Developing Knoxville’s Future with Sixty-Year-Old Codes

It would be kind of crazy, wouldn’t it, if we stated our intention of guiding Knoxville’s current and future development boom with the principles and ideals of the 1960s? You know, the same era of planning that gave us Interstates bisecting our city, parking lots replacing historic buildings, strip malls and urban sprawl.

It might  be insane, but it’s exactly what we are trying to do. Knoxville’s city codes haven’t been overhauled in nearly sixty years. An era that produced many of the ills which plague us, including many of the car-centered ills we often discuss here, produced the standards by which we are still guided. An era which could not have imagined the world we currently inhabit dictates our growth.

To be sure, the codes have been worked on in the last sixty years. The result of that work is a confusing, complex and inscrutable set of often contradictory rules which often do not cover current issues. Often the codes slow healthy development and work against the very kind of city to which we aspire. Recognizing the inefficiency of the current system of cobbled-together codes, exceptions and 895 “districts” within the city, Camiros, Ltd. Consultants have been employed to help forge a vision for development that will move us more efficiently into our future.

Arista Stungys and Chris Jennette of Camiros recently presented the process that will be followed over the coming months, insisting that they will work with city officials and the community to develop a set of codes that reflect not only best practices, but also Knoxville’s unique qualities and needs.

Gerald Green, Executive Director of MPC, Knoxville, May 2017

So what does this mean and where do we start? First, the “district” approach wherein the codes specify only what type of development may go where has devolved into an untenable 895 districts, requiring a large amount of effort simply to determine if a proposed use is acceptable in its proposed location. By moving to a code that focuses on what we want development to look like – much in the same manner as downtown and, now, Cumberland Avenue, the location of the use would be less the focus, making for more consistent decisions and development.

With the idea of more streamlined, modern codes, it’s important to understand what is not involved. The recent sign ordinance would not be impacted. The current proposed changes in parking requirements are also not a part of this conversation, though certainly related in modernizing our approach to development.

It starts with community input and involvement, which was the impetus behind the recent meeting. Participants were encouraged to write their thoughts on the various issues, including both identifying problems, as well as suggesting possible solutions. The staff will review current codes and issues in the city, develop an initial report and then cycle back through more public comment.

The next phase involves cycling though public and governmental comment and additional drafts, all leading to a final set of recommendations. And we’re early in the process. You can be as involved as you’d like. The first draft is set to be completed late this year, followed by public input late in the year and, again, in the spring of 2018. The process is set for completion around the end of 2018.


What difference does all this detail make? Nothing more than dictating a large part of what our city will look like to our grandchildren. Will the development we leave behind have them scratching their head or banging it against a wall at our shortsightedness or honoring us for our vision? This mundane, tedious process will go a long way toward determining which outcome we achieve.

So, get involved. View the entire slide show from that evening here. Become familiar with and watch the dedicated website for Recode Knoxville. Attend public meetings. Let your council members know that you support modernized codes. Ask the current (massive) crop of candidates for council where they stand on the issues as they will be the ones who vote on the finished plan. But, if you care about our city, get involved.