Midway Business Park scored another win last week with an 11-4 vote by the Metropolitan Planning Commission to approve the site concept plan developed by multiple engineering and architectural firms with input from residents of East Knox County online and at an ice cream social in July.
Thorn Grove resident Ed Reed said the 42 individuals or families participating in that event voted for farming or open space as the best use for the almost 400 acres bought by Knox County for an industrial park. “Not one supported a business park.”
Reed questioned why public bodies like MPC even bother asking for public input.
That struck a nerve.
Chair Rebecca Longmire said public opinion is valued, but “citizens think lots of different things. We listen to both sides, to all sides. Sometimes there are more than two sides.”
And veteran member Art Clancy said, “We want to know what everyone wants us to know –not just people in the Thorn Grove Pike area.” He implied that most in Knox County favor a business park on this land, even if its neighbors do not, and compared it to asking residents of West Knoxville if they want a cell tower versus asking visiting East Knox Countians if they want wireless service in that part of town.
But newcomer Charles Thomas challenged Clancy, a rare occurrence at the MPC. “There’s another view.
“It’s easy to think that building an industrial park is going to bring jobs and business, and it might do it, but it might not do it as well as if it was built at another location,” he said. The attorney and former member of City Council advocated for infill development in areas already zoned for commercial use.
“We’re starting to realize that quality of life is an economic benefit. The most precious thing we have in East Tennessee is our natural beauty. East Tennessee rivals any place in the world, but if we’re not careful, we’re going to squander that.
“One thing that draws people with resources to this area is the livability and natural beauty. … When you enter Knoxville from the west, you see sprawl; when you enter from the east, you see a much more inviting area. … I don’t accept this (business park) is an economic benefit.”
Just when the debate got hot, Laura Cole, herself an East Knox County farmer, observed that the land has been rezoned – “This is done to a certain point, and if it’s going to happen, I’d like to see the best thing happen out there.” She supported the concept plan as did Elizabeth Eason.
With their votes, Clancy’s motion would pass.
But not before another new commissioner, Mac Goodwin, president of Town Hall East, jumped in. “We’ve got to protect the people who live there (from well water contamination). I’m not convinced this concept plan does that.”
Developer Scott Smith got the last word: “We develop on property that has sinkholes every day. There’s a process set up where we deal with them … work around them.”
The concept plan got 11 votes: Longmire, Clancy, Cole, Eason, Smith, Herb Anders, Gayle Bustin, Len Johnson, Patrick Phillips, Jeffrey Roth and Janice Tocher. Voting no were Thomas, Goodwin, Charles Lomax and Mike Crowder.