The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Updated 8/23: Knox County Commission approves changes to “use-on-review” policy

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Knox County Commission finalizes action to limit citizen rights to oppose developments.

KNOXVILLE — County Commission passed on second reading Monday an amendment to the county’s process for appealing Planning Commission decisions, according to Compass.

Hellbender’s initial story and updates follow:

“The revised measure passed on first reading with seven out of 11 votes, but Commission Chair Richie Beeler said his support was soft and he would need to be persuaded to vote for it a second time next month. If approved, the ordinance would give developers the option to have appeals of their plans heard by the BZA or in Chancery Court,” Compass reported.

Residents and developers who do not agree with a decision of the Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission to permit or deny a land use that is somewhat unusual for their neighborhood can appeal to the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). If their appeal is denied they may further appeal to the City Council, and as a last resort to the Circuit Court.

Knox County residents and developers, however, are not allowed to appeal to County Commission if the county BZA denies their appeal. For a second reconsideration, they must directly go to court, which tends to be prohibitively expensive for many.

Now Jacobs and most county commissioners want to take away the option to appeal to the BZA for such projects outside the city limits, leaving the Circuit Court as the one and only way to have concerns reconsidered.

Although this new constraint would also apply to the property owners as well as their developers who get a negative decision on their application for a use on review, the cost of a court appeal tends to be just a small part of their project budget.

Use on Review

Knox County Zoning Code is intentionally ambiguous about certain kinds of uses that are neither typical and common in specific zones nor patently inappropriate for a given zone. In addition to meeting standard requirements of the zone, such as offsets from the curb and parcel boundaries or building characteristics, the property owner has to convince planning staff and the planning commission with good arguments why the location chosen for the particular use is necessary and will be beneficial to the community without significantly impairing neighbors in the use and enjoyment of their properties.

Compass reported, “Jacobs has said delays caused by BZA appeals could hamper new housing developments,” interfering with solutions to the county’s housing crisis.

Of 16 cases that have been appealed in the past 15 years, only 5 continued to circuit court.

The Knox County Planning Alliance has an excellent summary of the details and implications of this proposed change of Knox County ordinance.

Betty Bean wrote on the political background of this initiative in Knox TN Today.

Please note that you must sign up to speak before 4 p.m. if you want to express your opinion at this public meeting. Instructions to sign up and helpful advice is provided by KCPA. 

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