On Tuesday, the KnoxViews blog reported that an angry and disruptive Commissioner Greg "Lumpy" Lambert showed up at the Monday night meeting of the Joint City/County Task Force on Ridge, Slope and Hillside Development and Protection and "basically took over the meeting."
Lambert became so enraged that at one point he let fly this little gem: "Pretty soon somebody is gonna bring a gun to the City County Building and shoot all of us and we'll deserve it!" (Despite all of this, the News Sentinel story about the meeting doesn't even mention that Lambert was there.)
While Lambert acknowledges making that remark, he says that he was not carrying a firearm at the meeting and it was not intended to be taken as a threat.
"What I said was that when we as government officials make these decisions that result in devaluing someone's land, pretty soon that will be all they have left," he says. "One of these days we're going to make a decision like that, and someone will bring a gun into the City County Building and shoot all of us. I included myself in that." Lambert adds that he has "faced down two murderers" while carrying a firearm.
"I might be dead now otherwise, which I'm sure would please some of your readers," he says. "Every time I make a passionate statement, these bloggers present it like I'm going to go off shooting people simply because I carry a firearm. I am not a violent person."
"I did not perceive it as any kind of a threat, but I would say it didn't strike me as appropriate," says City Councilman Joe Hultquist, a member of the task force. Even less appropriate, says Hultquist, was Lambert's behavior throughout.
"He got there late, after we'd given our presentation," he says. "He was interrupting task force members, residents, MPC staff, anyone who was trying to speak."
Lambert apparently is fuming about the task force's proposed regulations and limitations on hillside development. He believes that they amount to an economic attack on a silent underclass: the owners of large tracts of rural hillside land that they would like to develop. The task force was formed in the spring of 2008 and given the mission of developing specific ordinances for ridgetop and development hillside development. According to the task force's literature, one-third of the land in Knox County is on hills with a slope of at least 15 percent. The ordinances would protect that distinctive topography from deforestation, overdevelopment, and unnecessary grading.
The meetings this week, including Monday's, were the first public presentations of the task force's proposals for hilly areas. These include a reduction in road width, density reductions in rural and suburban areas, and limitations on high-impact projects like apartment buildings and large commercial facilities.
"I tried to get on this task force myself," Lambert says. "I felt that I was well-suited to it, since I'm on both sides. I believe in property owners' rights and I am in favor of environmentally friendly development law."
If his interests were indeed so altruistic, says Hultquist, he may have been allowed a spot on the task force, but he says Lambert is only interested in a piece of property his family owns—an undeveloped 14-acre tract near the intersection of Old Callahan Drive and Clinton Highway—rather than the needs of his constituents.
The property has a steep hill, atop which, Lambert says, would be a perfect place to put an apartment building.
"It's not a good place for single-family housing because it's on a hill. Everything around it is commercial. It is perfect for multi-family residential," he says. Oddly enough, the property is zoned agricultural, which does not allow for any residence larger than duplexes, with or without new hillside regulations.
"Well, it will have to be rezoned," Lambert says.
It's that type of statement that causes Hultquist to question whether Lambert cares about this type of zoning regulation at all, he says—that and the fact that Lambert has not come to a single public meeting since the project's inception last year.
"I think it's very unfair to the process to refuse to participate at all, to refuse to go to the meetings or have any input in the development of these proposals, and then to come to this presentation and take it over, especially if you're an elected official," he says. "I think in Mr. Lambert's case, there's a real sense of perceived conflict of interest. That's not a bright line, but it's not a fuzzy line either. I think Mr. Lambert has crossed that line."