Too Many Recode Missteps?

By Steve Hunley

Knoxville City Council members and the mayor all take an oath of office to obey the City of Knoxville Charter. In regard to Recode Knoxville, have they faithfully acted within the city charter? Many citizens feel they have not. The reason for the lack of trust is the many missteps from the city regarding Recode.

On December 18 of 2018 the Knoxville City Council held a vote on a second reading on Ordinance Q-187-2018 prepared by the city law department that stated the Knoxville-Knox County  Planning commission did not have to notify property owners 120 days prior to a city council vote that their zoning would change if Recode became law. The vote was unanimous. It was then signed by the city mayor. Prior to Ordinance Q-187-2018 the planning commission would have had to notify each property owner in writing explaining exactly what the zoning change was and how it affected their property and place a sign on each of the 73,000 properties affected. The planning commission said it would cost too much to do what has been done for decades.

In the second of three city council workshops on Recode the city council decided they would “notify” property owners about Recode even though they made it very clear they did not have to because of their December 2018 ordinance. And what did they do? What was mailed supposedly to all 50,000 property owners was a one page notice that told people to go the website https://recodeknoxville.com and to enter their address so they could find a complex zoning map and try to understand what Recode would do to them. It was a time consuming homework assignment that most people threw in the trash can. It did not say that their taxes might increase if they were upzoned. It did not say that their neighbor could build a one story apartment in their backyard violating the previous setbacks. It did not say the new Mixed Use apartments would have greatly reduced parking which would create parking conflicts within established neighborhoods. It said nothing. It was not open and transparent.

On April 23, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero signed a Special Called Meeting public notice of the Knoxville City Council to hold the first of two votes on Recode on May 14 at 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon. One little problem, in the 347 words in the public notice the word “Recode” was not mentioned.

On July 2 the city issued a press release stating that city council will meet on July 16 and review the updated worksheet of council-initiated revisions and take action as appropriate; review the updated worksheet of staff-initiated revisions and take action as appropriate; and review the planning commission June 13 amendments and take action as appropriate. Then if council is ready to vote on Recode, a vote will be held. This is what the city calls proper legal notice. Why will the city not have proper notice on Recode?

Late Friday The Knoxville Focus has learned of as many as three lawsuits that may be filed against the city for possible violations of state law and the city charter. At press time none of the attorneys wished to comment on pending litigation.

Article VIII, Section 801(B)(1) of the City Charter requires the city to have 5- and 15-year development plans, “updated annually” by March of each year. There is no record in the minutes of city council meetings since 2017 that this has be done.

The charter reads: “The fifteen- and five-year plans, updated annually, shall be submitted to the council before its second regular meeting in January of each year. After conducting public hearings on such plans, the council shall adopt the plans, after making any amendments or revisions council considers appropriate, by not later than the first regular council meeting in March of the year.

“In addition, the mayor shall have the metropolitan planning commission prepare a one-year development plan which delineates the city’s proposed land use development pattern for a succeeding twelve-month period and is based upon the development goals and objectives specified in the city’s five-year development plan. The one-year development plan shall provide the basis for zoning of all properties within the city limits.”

Furthermore, 801(B)(5) states that after the comprehensive development plans are adopted, then the Zoning Ordinance is to be amended accordingly: “Following the annual update and adoption of the city’s development plans, the council shall amend the city’s zoning ordinance to conform it to the updated development plans in accordance with procedures prescribed by general law.”

So if the city doesn’t have valid 5- and 15-year development plans, then it essentially doesn’t have a valid one-year plan, and the city can’t adopt Recode or make any other Ordinance amendments, because any such changes are supposed to conform to the updated development plans. Another misstep?

If so, how did this get past the city law director, city council’s attorney, and city council members Andrew Roberto and Marshall Stair who are both lawyers?

There’s one thing about it. These multiple missteps have made Recode about as clear as mud.

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