Updated: Aug 15
The July 25th ordinance discussion highlighted the housing shortage, with several speakers postulating that the proposed ordinance would cut red tape and help the housing situation. KCPA looked for a linkage by analyzing housing-related development plans from Jan 2020 through Jul 2022 and found that:
Only 2.73% (3 of 109) housing-related development plans approved by the Planning Commission since Jan 2020 were appealed to BZA.
Those 3 appeals involved 2.02% (161 of 7,883) of the total dwelling units approved by the Planning Commission. All appeals were affirmed/modified by BZA within 2 months.
There is not a growing trend of increasing appeals of housing-related development plans that are going to BZA or to Court.
Today Knox County offers fewer opportunities for public input on development plans than the three other metropolitan counties in Tennessee.
Conclusion: KCPA concludes that the assertion that appeals to BZA are red tape is demonstrably false, based on these data. Eliminating appeals to the BZA would not make a noticeable difference in the number of housing units approved for development in Knox County, nor unreasonably delay them from being built.
#1 From Jan 2020 through Jul 2022 (31 months), Knox County Planning Commission approved 109 residential Development Plans and denied 1 (data sheet of development plan approvals)*. Of those 110 decisions, only 3 were appealed to BZA - Mission Hills, Woodbury Crossing, and Bluegrass Subdivision - an appeal rate of 2.73%.
#2 Those appeals involved just 2.02% of total dwelling units approved by the Planning Commission(161 dwelling units out of 7,883). All 161 of those dwelling units were later approved at BZA (some with plan modifications). See the data for yourself on this visualization webpage
Approved - Appealed - BZA Affirmed
Approved - Appealed - BZA Modified
Subtotal - Approved
#3 There is not a growing ‘trend’ of increasing appeals this year (2022) to BZA or to Court. From Jan through Jul 2022, 27 residential development plans were approved by the Planning Commission. One (1) in March was appealed to BZA, which affirmed the Planning Commission decision the following month. That development plan appeal did not proceed to court; The Planning Commission approval of the Concept Plan (governed by Subdivision regulations, not the Zoning Ordinance) was appealed to court as per the appeals process in the Subdivision regulations, which is not in scope for this proposed ordinance. In summary - 2,244 dwelling units were approved by the Planning Commission this year, 26 of those units appealed to BZA and affirmed. That’s 1.16% of dwelling units.
Or, for those who like math and statistics: There have been ten (10) appeals of Development Plans of any type from 2008 - July 2022. The mean (average) number of appeals per year is 2/3. The standard deviation is 0.82. There was 1 development plan appeal in each year of 2020, 2021, and 2022, which falls within 1 standard deviation of the average of 0.66. Statistically looking at the data, the only year where the number of appeals fell outside of one standard deviation was 2015, when there were three (3) development plan appeals.
#4 Furthermore, for residential development approvals - how does Knox County compare to other Tennessee metropolitan counties? We looked at Shelby County (Memphis), Metro Nashville, and Hamilton County (Chattanooga) by reading the zoning ordinance and calling the Planning departments to confirm:
Metro Nashville: 2 step process**: Specific Plan Zoning District - Planning Commission and Metro Council, with three (3) readings at Metro Council (1st reading, public hearing, 2nd reading). Appeal to court.
Hamilton: 2 step process: PUD: Planning Commission and County Commission. Appeal to court.
Shelby County - 2 step process and required neighborhood meeting: Planned Development Outline Plan - Applicant hosts a neighborhood meeting, then Planning Commission and County Commission. Appeal to court.
At both steps there is a development plan to review, and the public may engage in the civic process. The 2nd step - County Commission approval - provides an opportunity for additional civic engagement and modifications to be made to address concerns brought up at the Planning Commission and during additional dialogue occurring between those two meetings.
Today Knox County has a 1-step process where public comment on a Development Plan is received*** - Development Plan review at Planning Commission. This is less opportunity for civic engagement than our peer metropolitan counties in Tennessee offer and is why we need an appeal process to BZA, which serves as a safety valve for those rare occasions where a closer look is needed. Compared to our peer metro counties, Knox County has a more efficient process for development plan review and approval, with one required step, and a rarely used optional appeal step to take a closer look at issues. A one-step process, and an optional appeal to BZA provides Knox County with the best of all worlds - green tape + option to dive deeper when needed.
Conclusion - 161 housing units were impacted by appeals of residential development plans from Jan 2020 through Jul 2022. 105 of those units were approved the following month at the BZA hearing, and the other 56 were approved 2 months after the Planning Commission meeting. An additional 7,722 units had a 0 month delay because they weren’t appealed. KCPA concludes that eliminating appeals to the BZA would not make a noticeable difference in the number of housing units approved for development in Knox County, nor the time approvals take. However, taking away an opportunity for civic engagement by appealing to BZA does negatively impact Knox County, which already affords less opportunities than our peer counties for this engagement. We should preserve that rarely used appeal of Development Plans to BZA, and the Knox County Commission should codify that in the Zoning Ordinance.
* The data was compiled by manually reviewing the minutes from the Planning Commission meetings from January 2020 through July 2022. If there are any errors, please report them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will make corrections to this website post.
** Davidson County also requires a 3rd step - Final Site Plan - which is normally accomplished administratively by staff
*** Glenn Jacobs asserted that there are 3 opportunities for public input, but he incorrectly included the two (2) rezoning hearings (Planning and County Commission). A development plan is not required and hardly ever provided during the rezoning phase, hence the public has nothing they can review or comment about. There is only 1 required hearing where a development plan and all of the details are present - the Planning Commission approval of a Development Plan.
Details of Development Plan Appeals since 2020
Woodbury Crossing (12-A-20-UR): A proposed plan for 80 DUs of apartments was considered by PC at its 8/2020 meeting, during which neighboring Edwards Place landowners opposed the plan. The subject property was originally approved for single family detached units as part of Edwards Place, but the original developer went bankrupt and never began that phase of Edwards Place. The PC denied the plan for multifamily apartments -- the only denial by PC of all the plans submitted from 1/2020 to 7/2022. A revised plan for 79 DUs was submitted and considered by PC in its 12/2020 meeting, with opposition being expressed from various parties on various grounds including the lack of an amenities area. PC approved the plan, and the approval was appealed to BZA. The appeal focused on the lack of an amenities area and did not actually challenge the 79 DUs. BZA voted in its 1/2021 meeting to approve the plan with the condition of adding a right of way to allow access to a greenway adjacent to the property.
Bluegrass (8-D-20-UR): A proposed plan for 56 DUs was considered by PC at its 8/2020 meeting, during which neighboring landowners opposed the plan on various grounds, including the effects of a waterway on the property. PC approved the plan for 56 DUs. The opposition appealed to BZA on grounds that, absent a determination by the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation, the waterway needed to be considered a "blue line stream," which would require changes to the plan. BZA first heard the appeal in 9/2020, but there had not yet been a determination by TDEC, so the matter was deferred to the 10/2020 BZA meeting pending such determination. At the 10/2020 BZA meeting, following a TDEC determination that the waterway was not a blue line stream, BZA voted to approve the plan, subject to the condition that the developer discuss stormwater plans with neighboring landowners. Our understanding is that even after the matter was resolved in favor of the developer, over a year went by before any work was begun. A final plat for the subdivision has yet to be filed as of this post, and no units have been approved.
Mission Hills (1-G-22-UR): in Sep 2021, PC approved a plan for 18 DUs, which was not appealed and so work was allowed to commence. Several months later, the developer applied for approval of a revised plan adding 8 DUs for a total of 26 DUs. PC considered the revised plan at its 2/2022 meeting, during which neighboring landowners opposed only five of the 26 DUs, based on road access. PC approved the plan for the 26 DUs, and the neighbors appealed to BZA. BZA denied the appeal in its 3/2022 meeting, upholding the PCs approval of the 26 DUs. The neighboring landowners have taken the matter to court, not as a challenge to the development plan but rather as a challenge to the concept plan which PC approved alongside the development plan.
Details of Development Plans for Residential Developments for Other TN Metro Counties
Development Plans for Residential Developments
Metro Government of Nashville and Davidson County
2 step process: Specific Plan Zoning District - Planning Commission and Metro Council, with three (3) readings at Metro Council. Appeal to court. Metro uses Specific Plan zoning districts, similar to Knox County Planned Development process. The Specific Plan Development Plan process (17.140.106) requires two steps:
Hamilton / Chattanooga
2 step process: PUD Development Plan - Planning Commission and County Commission. Appeal to court.
Residential development plans are considered under their Planned Unit Development process which starts on page 182 of Zoning Ordinance.
PUD requires two (2) approvals - first to the Planning Commission, then County Commission. No further appeals process is specified.
Note: The Hamilton County BZA has a number of additional responsibilities according to the zoning ordinance, including hearing requests for relief from the landscaping requirements, sign requirements, etc. In other words, the Hamilton County Commission granted BZA significant additional powers.
Shelby / Memphis
2 step process: Planned Development Outline Plan - Planning Commission and County Commission. Appeal to court.
For major modifications to the plan: 1 step process to Planning Commission. Major modifications may be appealed to the County Commission, then appealed to court.
Zoning Ordinance. The processes are the same for the city and county (City Council is the Governing Body in the City, and County Commission in unincorporated county). A nice chart on page 436 of the review authority for processes.
The applicant is required to host a neighborhood meeting for Special Uses (Uses on Review) and Planned Development Outline (section 9.32, page 437)
The approval process is described on p. 450 (section 9.6) for Special Uses and Planned Development reviews. They are heard first at the Land Control Board, and then forwarded to the governing body for hearing and recommendation.
If there is a major modification, it is heard at Land Use Control Board and then may be appealed to the governing body.
1 step process: Development Plan approval at Planning Commission. Prior to now: was interpreted that appeals are to BZA, but now is interpreted that appeals are to court, in some zones where a development plan approval is specifically called out as a use on review, and to court in other zones) An assertion was made that this is a 3-step process, but that logic is flawed. That assertion includes two (2) rezoning hearings (Planning and County Commission). A development plan is not required and hardly ever provided during the rezoning phase, hence the public has nothing they can review or comment about. Also, a development plan may be submitted months, or years after a property is zoned, or it could be submitted as part of a re-development of property zoned decades earlier. There is not always a rezoning hearing that immediately precedes a development plan proposal.
[correction 2022-Aug-15: updated number of development plans appeals since 2008 from 9 to 10 after reclassifying the Post Oak Bend as Development Plan appeal instead of Use on Review]