoning ordinance is on a flea market like environment existing in the house next door, while being permissive of a garage sale. See Article 8, section 16 of our current zoning ordinance. See: https://library.municode.com/tn/knoxville/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=PTIICOOR_CH16LIMIBURE_ARTVIIIPEPRSA
• The Temporary Outdoor Sales provision in Recode on page 9-31, is intended to allow sales in a residential district in events associated with and conducted by a “place of worship, educational facility, or registered neighborhood association.”
• The change in Recode over our existing zoning ordinance would allow your neighbor to operate a flea market or vehicle sales where items are acquired for the purpose of resale, so long as it is conducted by one of these entities.
Amendment Purpose: Make Temporary Outdoor Sales allowable only on the site of place of worship or educational facility and not the house next door. See: https://recodeknoxville.com/documents/library/drafts/draft5/chapters/Article%209%20Uses.pdf
Amendment Text: Page 9-31 subsection H, number 1: “Temporary outdoor sales in the residential districts is restricted to those events associated with, conducted by, and located on the site of a place of worship or educational facility.”

5. Page 9-30: Temporary Outdoor Entertainment
• Issue: The current zoning ordinance makes it clear that carnival and circus is not allowed in residential zones as a temporary use, see Article 5, section 13. See: https://library.municode.com/tn/knoxville/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=APXBZORE_ARTVSUREAPSPSEALDI_S13TEUS
Amendment Purpose: The changes in draft 5 added time limits and removed circus, carnival, firework show, horseshow from the definition, but we need to restore that these are not permitted in residential zones where the principal use is residential dwelling. See: https://recodeknoxville.com/documents/library/drafts/draft5/chapters/Article%209%20Uses.pdf
Amendment Text: Page 9-30, section G, subsection 1: “Temporary outdoor entertainment in residential districts is restricted to those events associated with, conducted by, and located on the site of a place of worship or educational facility.”