Ravens critical of proposed zoning changes; Mayor 'not surprised'

By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

Zoning changes are on the agenda for the next Blount County Commission meeting, and the parties are lining up "for" and "against."

The Raven Society, a citizen group, has released their analysis of the proposed zoning changes, saying it violates "smart growth."

Mayor Jerry Cunningham says the core of their definition of "smart growth" is "no growth."

According to a press release from Raven Society chairperson Kathleen Skinner, the group recently developed and distributed to Blount County Commissioners their analysis of proposed changes in Blount County’s zoning regulations that the commission is scheduled to vote on at their April 19 meeting. A public hearing on the proposals is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 10. Both meetings are in Room 433 of the Blount County Courthouse.

The release defines the Raven Society as a citizen’s group which advocates the use of "smart growth" principles for protecting Blount County’s rural, natural and historic qualities.

"The proposed zoning changes are contrary to the basic elements of quality, or smart, growth and to the clearly and repeatedly expressed desire of local residents to maintain Blount County’s rural, small town character," Skinner said. "The proposed zoning changes may violate Tennessee Public Chapter (PC) 1101, a state law intended to guide and define land use and zoning decisions statewide and to minimize urban sprawl."

Skinner said the group developed this analysis to help residents understand the cumulative effects of the proposals. "We want Blount County’s residents and public officials to understand the potentially negative consequences of ignoring ‘smart
growth’ principles. Not only will these changes allow and encourage more sprawl, they will also cost the county and
taxpayers money, since every new residence in Blount County currently costs more for public services than it generates in property taxes," she said.

Skinner said group members are not against growth. "Rather, the core concept we embrace is that development should be directed towards existing communities. This is a more efficient use of infrastructure, reduces development pressure in edge areas, and preserves open space," she said. "Since it is much easier to develop on ‘green fields’ at the fringe, because the land is cheaper and easier to obtain, we believe that communities must consciously work to encourage development where they want it and to discourage it elsewhere."

Blount County Mayor Jerry Cunningham said he wasn’t surprised the group disagreed with him on zoning changes.

"It’s not surprising to me a liberal group like the Ravens would oppose that," he said. "They keep crying out their term ‘smart growth’ but give no real definition of it. When I decipher and cut through of what they’re saying, ‘smart growth’ to them is ‘no growth.’"

Cunningham took aim at the group’s philosophy. "The Ravens are the ones who have their cabin in the woods but don’t want you to have your own. If you want to build one on your land, they want to tell you when to do it, how to do it, or, to their line of thinking, tell you if you can do it," he said. "I fought and served too long in situations they can’t even imagine to have them dictate and impose on others how property owners should use their private, hard-earned property."

According to the press release, the proposed changes to zoning ordinances include:

  • Raising the permitted height of buildings in the suburbanized zone of the county to 55 feet.
    "This building height is greater than allowed inside most of the city of Maryville," states the press release.
  • Allowing multifamily developments on 26-foot roads instead of only on 36-foot (four-lane) roads.
  • Raising from 1.2 per acre to 3 per acre the number of dwellings per acre allowed in Rural Areas on municipal sewer or state-approved sand filtration system.
  • Allowing 55-foot (3-story) structures in the Commercial District and 45-foot structures in commercial zoning, outside the Urban Growth Boundaries.
  • Deleting the current size limit of 10,000 square feet per parcel on commercial buildings in Rural Arterial Commercial District.
  • The sixth change would create a new sports complex district zone for athletic fields. The zone specifically addresses a sporting complex proposed for Highway 411 South near the Loudon County line.

    "To jump over undeveloped land to locate an island of development out in the country is contrary to PC 1101 Growth Plan for Blount County and the principles of quality growth," according to the press release.

Both the complete analysis and a condensed version are available at The Raven Society’s website (www.theravensociety.org).

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