Development doesn’t have to be a dirty word

Wendy Smith
Government/Politics columnist

As Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC) Executive Director Gerald Green has met with residents and business owners, he’s confronted a mix of attitudes, from oblivious to disgruntled.

Residents are disgruntled by development when they don’t understand the process and don’t get engaged, he says.

“One of the goals I identified soon after starting with MPC was increasing the public’s awareness of what we do and how they can be involved.”

One of the best ways to become educated about the development process is to attend MPC meetings at 1:30 p.m. on second Thursdays. But those who can’t make it downtown can watch video archives online. A link at the bottom of the MPC home page − − provides access to new archives that allow users to view separate agenda items.

Green also plans to post the preliminary agenda earlier − four weeks before each meeting rather than two.

At the same time, he recognizes that citizens won’t want to be involved if their opinions don’t matter. Too often, steps haven’t been taken to implement ideas incorporated into city and county sector plans and community plans, like the Bearden Village Opportunities Plan. If plans are realistic, MPC should draft ordinance and policy changes to back them up, he says.

If such ordinances had been in place in 2001, when the Bearden plan was created, the area might look different now. The plan calls for wide sidewalks and mixed-use buildings that are close to the street with parking behind them. Implementing such ideas into areas with existing structures is a challenge, but you have to start somewhere, Green says.

He’d like the opportunity to meet with builders and developers. A development community that’s “comfortable with the way things have been for 30 years” makes change even more challenging. But mixed-use, multi-story development benefits everybody − property owners, local government and consumers − because it puts more on a smaller space.

It’s smarter than using an acre to build a 12,000-square foot fast food restaurant with 33,000 square feet of parking. It also fights urban sprawl.

“We can’t keep spreading out if we want to preserve our agricultural lands. We have to increase density,” he says. But he understands why change is slow.

“Change is scary − for everyone. If we’ve been doing something for a long time, and it works okay, there’s not much motivation to do it another way.”

He’d like to offer incentives, like faster time frames or reductions in fees, to motivate developers to try new things, like mixed-use projects.

The redevelopment of areas like the Magnolia corridor will take more than involvement. It will require buy-in from citizens, business owners, developers and investors, he says. The city will present plans for streetscape improvements to a six-block section of Magnolia Avenue at a public meeting from 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, at the John T. O’Connor Senior Center, 611 Winona Street.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here,” Green says of Knoxville and Knox County.

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