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.

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