This past Tuesday, 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. The city administration, the city council and the planning commission have on two prior occasions done everything in their power to keep Recode a secret from the property owners of Knoxville. More on this lack of transparency in a moment. Try this experiment Monday; ask ten people you know if they know what Recode is. The vast majority will know nothing. A few might say it is something about zoning.
In my opinion, what Recode is really about is raising property taxes under the illusion of doing a zoning overhaul. What Recode is really about is increasing population density to get more property taxes. What Recode is about is not letting the public know the truth. It is not just the City of Knoxville government that is attempting to keep Recode a secret. It is also the vast majority of local media.
The public notice sent out Tuesday, April 23 was addressed to the Knoxville News Sentinel, WATE TV, WBIR TV and WVLT TV. None of them, as of Friday evening, April 26, had a story about the upcoming May 14 vote on Recode. The following is word for word the public notice that was sent to the local media and you be the judge as to whether or not this is adequate public notice:
In accordance with Section 408 of the Charter of the City of Knoxville, you are hereby notified that a Special Meeting of the Council of the City of Knoxville will be held on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 at 3:00 p.m. in the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building, 400 W. Main Street, Knoxville, Tennessee. The meeting will be held to consider the following matter:
AN ORDINANCE OF THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF KNOXVILLE TO REGULATE THE LOCATION, HEIGHT, BULK, NUMBER OF STORIES AND SIZE OF BUILDINGS AND OTHER STRUCTURES, THE PERCENTAGE OF THE LOT WHICH MAY BE OCCUPIED, THE SIZES OF YARDS, COURTS AND OTHER OPEN SPACES, THE DENSITY OF POPULATION, AND THE USES OF BUILDINGS, STRUCTURES AND LAND FOR TRADE, INDUSTRY, RESIDENCE, RECREATION, PUBLIC ACTIVITIES AND OTHER PURPOSES; AND FOR SUCH PURPOSES TO DIVIDE THE MUNICIPALITY INTO DISTRICTS OR ZONES OF SUCH NUMBER, SHAPE AND AREAS AS IT MAY DETERMINE, AND REGULATE THE ERECTION, CONSTRUCTION, RECONSTRUCTION, ALTERATION AND USES OF BUILDINGS AND STRUCTURES AND THE USE OF LAND; TO PRESCRIBE PENALTY FOR THE VIOLATION OF ITS PROVISIONS AND TO PROVIDE FOR ITS ENFORCEMENT; TO REPEAL ORDINANCE NO. 3369, AND ALL AMENDMENTS THERETO, THE CAPTION OF WHICH ORDINANCE NO. 3369 IS AS FOLLOWS:
“AN ORDINANCE TO REGULATE THE LOCATION, HEIGHT, BULK, NUMBER OF STORIES AND SIZE OF BUILDINGS AND OTHER STRUCTURES, THE PERCENTAGE OF THE LOT WHICH MAY BE OCCUPIED, THE SIZES OF YARDS, COURTS AND OTHER OPEN SPACES, THE DENSITY OF POPULATION, AND THE USES OF BUILDINGS, STRUCTURES AND LAND FOR TRADE, INDUSTRY, RESIDENCE, RECREATION, PUBLIC ACTIVITIES AND OTHER PURPOSES; AND FOR SUCH PURPOSES TO DIVIDE THE MUNICIPALITY INTO DISTRICTS OR ZONES OF SUCH NUMBER, SHAPE AND AREAS AS IT MAY DETERMINE, AND REGULATE THE ERECTION, CONSTRUCTION, RECONSTRUCTION, ALTERATION AND USES OF BUILDINGS AND STRUCTURES AND THE USE OF LAND; TO PRESCRIBE PENALTY FOR THE VIOLATION OF ITS PROVISIONS AND TO PROVIDE FOR ITS ENFORCEMENT; TO REPEAL ORDINANCE NO. 123, AND ALL AMENDMENTS THERETO.”
It is possible that others in local media could not figure out what that mess of words mean. At The Focus we understand very well what those words mean because we have been paying very close attention. It is the first vote on Recode. To make matters worse, the vote will be held at 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon so working people cannot attend. Is this what you thought you were getting when you voted for your city council member? Is this what you think representation is? This entire process has not been friendly to citizen participation.
Now for the other two missteps: on December 18 of 2018 the Knoxville City Council held an emergency vote on an Ordinance Q-187-2018 prepared by the city law department that stated the Knoxville 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 the emergency ordinance 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. So they tried to change the law. City council and the planning commission evidently like secrets. Secrets are not good government.
In the second of three 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 the December 2018 emergency ordinance. And what did they do? What was mailed supposedly to all 50,000 property owners was a one page notice that told people go to 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.
In the public forum of the third workshop on Recode in city council Danny Kirby of Turkey Creek Land Partners listed a multitude of errors, exaggerations, and disingenuous claims about Recode in the five minutes he was given to speak in Public Forum. Kirby told council he represented 21 properties in the Turkey Creek shopping complex and none of them received the “written notice” about Recode. That is a 100% failure rate for some of the biggest stores in Knoxville. Kirby described the Recode notice as incomplete in that it did not explain whether properties would be upzoned or downzoned. Kirby explained that, in his opinion, the planning commission had not followed proper legal procedure for rezoning.
Planning Commission Executive Director Gerald Green claimed that 50,000 notices about Recode were mailed to property owners yet the planning commission received only 350 phone calls. That is .7 of one percent. How is that possible? If that is correct, then the written notice was worthless and ineffective. Was that by design? It appears so.
Why has The Focus spent so much time on Recode? Because this is not about Recode, it is about representation. The people of Knoxville are not being represented by their city council members. They are being dictated to. In East Tennessee there is one thing you don’t do in politics. You don’t tell the voters how it is going to be. That is exactly what your government is doing. How do you feel about it now that you know what Recode is really all about?