The Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission released this week the first draft of Recode Knoxville, a potential overhaul of Knoxville’s zoning ordinance. At least two more revisions to the draft are expected before the Knoxville City Council considers whether to adopt Recode Knoxville’s final product.

At first blush, the draft appears to achieve at least one of the goals of Recode Knoxville—making the zoning ordinance more user-friendly. Since the initial passage of Knoxville’s current zoning ordinance, and more than a half-century of piecemeal amendments since that time, Knoxville’s zoning ordinance has developed a decent amount of disorganization, ambiguity, and redundancy. In my opinion, Recode Knoxville’s draft is far easier to read and interpret than Knoxville’s current zoning ordinance.

Another stated goal of Recode Knoxville is enabling a greater mix of uses in the City’s commercial corridors. The draft achieves this result by allowing certain residential uses—namely, multi-family and townhouse dwellings—in office, neighborhood commercial, and general commercial zones. Above-ground dwelling units would also be allowed in all commercial zones. Is this a big change from Knoxville’s past zoning ordinances? Absolutely. Is this a change from Knoxville’s current zoning ordinance? Yes, but to a more-limited extent. The City amended the current zoning ordinance last fall to allow some residential uses, subject to conditions, in certain commercial zones. Recode Knoxville simply expands on this recent amendment.

Developers will likely notice that the Recode Knoxville draft eliminates the current designation of specific “planned development” districts and instead treats “planned development” as a process that would apply to all zoning districts. However, the practical effects of Knoxville’s current ordinance and the Recode Knoxville draft appear to be very similar with respect to planned development. The proposed planned development process, like current planned development districts, permits flexible application of zoning requirements when circumstances warrant. One difference, though, is that the Recode Knoxville draft sets forth more consistent, specific criteria than currently exist to determine when the planned development process would in fact be warranted.

One noteworthy change is the expanded requirement of “landscaping plans” for certain developments. Knoxville’s current zoning ordinance does contain some landscaping plan requirements, but this is mostly limited to the current planned development districts. In contrast, the Recode Knoxville draft contemplates that landscaping plans must be prepared for newly constructed multi-family/townhouse developments and nonresidential developments (i.e. commercial and industrial developments) in addition to planned developments. Other meaningful changes include revised language for building orientation, setback, and façade requirements.

The actual effects for specific property parcels remain largely unknown for now. At this stage, no proposed revision of the City zoning map—the document that dictates the zoning designation for each city parcel—has been prepared. Once a proposed revised zoning map is prepared and released, then property owners will be in a much better position to evaluate the potential effects of Recode Knoxville’s adoption on their specific parcels. A proposed revised map will likely be prepared and released as part of Recode Knoxville’s second draft, which may occur sometime around June. Until that time, it is still wise to stay engaged in the process. The first draft, as well as the opportunity to comment upon the draft, is available at Recode Knoxville.

If you would like more information on this subject, you may contact Richard Graves at (865) 546-9321.