Updated: Jul 20
[Edited Jul 18 to reflect yet another change in the proposal that allows an appellant to appeal to BZA or court, and the development applicant to decide to opt-out of BZA]
Monday, July 25, at 5PM County Commission will hold a Public Hearing on a proposed ordinance that would CHANGE THE PROCESS OF APPEALS FROM PLANNING COMMISSION DECISIONS. To date, Uses on Review (which also have included Development Plans) have been appealed to the Board of Zoning Appeals. The proposed changes are to give an development plan applicant the choice of venue for where a Development Plan appeal is heard - at BZA, or directly to court. This will make it harder for you to participate and achieve good outcomes for some planning issues.
What Can You and Your Neighborhood Do? BEFORE JULY 25
Most Important - Send a representative to speak at the Public Hearing at 5PM on Monday Jul 25th at the City County Building. Here is a guide for signing up and where to park. Must sign up by 4PM on Jul 24th. Also please let KCPA know you're speaking - fill out this very short form.
If you would like to speak as an individual, sign up to speak. Everybody gets 5 minutes. The more voices they hear, the more they know residents are interested in this matter.
Personally call your County Commissioner (contact info here) - they need to hear citizen phone calls to know this is important.
Why Does This Matter To You and Your Neighborhood?
This will make it harder for you to participate and achieve good outcomes for some planning issues. Having appeals go directly to court is more costly and takes longer. Also, the court has a much narrower scope of review.
An appeal to court is much more costly than an appeal to BZA, making it simply unaffordable to most citizens and neighborhood groups. In effect, this would end most citizens’ and neighborhoods’ ability to appeal.
An appeal to BZA takes much less time than an appeal to Chancery Court. Less time spent is good for both the applicant and the community.
BZA operates with broader authority to re-weigh the factual evidence and arguments, whereas the Chancery Court has a very limited scope of review (basically determining if the Planning Commission was arbitrary and capricious)
It ain’t broke, so what are we trying to fix?
There have only been 16 appeals filed in the last 15 years. 70% of those appeals were resolved at BZA. These appeals are not an overload to the system.
The Development Plan is the defining characteristic of Planned zoning districts such as Planned Residential, Shopping Centers, and Business and Technology Parks. Sending Development Plan appeals directly to court means that there is one, and only one, opportunity for people to comment about a proposed Development Plan in a formal public meeting. If the Planning Commission approves the Development Plan, the opportunity for further public comment is gone.
This further tilts the process in favor of the applicant.
Today Planning Commission rarely grants a neighborhood / opposition a postponement; often we hear "The applicant has paid a big fee to have this heard and we need to make a decision today so it isn't delayed."
Now the applicant gets the opportunity to decide which appeals process they want to use - a BZA hearing, or to go straight to court.
Suggested Talking Points regarding the Proposed Appeals Process for Development Plans
The proposed change in the Development Plan appeals process is a real blow to individuals and neighborhoods.
Development plans lay out key aspects of a proposed planned development: for example, roads, sidewalks, landscaping, screening, signs, where various uses are placed on the property. But the devil is in the details, and these details may not be available when the project comes before the Planning Commission.
Neighbors get one, and only one, public input opportunity at the Planning Commission meeting. If neighborhoods can’t react, work with the developer, and organize input and meeting attendance in the 3- week window before the meeting, that’s it. For a development that they’ll be living with for years – possibly decades – this isn’t adequate.
Allowing appeals to the BZA gives neighborhoods additional time to fully grasp the development’s potential effects and suggest alternatives if needed. The BZA has authority to weigh the evidence within the context of the surroundings and modify decisions. But a Chancery Court doesn’t have that authority: It has a very narrow scope of review.
Instead of sending appealed Development Plans to court, County Commission should clarify and codify that Development Plans must be appealed to the BZA first.
Providing an appeal to BZA is good policy for everybody. It helps identify any opposition before litigation. Applicants and opponents are encouraged to compromise and have more time to do so. With a full, fair, and public BZA hearing, it’s less likely either party will continue to pursue more expensive and lengthy litigation (only 5 of 16 appeals heard by BZA were then further appealed to court since 2008)
County Commission has not yet debated the pros and cons of this proposal - so far it’s just trying to understand the processes. Work with the County Commission: For example, If you or your neighborhood has ever addressed Planning Commission or the Board of Zoning Appeals, tell about your experience. Were the issues that you raised addressed and validated?
Ask for their support for voting to allow Development Plans to be appealed to BZA
Thank them for taking your call / meeting / reading your email
Position of the Knox County Planning Alliance
KCPA opposes the proposed Zoning Ordinance resolution as currently written. Amending the Zoning Ordinance should be done only if there is a strong rationale for ending a long-standing practice. For many reasons, Planning Commission decisions for Use on Review AND Development Plans should remain locally appealable to the BZA, rather than go directly to Chancery Court as proposed.
For more background
And news coverage: