Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Here's your hillside plan votes

Let's face it, these so-called meetings to discuss the Hillside Ridgetop Protection Plan (older story about it right smack here) are nothing more than dog and pony shows.

You got one side sending out bogus emails, riddled with untruths.

And you've got a few on the other side posting under fake names on message boards across the county, making it look like they have more support than they do.

Then you have 11 commissioners on the dais – all of whom more than likely know how they're going to vote.

Come on.

Let's get this over with.

Now supposedly, the commission isn't going to hold a public hearing during its work session next Monday to talk about it, but we all know how well that worked during today's so-called workshop.


Turned into a public hearing.

So, even if they make it through next Monday – without everyone saying the same thing over, and over, and over, and over and whatever again – there's still April 25.

That's ostensibly when they'll vote.

But, let's be real.

There will be a public hearing. Then it gets tabled. Commissioners will want to hold a workshop with their counterparts in the city. Then there will be more workshops.


Eventually, this sucker is going to get shot down. At least by the commissioners. (I don't cover the city so I don't care what the council does. And yes, they can approve different plans.)

Once it's voted down, the commission will then amend the whole plan, or rather have county law director Joe Jarret do it.

Or the board will form a subcommittee.

Actually, that makes more sense. The commission – and the mayor for that matter – they all just love these subcommittees.

By the way, how is that subcommittee charged with coming up with alternatives to the business park in East Knox County working for you?


Thought so.

Anyhoo, here's my predictions on how the commissioners are going to vote on the hillside protection plan based on comments made today at the workshop.

And remember: I'm never wrong.

Because if I was, I wouldn't admit it.

It's going to flop, more than likely 8-3.

Here ya go:

Sam McKenzie: He votes for the plan. During the meeting, McKenzie said he figures “something will happen, but I'm not sure what.” He also stressed that he's tired of the opponents complaining about how long the plan took to create (three years) and how much it costs (something like $350,000). “If it's a quality plan then it's going to take some time,” he said.

Tony Norman: Oh man, I don't even have to respond to this one. It's his freakin' baby. He's voting a big “Hell Yeah!” against those “rascals”. (In other words, he votes for the plan, too.)

Jeff Ownby: He's voting against the plan. Ownby is a big “property rights” guy. Plus he made some comments questioning whether the county needs more regulations.

Richard Briggs: The good doctor votes against the plan, too. He said there are “plenty of laws in this country (or county – can't read my handwriting) and it's just a matter of enforcement.” He also suggested that developer put up a “significant bond requirement” when a project starts, so if the builder “does go bankrupt or something untoward happens . . . then there's a way to compensate the people or communities that have been harmed.” He added: “I'm not necessarily in favor of more rules, but I am in favor of more enforcement.”

Mike Hammond: The chairman votes against the plan. He was already hinting at it today. Just the manner of his questions to Metropolitan Planning Commission officials. He wanted to know if had to be voted up or down. And whether it could be amended. He was told yes for both questions. He smiled. He's ready to say no.

R. Larry Smith: Ha ha. As easy as Tony Norman. But the opposite. Put him down for a big “Hell No!” In fact – in between taking shots at the developers for “leaving the table” during negotiations and the MPC for including what he described as misleading pictures in the plan – he said so. “It's a property rights issue,” he said. “I'm not going to beat around the bush. I'm going to vote against the plan. But I'm going to vote 'yes' for more enforcement.”

Dave Wright: He's voting against the plan even though he said “I have been extremely on the fence on this.” He said most of the people affected under it live in East Knox County. Those are his folks out there. And a lot of them don't want it. Plus, a lot of them know that one day they might want to sell all that land out there and a developer isn't going to buy something he/she/it can't build on. He was, however, curious about what the current administration wants to do. Which, I overhead someone say what Wright really meant to say was: “What does Steve Hunley (mortal enemy of county Mayor Tim Burchett and publisher of The Focus) want the current administration to do.” (Burchett is against the plan by the way, but he doesn't vote, so what does it really matter.)

Mike Brown: He's voting against it. He stuck his finger in the air; felt the direction public opinion is blowing (at least vocal public opinion) and decided he's against it. “The No. 1 solution to the problem is better enforcement,” he said, adding that 95 percent of the phone calls and emails he's received have been from folks against the plan. (Of course, the same people are sending the same emails over and over and over and whatever again. But I digress.)

Amy Broyles: She's voting for it. Broyles wasn't at the meeting. I'm going through experience on this one. She likes to go against the grain on major issues.

Brad Anders: The vice chairman is voting against it. Anders wasn't at the meeting. He's a big “property rights” guy, too.

Ed Shouse: He's voting against it. Shouse also wasn't at the meeting. He had a prior appointment. I can't remember what it was. I also can't remember why I said he's voting against it. But he is.

By the way, here's a link to the MPC plan, so you can make your own decisions about it.


Anonymous said...

"And you've got the other side posting under fake names on message boards across the county, making it look like they have more support than they do."

Pray tell me what those fake names are. Most of the posts I've seen in favor of the plan are by people using their real names.

Mike Donila said...

you're right. wrote that in a hurry. changed to "a few" which I know is the case. is the other side posting under fake names? sure, but I just wanted to do one - not a zillion - pokes at each side. The emails that are going around was the poke for the oppposition because there's a lot of misinformation in them.

Anonymous said...

"a developer isn't going to buy something he/she/it can't build on"

So you don't understand the plan either? Were you playing Angry Birds when the MPC guy showed an actual parcel in East Knox Co that would gain 19 units under the plan?

Mike Donila said...

yeah, i was. got through that level, too. thanks for asking.

i understand the plan fine. but this post isn't about explaining the plan - it's about how i expect the commissioners to vote.

they're two different things and i'm not going to debate the merits of the plan.

With that said, I'm glad you reminded me - I meant to put up a link to the plan.

In all seriousness, I hope that helps.

Brian Paone said...

It's times like these I miss Greg Lambert.

And Angry Birds is in no way long enough to make suitable entertainment during Commission workshops. (Or any Commission meeting.) Civilization's the only way to go.

Or Total War. Either are good.

Anyway, if someone wants to build on a ridgetop, I really don't care. I wouldn't, but I'm not everyone else. I'm pretty sure ridgetop/hillside property owners are already barred from building anything unsafe or unstable on that kind of terrain anyway, so...

What's this plan supposed to remedy, other than boredom?

Anonymous said...

Nobody is saying you can't build. you just have to follow certain guidelines. The developers are painting it as though they can't build anything, which is wrong,you can. Is that so bad to keep them in "check" so they don't run amuck with OUR land?

Brian Paone said...

Are the current guidelines insufficient somehow? If so, how?

Again, what does this plan remedy other than boredom?

Anonymous said...

8-3 or 9-2. Be serious, 150 people show up at 8:00 am? That has never happened. Ever. Most likely bet it only Norman and Broyles that take the fools walk. You are wrong about Wright. And McKenzie isn't a fool. At least not that big a fool.

Oh, and your advice not to show up? 150 people saw it differently. Missed that one a little didn't you?

Anonymous said...

"The emails that are going around was the poke for the oppposition because there's a lot of misinformation in them. "

No kidding.

I support the plan. But I really wouldn't mind it being defeated if it was voted down by people who understood it after we had a serious discussion about the real elements in the plan.

I DO mind it being defeated by screaming, name-calling, personal attack, and the spreading of misinformation, half-truths, and just plain untruths.

Guess I forgot for a bit that this IS Knox County....

Anonymous said...

BTW, I think you're wrong on 7-4. I predict 6-5. But we shall see.

God helps us if they decide to send it back to MPC. Just pass the plan or kill the damn thing.

But Commission does love buck passing.

Brian Paone said...

Wow. The plan doesn't even really alleviate boredom.

Cubedoctor said...

Honesty about a situation from a professional reporter is refreshing. We have so many quasi reporters in cyberspace nowadays. I agree that this proposed plan will be shot down and I am predicting 9-2 and will back that bet with odds.

I do not however think addressing the steeper slopes, the ridges, and the total deforestation of a site is dead. We need some better guidelines (not etched in stone rules) on the books, if only to make those people rearranging the earth pay better attention to what they are doing.

You do crack me up with your blog and your reply to comments. Knox County personalities and politics do give you a lot to work with. Keep up the good work word crafter.

Rikki Hall said...

Actually, the plan does not impose guidelines on developers. It relaxes the rules on the flatter parts of a parcel so they can more easily avoid the slopes. That is what is new about it.

It allows for narrower roads, reduced parking requirements, smaller setbacks and other incentives for developers to leave steep, forested slopes untouched. To show their gratitude for all these concessions, developers have bitched and moaned about how restrictive it is.

Brian Paone said...

I don't think either the "fors" or the "antis" can talk smack about either side bitching and moaning, since both appear to be doing it quite well.

But anyway.

What is the root problem this proposal is supposed to address? Soil erosion? Conservation of forested slopes? Overdevelopment concerns (and if so, who's got the concerns)? Mitigating the threat of extraterrestrial invasion? All four? Something else?

What is this plan supposed to do besides alleviate boredom by way of watching the circus that this discussion has become? What's the ultimate goal of this plan?

Is this just more hippie crap a la Midway, or is there an actual problem this plan seeks to resolve?

Because so far, all I see is a bunch of hippie crap and two pragmatic solutions that, frankly, should have been in place a LONG time ago. (What idiot OK'd allowing people to develop ANYTHING on a 50 degree slope?)

Anonymous said...

Purpose of plan (if you read it):

a) Preserving scenic ridgetops. There is currently nothing on the books currently that addresses that.
b) Stregthening guidelines for development on steep slopes to prevent erosion, flooding, degraded water quality, and threats to health and safety.

Purpose of the plan (if you read emails from or listen to various opponents):

a) Allow Tony Norman to look at trees (yup, this was actually said, in a public meeting). I suppose this would be "the hippie crap."
b) Involve government in property rights (because you know, government has NOTHING to do with that now)
c) Make development so expensive that the development industry in Knox County will be destroyed (in an email to me)
d) Implement new urbanism in Knox County (?????)
e) Destroy our economic base and eliminate job growth

You know, we could be having an argument over the merits of the plan - that is, does it acheive its stated objectives in the best way? Instead we're treated to an endless barrage of bull and attacks on people and their motivations.

Depressing as hell.

Rikki Hall said...

The plan promotes conservation of forested slopes, which is important for water quality, flood prevention, air quality and aesthetics.

Brian Paone said...

@Anonymous RE: reply, in order -

* (A) Conservation and preservation are two different things. I don't mind conservation in the slightest. Preservation is something that should be used a little more judiciously.

What if we need a water tower or cell tower on a ridgetop? What if someone wants to build an attraction the likes of which adorn the top of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga?

Preservation tends to block things like that, whereas intelligent conservation tends to allow such things... well, intelligently.

(B) These can be done without preservation.

* (A) No, I was referring to the overuse of the concept of preservation as "hippie crap". Sorry to confuse you.

(B) OMG we're about to agree on something - I don't like the tactics the "antis" are using either! Wow, common ground!

Of course, that doesn't mean I'm in love with the elitist condescending tone the "fors" are using, but hey - baby steps.

(C-E) Hell, Commission does that well enough nowadays, don't they.

* Ah, finally. You've decided to choose something other than cake. Well done! So let's begin.

If the plan involves a heavy degree of preservation - which it seems to do - then I would argue that it does not BEST achieve its stated objectives as listed under (B) of your first paragraph.

Preservation is a community tool that has narrow applications and broadly-reaching effects. It shouldn't be used just because someone thinks ridgetops are pretty. They're also valuable commodities and resources.

By overusing preservation, it can be strongly argued that local and regional communities then overuse existing resources (particularly concerning lumber and real estate) and may find themselves hard-pressed in some decades to locate new resources to supplement growth.

In short, over-preservation can paint some regions - especially hilly/mountainous ones such as ours - into some tight economic corners.

So. Can the objectives of part the second be accomplished through majority/sole use of conservation tactics, rather than preservation? I'd say yes, and far more pragmatically.

Brian Paone said...


How does this plan promote the conservation of forested slopes? All I see are new restrictions being placed on overly steep slopes (that should have been in place anyway) and, as Mr./Ms. Anonymous pointed out, a lot of preservation tactics for the ridgetops themselves.

Ridgetops we may need to utilize in the future.

Do you believe the current plan allows for responsible utilization and exploitation of our area's ridgetop resources in the future? For my generation and the generations after that?

If so, how?

If not, why?

Rikki Hall said...

The plan promotes conservation of forested slopes by relaxing the rules on the flatter areas, making it easier for developers to leave the slopes untouched.

The plan is not regulatory, so it does not forbid anything. Utilities are exempt from local regulations, and Commission always has the option of overruling the guidelines if a cell tower is needed or someone make a compelling case for a commercial attraction or just greases their palms enough.

Brian Paone said...

@Rikki RE: reply, in order -

* Kind of a convoluted way of going about it, but okay, I'm game. What happens when the most economically viable parcels become the slopes, and are we looking at developing any specific flatland? (And what kind of restrictions are there going to be THEN? Last time someone tried to develop an extensive flatland parcel, Thorngrove went nuts.)

* If it's not regulatory, then Commission wouldn't need to overrule anything, I would think. How does it stay non-regulatory yet still require Commission override for certain projects that don't appear to need that override at present?

And a question or two:

* Can the goals of forested-slope conservation be accomplished any other way? Or is this plan the only option in your opinion?

* What's your stake in this? To my understanding, you live outside of Knox County, yes? Or am I mistaken?

Rikki Hall said...

In order,
* I can neither predict the future nor travel through time. I have been to Thorngrove, and it is not flat. There are numerous hills and sinkholes with slopes exceeding 15, 25 and even 40%.

* That's how local land use guidelines and regulations have always worked, and such overrides happen all the time, whether you notice or not.

* This is obviously not the only option, but it's what the community settled on after years of meetings and deliberation. Instead of offering ungrateful developers carrots, they could have opted for sticks.

* Though I currently live just over the border in Blount Co, I work in Knoxville, have been part of the Knoxville community for almost 20 years and will likely live within the county borders in the future. My primary stake is wanting the community to make sound, democratic decisions based on good information and honest deliberation.

Cubedoctor said...

“I can neither predict the future nor travel through time.”

Jiminy Crickets…you just ruined my perception of the Rikki man.

I thought you were like the wind….and lived in the bark of the trees, the hearts of butterflies, and in the soul of the great Hellbender Lizard. I don’t know how they figure out where to deliver your mail!

You don’t cross the border from Blount County without a work visa, do you?

Brian Paone said...

@Rikki in order:

* And your estimate on the acreage of non-developable land in that parcel would be...?

But that still didn't answer my questions. Are we trying to get any specific flatland developed?

What happens when the flatland's developed and slopes become even more valuable than they are now? I don't expect a prophecy, but it's reasonable to assume we at least have some idea of what to do in that situation other than "revisit it when it happens". Ounce of prevention, ton of cure.

* Sounds like a sizable portion of the community didn't settle on it, if that many developers are upset.

They're people too, you know. (Most of them, anyway.)

* The fact remains that you don't have to live with the consequences of the decision like Knox Countians would, but that's fine. It's a free country and you're entitled to your opinion about another jurisdiction's long-term development policies.

Lord knows Mike Mitchell loves him some City politics, so at least you're not the only one. I'm sure there's more.

Anyway. This has been on my screen for a fair bit, so I'll just post this and see what - if anything - new has been posted.

Mike Donila said...

"I agree that this proposed plan will be shot down and I am predicting 9-2 and will back that bet with odds."

Yeah, I'm starting to get a little nervous on my Sam McKenzie pick. (By the way, it should have been 8-3 not 7-4. My maths sucks.)

Anonymous said...

"Yeah, I'm starting to get a little nervous on my Sam McKenzie pick. (By the way, it should have been 8-3 not 7-4. My maths sucks.)"

9-2, no more delays. It was a bad plan and Tony made it worse with his nonsense. A lot of people feel for Tony. Good guy, he just kinda lost it. Hope he can get back to the Tony people like. This Tony, was a jerk.