As Chamber's Proposal Dies, Compromise Seems Near on Hillside Plan

MPC urges County Commission to reject Plan B

So much for Plan B.

After the Knoxville Chamber presented its own alternative to the embattled Hillside and Ridgetop Protection Plan on Sept. 29, members of County Commission and City Council asked the Metropolitan Planning Commission to give it a look and report back. MPC Executive Director Mark Donaldson did just that on Monday, telling a special meeting of County Commission that the Chamber's Plan B was confusing and at odds with existing laws. "In a nutshell," Donaldson said, "we think there's reason to reject Plan B in its entirety."

The Chamber had characterized its plan as "emergency contraception," designed to head off the Hillside plan that has been gestating for more than three years. The Chamber and many local developers and Realtors have protested that the proposed plan is too restrictive on hillside development, taking particular issue with restrictions that begin on slopes of 15 percent and put limits on grading, clearing, and construction.

The Chamber's plan would not start a lot of those restrictions until slopes reach 30 percent. Donaldson told Commission that's a problem, because nearly three-quarters of the land in the Chamber's proposed protection area is inside regions designated as rural in the Growth Policy Plan jointly adopted by the city, county, and Farragut in 2001. Those areas already have development restrictions that begin at 15 percent slope. By law, Donaldson said, the Growth Policy Plan could only be amended if the county mayor reconvened the original committee that put together the plan a decade ago. And yet, he said, "What we found is that Plan B ignored the rural area of the Growth Policy Plan altogether."

He also raised concerns about Plan B's origins. Donaldson said the Hillside and Ridgetop Protection Plan, which MPC adopted last December, was drawn up over more than two years and included more than 100 public meetings. The Chamber's plan arose out of nowhere late last month and, Donaldson said, "was put together by four people, with support from the Chamber."

Donaldson did offer some compromises to the Chamber and other opponents. He said MPC is drawing up an amendment to the Hillside plan that would lay out "a road map" for how the plan could be incorporated into city and county ordinances, something the Chamber in particular has raised alarms about. Without clear ordinances, opponents fear, the plan would just be up for interpretation by MPC staff, and land owners wouldn't know what they could or couldn't do with their properties.

Donaldson's evisceration of Plan B was thorough but polite. Maybe too polite: Almost as soon as he finished speaking, County Commissioner Mike Brown of South Knoxville wondered if maybe the MPC could just mesh its own plan with the Chamber's plan, and "compromise." Donaldson, politely, said County Commission can do what it wants, but "we would certainly not recommend that."

As it turned out, the Chamber didn't really want to talk about Plan B anymore either. Taking a buoyant and conciliatory tone, Chamber attorney Tom McAdams told commissioners the Chamber was encouraged by Donaldson's proposed amendment. "The MPC plan that Mr. Donaldson just described is far better than the plan that was presented to us originally," he said.

Of course, there are a lot of steps still to go. County Commission voted the Hillside Plan down earlier this year, and City Council hasn't voted on it at all. Donaldson says he will have MPC's amendments ready this week for both bodies to consider at a yet-to-be-scheduled joint meeting. Theoretically, Commission could reconsider the amended plan at its November meeting, with Council to act shortly thereafter. But who knows? Maybe somebody will show up next week with a Plan C, D, or E.