City Council members appeared surprised at a recent meeting that Recode Knoxville, which purported to be “zone neutral” when the process began, will actually “up-zone” and “down zone” many parcels throughout the city.

Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC) Executive Director Gerald Green told council members at a workshop on Sept. 20 that zone neutral referred to residential property remaining zoned residential and likewise for commercial property.

That elicited concerns from Councilmen Marshall Stair and George Wallace, who at the outset of the workshop recommended Council hold at least two workshops and a special-called meeting to consider the new zoning ordinance once it’s approved by the Metropolitan Planning Commission. The original schedule called for MPC considering the new ordinance in November and Council following suit in December.

The second draft of Recode Knoxville – the effort to rewrite the city’s zoning code in its entirety – creates new definitions for zones, a matrix of permitted uses for each zone, new design standards for buildings and new setbacks for building locations.

Among the most significant changes for commercial properties are design standards that require surface parking be located to the side or rear of the principal buildings in most office and commercial districts. Chamber members and realtors are concerned the requirement would drive up the costs of redevelopment within the city by requiring essentially two front entrances to commercial buildings and making it difficult to place loading docks, dumpsters and other necessary facilities on such sites.

After the lengthy discussions regarding the city’s new parking ordinance, which passed in 2017, planners vowed not to reopen the ordinance under the Recode process. The draft ordinance, however, does require property owners to post a bond to ensure landscaping standards are met. This bond could be cumbersome for property owners and decisions on when they can be released from those bonds inconsistent.

Because many properties would be nonconforming under the proposal, Chamber members have also asked for more clarity as to when property is “abandoned,” requiring that it must be in compliance with the new code, and a clearer meaning of “actively marketed,” to ensure its previous use can be retained.

The Chamber has also asked MPC to cure a defect that has several properties zoned Industrial Mixed Use, which only allows distribution centers as a “special use” requiring MPC approval, because those sites are currently being used for major distribution centers and are located along the interstate.

Property owners are encouraged to visit RecodeKnoxville.com and view their properties current zoning and proposed zoning under the draft proposals.

The third draft, and second draft map, are expected to be released in mid-to-late October. The Stakeholders Advisory Group is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. Oct. 24, and its meeting is open to the public.