Since 2019, the residents of numerous neighborhoods in the Northshore / Toole's Bend area have been working hard, and persistently, to make their voices heard.
When long time residents, Diane Montgomery and Bryan Spears, first heard that Post Oak LLC was submitting a request to rezone a large parcel along the Tennessee River near Northshore Drive from Agriculture to Planned Residential to build more than 600 units of housing on 260 acres of land, they reached out to fellow community advocate, Kim Frazier with Hardin Valley Planning Advocates, for direction. Frazier has been advocating for and bringing awareness to the need for intentional growth and coordinated infrastructure since 2015. "The growth of our county has quickly outpaced our roads, utilities, schools, and other fundamental infrastructure needs, which is both great and concerning. Through our efforts, we have learned so much about the capabilities and limitations of local and state government in regards to land use and planning, so when Bryan and Diane called, I simply shared with them how the process works, what to expect, how to get organized, and who to reach out to. It's all about connecting communities."
The group of concerned citizens acted swiftly forming the organized community group, Northshore Corridor Association (NCA).
When asked about the most recent ruling, Montgomery said the area needs infrastructure improvements before residents will feel comfortable with more development. Montgomery was quoted in the local subscription new source, The Compass April 6 edition, as written by Jesse Mayshark - "As is our view for all of West Knox County, we believe that improvements in infrastructure to ensure public safety and the long range quality of life for the area should precede development," she said. "The property's historic significance as a very early Indian burial ground, as a land grant to Revolutionary War soldier John Toole and as the original site of Lakeshore Insane Asylum make it likely that any development proposal there will draw significant public scrutiny. NCA would almost certainly be a part of those community discussions."
The zoning request was originally approved by the Knoxville Knox County Planning Commission and Knox County Commission. This is when the Northshore Corridor Association made the difficult decision to dig in and appeal the ruling to the Board of Zoning Appeals, who also supported the development. With gained support from local residents, NCA filed suit claiming that a wastewater treatment plant included in the plan to serve the development was not allowed in the planned residential ordinance siting that although other zoning ordinances did address utility infrastructure, the PR zone does not. The judge agreed and ruled in favor of NCA.
But the efforts on both parties did not stop there. After Judge Davis' ruling, Post Oak LLC asked for an amendment to her decision and filed a letter from an engineer with First Utility District of Knox County offering the addition of sewer lines to the plan. In agreement with the residents that the current plan had already been through a public process, Judge Davis refused the proposed amendment.
Post Oak LLC took the matter to the appeals court, which to their dismay, agreed with Judge Davis. Jesse Mayshark with The Compass reported the news first writing, "Frierson wrote, “Respondents’ effort to revise the Development Plan after the BZA review provided no due process for the revised method in which the development’s wastewater would be handled to be presented in a public forum.” The appeals court also refused to consider an argument from the defendants that the county doesn’t have the authority to regulate utilities in the first place, since they have their own defined statutory powers. Frierson noted that because of the county’s participation in the case, “we are presented with the unusual situation of Knox County’s having apparently joined in Post Oak’s argument against the county’s regulation authority.” But he said the question of the county’s ability to control utility construction wasn’t raised by the county or the developer at either the BZA or in the original trial, and therefore could not be raised on appeal. (A subscription to The Compass can be obtained here: https://compassknox.com/).
Although the efforts of the citizens have been tirelessly waged for over 2 1/2 years, they have been impactful and brought positive attention to the importance of citizen engagement in local land use and planning processes. We will continue to monitor, as we believe that we have not heard the end.