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 We can also use this opportunity to remove some outdated uses, such as sections on horse drawn carriages, while adding in more recent trends like solar panels and electric car recharging stations.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.