Neighborhood activists reacted strongly to one of Mayor Tim Burchett’s new appointments to the 15-member Metropolitan Planning Commission. The city mayor gets seven appointments, the county mayor eight.
Word went out Thursday that Burchett has tapped Chris Ooten, an executive with Safe Harbor Development whose resume also includes working for Weigel’s and Schaad Properties in zoning, development and construction.
East Knox County activist Lisa Starbuck was first to sound the alarm:
“I have become aware that Mayor Burchett is planning to appoint yet another developer/builder to the MPC. The building/development community is already well represented on the MPC with at least six members, and many people believe that a regular citizen should be appointed instead. This has nothing to do with the individual who is being considered for the appointment, who I am sure is a very nice person.
“This will be discussed at the County Commission work session on Monday, and we would like to see the nominee’s name withdrawn from consideration before it becomes too public,” Starbuck said.
Margot Kline, president of the Council of West Knox County Homeowners, joined in: “Chris Ooten appeared to be a fine human being when he worked as a real estate person for Schaad Builders and Weigel’s, but his appointment would stack the deck in favor of development. We need someone with ties to homeowner groups, families or schools – a regular person – not yet another developer.”
Then CWKCH secretary Judy Horn activated her massive email list: “We should tell the mayor that what is needed on the MPC is an ordinary citizen representing homeowner groups, families and schools. Act now.”
Ratification of Burchett’s three appointments is on the agenda for County Commission in September.
As of Saturday, Burchett was undeterred and defended his choice of Ooten by saying that development is important to the financial health of Knox County.
“You either develop available property or you raise taxes. And developers have to follow the rules. That’s the bottom line. The city has chosen to raise taxes. I don’t choose to do that.”
He pointed to his 2014 re-appointment of Laura Cole, a retired TVA executive and farm owner who has a keen interest in environmental issues.
“We need balance. The developers came to me and asked me why I wanted to put her on there. I told them, ‘Y’all can go jump in the lake.’ Developers complain; homeowners complain. That’s just the way it is.”
Ooten’s is not the only name Burchett is submitting this month. He has also reappointed sitting commissioners Herb Anders, whose resumé boasts more than 40 years of experience in the construction industry, and MPC’s senior member, Art Clancy III, whom many homeowners and neighborhood groups consider their bête noir.
Clancy has served 12 years on the MPC – 2004-12 as a city appointee and since 2012 as a county appointee. A 2014 interlocal agreement between the city and county limits MPC commissioners to two consecutive terms.