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Learn

Here's where you can find lots of helpful information about planning, zoning, development and related topics.

Getting Started - FAQ's

Introduction to Land Use and Planning

 

Zoning allows local governments to regulate which areas under their jurisdiction may have real estate or land used for particular purposes. Examples of zoning classifications include residential, commercial, agricultural, industrial, or hotel/hospitality, among other more specific designations.

 

The City of Knoxville and Knox County have adopted zoning regulations as part of their code of ordinances. These ordinances detail a variety of zoning districts, uses permitted and certain specifications for building and other site improvements.

To locate zoning information regarding a specific piece of property, you can use the interactive features on KGIS Maps. You may also search the Knoxville Knox County Planning Commission website https://knoxmpc.org/

Every piece of property in Knox County has an associated “zone” that controls what the property can be used for. The main zones are residential, commercial and industrial, although there are subcategories of each zone and different zones depending on whether the property is in the city or in the county.

 

If someone wants to do something on their property that does not fit with the existing zone, they must make an application with the Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission to change the zone. This is often the first step to developing a piece of property, either for housing or for a business, unless the existing zone permits the use the property owner wants to do on the property.

The Planning Commission prepares land use plans and studies for the City of Knoxville and Knox County area. The Knoxville-Knox County Planning Commission was established in 1956 by Knoxville and Knox County as the agency responsible for comprehensive county-wide planning and administration of zoning and land subdivision regulations and remains so today, except for the town of Farragut.

How do I get started?

 

Land use is a very emotional topic for all parties. We’ve been there. We’ve asked all the questions and done all the research. We know how overwhelming and frustrating the process can be. That is why we organized Knox County Planning Alliance (KCPA). We are not land use and planning experts; we are citizens just like you. Some of us have been addressing land use for decades, some of us are new to this, but together we have combined knowledge and perspective that we feel might be useful to others in our region. This site is simply a place of shared years of learning and experience, and we hope that you find it helpful as you organize your efforts.

 

We invite you to browse our site and gain a general understanding of our local land use and planning process. Here's a checklist we use when we are working on a land use issue that you may find helpful to understand what is involved. Then register to receive access to additional information and monthly updates.  And finally, contact us! We are happy to connect with citizens and assist in any way that we can.

 

Step 1 - Learn!

    Use the information below to learn about the process and what you can do to support or oppose a project.

 

Step 2 - Organize!

    Organize your team to give yourself the best chance of success. You will need to organize your neighbors, decide if you need to hire an attorney, and get support from other neighborhood groups.

 

Step 3 - Advocate!

    Plan a campaign to advocate for your position. Reach out to the developer, to the planning staff, to commissioners, to neighbors and other supporters with a clear message and requested actions.

 

Understanding Actions Taken by the Planning Commission

Tips for Attending a Planning Commission Meeting

We hope you will find the information below useful in preparing for Planning Commission meetings.

 

Meeting Time and Location

The meeting starts at 1:30 p.m. in the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building. Commission meetings are held on the second Thursday of each month.

How Long is a Typical Meeting?

Meetings vary in length and can last several hours. Because it can be difficult to estimate the time at which any case will be heard, all applicants and citizens interested in particular items should arrive for the Call to Order at 1:30 p.m.

Who are the Commissioners?

The Planning Commission is an advisory board comprised of 15 citizens - seven appointed by the Knoxville Mayor and eight appointed by the Knox County Mayor. They serve staggered four-year terms without compensation and may be re-appointed. Commissioners are confirmed by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

More information about the Commissioners is available here.

Is the Meeting Broadcast on TV or Online?

Commission meetings are live streamed on the Knoxville’s Community Television (CTV) website.  Live television airings of are available on Comcast Channel 12, Charter Cable Channel 193, WOW! Channel 6 and AT&T U-verse Channel 99.

If you miss the live broadcast or need to review, download or share meeting footage, visit the planning commission video archive, which contains meeting footage dating back to January 2010.

Assistance at the Meeting

A staff person will be stationed in the lobby outside the Main Assembly Room 30 minutes before the meeting. An additional staff person will be posted at the back of Main Assembly Room to answer questions prior to the start of the meeting.

Understanding the Agenda

Order of Business

Each item is assigned an Agenda Item Number which determines the order of the meeting.

Postponements and Withdrawals

Postponements and withdrawals are marked throughout the agenda. AP, P, or a W before the Agenda Item Number indicates that a postponement, automatic postponement, or withdrawal has been requested by the applicant. More information on the type of postponement is available on a separate list at the back of the agenda packet. All items may be granted one automatic postponement (if received by the deadline), but additional postponements require a vote by the Planning Commission.

What is the Consent Approval List?

The items on this list are approved in one motion by an affirmative vote of the Planning Commission near the beginning of the meeting. These include applicant requests, with no known opposition, and recommended for approval by Planning staff. This allows additional time for consideration of the more controversial items on the agenda and allows the meetings to be conducted in a more efficient manner.

Anyone wanting to discuss a consent item can ask that it be removed from the list and heard separately in the appropriate agenda section.

Note: Once the consent list is approved, there is no further discussion about the items on it.

How Do I Remove an Item from the Consent Approval List?

If you would like to have an item removed from the Consent Approval List, approach the podium while it is being read. When the Chair finishes reading the Consent Approval List, he/she will ask if any items should be removed. Speak into the microphone, give your name and address for the record, and say which item(s) you’d like removed. You do not need to give a reason and should not provide commentary or evidence at this time. Items removed from the Consent List will be heard in the order of the meeting agenda.

How to Comment on an Item at the Meeting

To comment on an item, approach the podium when the Commission chair calls for public comments. This will happen after the staff recommendation for that item is read. You do not need to sign up to speak. Groups should select a spokesperson. That person may also recognize the citizens represented there.

Note: Each side commenting in support of or against an item has a total of five minutes to state their case. Try not to repeat comments that already have been made.

It’s important to mention any documents or letters previously mailed to the commissioners so that this material is made part of the record. Additional material may be submitted at this time.

What happens after the Planning Commission Meeting?

Final decisions on most items are not made at Commission meetings (exceptions are final plats, concept plans, and uses on review). The Planning Commission is an advisory body and forwards its recommendations to Knoxville City Council or Knox County Commission. City Council meets at 6 p.m. every other Tuesday, while County Commission considers Planning Commission items at 7 p.m. on the fourth Monday of every month. Call Knoxville-Knox County Planning at 215-2500 for more details.

The Rezoning Process At A Glance

 

Purpose of Zoning

Zoning protects the rights of property owners while promoting the general welfare of the community. By dividing land into categories according to use, and setting regulations for these categories, a zoning ordinance can govern private land use and segregate incompatible uses. The purpose of zoning is to locate particular land uses where they are most appropriate, considering public utilities, road access, and the established development pattern. In addition to categorizing land by uses such as residential, commercial, and industrial, a zoning ordinance also specifies such details as building setback lines, the height and bulk of buildings, the size and location of open spaces, and the intensity to which the land may be developed. Zoning does not specify minimum construction standards; these are set forth in separate building codes.

The Need for Rezoning

When a property owner wants to use land in a way that is not permitted by the zoning of his or her property, the owner must request to rezone the property to a classification which permits the desired use. A rezoning is a legislative action which is considered through a complex process.

Generally, rezonings are justifiable under one of the following three circumstances:

  1. When the requested rezoning is consistent with long range land use plans adopted by the appropriate governing body

  2. When there was an error or oversight in the original zoning of the property

  3. When changes have occurred to conditions in the vicinity of the property which prevent the reasonable use of the property as currently zoned

Applying for Rezoning

If you are the owner or option holder of a piece of property and wish to petition for rezoning, you begin the process by submitting an application and filing fee to Knoxville-Knox County Planning, located on the fourth floor of the City County Building, Suite 403.

To complete the application you need to know:

  1. The map and parcel number of the property as listed with the Knox County Property Assessor’s Office, Suite 204, City County Building

  2. The existing zoning classification and requested zoning change

  3. The existing land use and proposed use for the property

Planning staff will assist you in completing the form. Your application must be submitted 32 days prior to the monthly Planning Commission hearing. You may extend the deadline by two weeks by paying double the regular filing fee.

If your property is in the City of Knoxville, you may be required to request an amendment to the One Year Plan before filing the rezoning request. Planning staff will help you determine if this is necessary. An additional fee is charged for plan amendment requests which are only considered by the Planning Commission in January, April, July and October of each year.

Knoxville’s One Year Plan is intended to ensure that the zoning for every piece of land in the city conforms with long range development plans adopted by the City Council.

Public Notification

State law requires that any rezoning be publicized in a local newspaper because it may affect surrounding property, roads, and public utilities. Knoxville-Knox County Planning public notices are placed in the Knoxville News-Sentinel 12 days prior to the hearing. Knoxville-Knox County Planning also posts a sign on the property 10 - 12 days prior to the public hearing stating the date, time, and place.

Staff Review

When an application is filed, the planning staff evaluates the request, beginning with an on-site assessment of the property and surrounding area. This field work is needed to determine how the rezoning could impact adjoining land uses. The staff consider which services are available to the site, consult with various departments, and review adopted Sector Plans, the One Year Plan, and the General Plan.

If the rezoning request is consistent with the goals and policies of these adopted plans, then the planning staff will most likely recommend the rezoning. If the request is in conflict or has a potential for harming the surrounding area, the staff may recommend denial. In forming these judgments, the staff is obligated to consider the health, safety, and welfare of the total community as well as the desires of the applicant and neighbors.

A written staff report is prepared for each request and mailed to the applicant on the Friday prior to the Planning Commission hearing. These reports are also available to the general public at that time.

The Public Hearing

Planning Commission monthly hearings occur on the second Thursday of each month at 1:30 p.m. in the Main Assembly Room of the City County Building. The hearing provides a public forum where petitioners and any opponents can address the commission. The Planning Commissioners then vote on the rezoning request, recommending either approval, denial, or approval of a different, less restrictive zone than the one requested.

Denied rezoning requests are closed matters, unless the petitioner appeals the decision to City Council or County Commission, a procedure that requires an additional filing fee and takes up to two months to complete. All appeals are filed at Planning's Development Services Division, where the staff forwards the necessary information to the City of Knoxville Law Department or the Knox County Commission Office. Appeals must be filed within 15 days of Planning's’s action for City requests, and within 30 days for County requests.

Zoning requests recommended for approval are placed on the agenda of City Council or County Commission for final action.  Zonings requests associated with a Sector Plan amendment can not move forward without prior approval by County Commission or City Countil first.

Planning Commission can also vote to postpone a rezoning decision to a later date, or table it for an indefinite period of time.

Legislative Action

Following the Planning Commission hearing, it typically takes up to two months before the rezoning request receives final approval.

City Council requires a 15-day public notice period before hearing the request. Also, except in emergencies, an approval by City Council requires two readings, normally at successive meetings. Final legislative action is effective 17 days after the second reading. Emergency ordinances are effective at once.

County Commission also requires a 15-day public notice period. Action on the rezoning is effective immediately upon a favorable vote on one reading.
 

Plan Amendments

One Year Plan - City

Before certain rezoning requests within the Knoxville city limits can be considered, the property owner must file an application to amend the city’s One Year Plan. Updated every spring, this plan reflects Knoxville’s growth patterns and changing community needs, and serves as the foundation for all city property zoning.

There are 16 general land use classifications defined in the One Year Plan. Each classification has a range of zones permitted. The Metropolitan Planning Commission and the City Council use the One Year Plan as the primary guide to evaluate all individual rezoning requests.

Although the Planning Commission meets monthly, it considers requests to amend the One Year Plan only four times a year—in January, April, July, and October. The Planning Commission may recommend that the City Council approve an amendment request under the following circumstances:

  1. When a public policy has been changed (as the result of a neighborhood forum, for example)

  2. When the development pattern of an area has changed significantly

  3. When new information relating to land use and development becomes available

  4. When an error in the plan is identified

To request an amendment to the One Year Plan, the property owner must file an application with Planning and pay a fee at least 30 days before the Planning Commission is scheduled to hear the request.

If the amendment is approved by the Planning Commission and City Council, the property owner then can file an application for rezoning.

If the amendment is denied by the Planning Commission or City Council, the rezoning request cannot be considered.

Applications for both a One Year Plan amendment and a zoning change may be filed simultaneously, but this can be costly if the amendment request is denied. Usually it’s best to file one application at a time. If a One Year Plan amendment is denied, then the accompanying rezoning cannot be approved.

Sector Plan Amendments

There is no One Year Plan for property in the county; zoning decisions primarily are based on sector plans. The city and county are divided into 12 sectors for long-range planning purposes. Sector plans are updated every five years and provide guidelines for area developments and improvements for the next 15 years. In some situations involving requests for large-scale developments or non-residential uses, an amendment to one of the county’s sector plans may be required. There also are some situations in the city where a sector plan amendment is required before a One Year Plan amendment can be considered.

Sector plan amendments may be considered at any monthly meeting of the Planning Commission. Planning staff will help a property owner decide if this type of amendment would be beneficial for a particular rezoning request.

Sector plan amendment request must come before County Commission or City Council.   Additionally, sector plan amendments must be approved by County Commission or City Council in order for a zoning request to be heard.

See also information on Fee Schedules and Application Deadlines and The Appeals Process.

 

Use on Review

   

In addition to uses permitted as a right by the zoning ordinance, special uses may be established and maintained only with the approval of the Planning Commission.

The Metropolitan Planning Commission also reviews and makes recommendations regarding planned commercial, planned residential, and shopping center district development plans through the Use on Review procedure.

When an application for Use on Review approval is submitted to the Planning Commission, the public is notified and a public hearing is held. The Planning Commission may impose conditions regarding the location, character or features of the proposed use or buildings consistent with the intent of the zoning ordinance. Proposals may be denied. When proposals are granted, the building permit is subject to the conditions and requirements stipulated by the Planning Commission. Decisions of the Planning Commission may be appealed to the local legislative body, either the City Council, or Knox County Board of Zoning Appeals.

The Use on Review procedure provides a method to consider uses that benefit the community, but may involve a potential development hazard unless appropriate provisions are made for their impact. The Use on Review procedure is also intended to integrate the proposed use with other uses in the district.

Use On Review allows applicants to request specific uses of property as outlined within each zoning district. A use can only be established and maintained with the approval of the Metropolitan Planning Commission.

Use On Review requests should:

  • Be compatible with the character of the neighborhood including the size and location of buildings in the vicinity

  • Be consistent with the General Plan, the One Year Plan, Sector Plans, and other adopted plans

  • Not significantly injure the value of adjacent properties

  • Not substantially increase the level of traffic into the neighborhood when the project is complete

Use On Review requests may be:

  • Approved—Planning Commission approval becomes effective after the appropriate appeal period has expired. (After the appeal period, the applicant may apply for a building permit.)

  • Approved with Conditions—The Planning Commission may impose any conditions regarding the location, character, or other features of the proposed use as it deems appropriate. (After the appeal period, the applicant may apply for a building permit, subject to any conditions approved by the Planning Commission.)

  • Denied

Use On Review approval is intended to:

  • Provide for uses which are beneficial to the community

  • Properly integrate the uses permitted on review with other uses in the zoning district

  • Provide appropriate provisions for the impact of such permitted uses

Appeal of Planning Commission Decisions

  • City items are heard by City Council. The appeal must be filed with Planning within 15 days from the date of the Planning Commission public hearing.

  • County items are heard by the Knox County Board of Zoning Appeals. The appeal must be filed with the Knox County Codes Administration office within 30 days from the date of the Planning Commission public hearing.

Materials that must be submitted by the standard deadline:

  • A completed application form

  • A review fee

  • Ten (10) copies of the development plan. Each copy must contain:

    • Proposed use

    • Topographic information

    • Off-street parking and loading plan (include total area)

    • Circulation diagram to indicate ingress/egress and the movement of vehicles, goods, and people

    • Species specific landscape plan

    • Building footprint (include floor plan)

    • Architectural elevations

    • Proposed signage

    • Conformance to required building setbacks

    • Preliminary drainage plan as required by City and/or County Engineering Departments

    • Mail facility plan (if residential development)

    • Amenities plan (if residential development)

    • Garbage dumpster location(s)

    • Traffic Impact Study (if project will generate more than 750 Average Daily Trips)

Appeals

Understanding Actions Taken by City Council,  County Commission, or BZA   

 

The Planning Commission votes on a number of items at its regular meeting. Some recommendations require further action by Knox County Commission or Knoxville City Council. Anyone may appeal decisions made by the Planning Commission to the appropriate appellate body. This can be a complicated process, and Planning staff should be consulted for advice.

If you have a question about the appeals process, or if you wish to be notified about anyone filing an appeal on a particular item, see a staff member at meeting (seated at either end of the horseshoe-shaped table) or call the Planning office at (865) 215-2500.

When must appeals be filed?

Appeals made to the City Council must be filed no later than 15 days from the date of the action taken by the Planning Commission; appeals made to the County Commission or the County Board of Zoning Appeals must be filed no later than 30 days. Information about the appeals deadlines is published in the Additions, Changes, and Corrections to the Agenda Package on the Planning website.

Where do I file the appeal?

Applications for most types of appeals are available at the Planning Office, Suite 403 City County Building or can be downloaded online. Applications for use-on-review appeals in the county are available from the Knox County Codes Administration office, Suite 547 City County Building. There is a filing fee.

When will the appeal be heard?

You will be notified when your appeal will be heard by the City Council or County Commission, usually about two months after the application is filed. The Knox County Board of Zoning Appeals will determine your hearing date at the time of filing. Before an appeal is heard, Planning runs a public notice in the Knoxville News-Sentinel and prepares an information packet on the property for the legislative body hearing the appeal. Property owners are notified by certified mail, and a sign stating the nature of the appeal and the time and place of the scheduled public hearing is posted on the property.

Can an application for appealing a particular decision be filed more than once?

If an application is denied by a vote of the Knoxville City Council, Knox County Commission, or Knox County Board of Zoning Appeals, a property owner must wait one year from the time of denial to refile the same request. Use-on-review appeals may be refiled by non-property owners as well as property owners under the same above conditions.

If an application for appealing a particular decision is withdrawn before being heard, it may not be refiled for one year from the time of the first filing.

In other cases the decision is final - unless appealed.

Working Together: Neighborhoods and Developers

 

Expect change

Communities are always changing, moved by shifting expectations of new homebuyers, shoppers, and business owners. Consider how you can work with developers in directing change that meets the needs of both long-time neighbors and new ones alike.

Join or establish a community group.

Many citizens form a neighborhood group only after new development has been proposed. Having an established group which meets regularly makes it easier to interact with developers. Many of the more successful community groups also invite to their meetings elected officials and planning commissioners who live nearby.

Meet with the developer.

If the developer doesn't contact your group, take the initiative and arrange an informational meeting. Ask to see renderings and discuss the proposal before plans enter final stages.

Listen.

Developers may have good ideas you haven't considered. For instance, their proposal may include buffering, new sidewalks, added road capacity, or improved community amenities, which may merit neighborhood support rather than protest.

Be specific with concerns.

Residents are often concerned about a new development's impact on the neighborhood. Traffic congestion, school overcrowding, and drainage problems are common worries. Examine issues with facts and statistics - not opinions - to support your position. Planning offers helpful information, such as traffic counts at nearby intersections, the number of vehicle trips per day generated by various types of development, and how many school-age children might be added as a result of new residential projects. Ask Planning staff if the development proposal requires any extra levels of review, like a traffic impact study, a grading plan, or early submission of a drainage plan.

Understand the process.

Some Planning Commission actions are final (unless appealed), like votes on subdivision plats. Many are recommendations, such as those for rezonings, uses on review, Sector Plan amendments, and One Year Plan amendments - they must be heard by Knoxville City Council or Knox County Commission for final action.

Weigh in and stay informed.

Don't wait for change to happen and then react. Take part in the many opportunities for public involvement, such as Sector Plan updates, long-range transportation plan workshops, neighborhood conferences, and meet-the-mayor nights. Sign up for Planning's information feeds via Facebook, Twitter, and Mailchimp.