Effort to Save Hillsides From West Knox Neighborhood Plan Falters

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Danny Kirby, president of DK Development, hands out property diagrams during a meeting last week with the BZA. The appeals board upheld a split MPC decision to allow Kirby’s subdivision plans to move forward.Clay Duda

Danny Kirby, president of DK Development, hands out property diagrams during a meeting last week with the BZA. The appeals board upheld a split MPC decision to allow Kirby’s subdivision plans to move forward.

bid by neighbors to stop a subdivision development from mass-grading a hilly lot in West Knox County was thwarted by the county’s Board of Zoning and Appeals last week when the board voted 7-1 to back an earlier split decision approving the 36-home buildout.

Presenting on behalf of area residents, Michael Wright argued that plans for the property that is to become the Cambridge Shores subdivision off S. Northshore Drive near Bluegrass Road violated provisions in the county’s general plan and also guidelines set by the Hillside and Ridgetop Protection Plan, or HRPP. Asking a neighbor in attendance to hold up a copy of last week’s Mercury, which delved into the intricacies of the HRPP, Wright noted that much of the property consists of slopes greater than 15 percent, thus earning it a sort of protected status under the plan and possibly some limits on development. However, an amendment added to the county’s version of the HRPP states that it is only advisory in nature, which means those guidelines can be applied, or not, for each development considered by the Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission.

“While those guidelines may not be binding, we still think they’re relevant,” Wright said.

Most of the residents’ concerns centered on alleged violations of the county’s sector plan, which is part of its general plan, and concerns over stormwater runoff and potential flooding. In particular, Wright referenced sections of the general plan that call for minimizing grading on steep slopes, protecting natural drainage systems, and restricting developments on slopes greater than 15 percent near streams and rivers, among other things.

Approval for the subdivision passed the MPC in early October with a narrow 7-6 vote during a use on review hearing, a necessary step for early conceptual development plans. MPC Development Service Manager Dan Kelly told the appeals board last week that he believed the development complied with all county guidelines and recommended approval.

“Knox County did not adopt the HRPP, and staff has been struggled for some time on how to deal with property with slopes,” Kelly said. (County Commission did indeed adopt the HRPP, but with an amendment stripping much of its authority.)

Knox County Drainage Engineer Leo LaCamera testified that, at this point in the development process, it was too early to address the finer points of runoff and stormwater management, but noted the subdivision would be subject to all related regulations and inspections before earning final approval from the county.

Developer Danny Kirby, owner of DK Development, said flattening the majority of the lot at a slight 6 percent grade up toward the center, then taking a 6 percent slant down to the back end of the property approaching the Tennessee River would actually help better control runoff and manage stormwater then constructing houses on the existing hillsides. Site plans call for two retention ponds to hold influxes of water, aimed at preventing flooding due to a downpour. About 88 percent of the 12-acre property is slated to be clear-cut and graded. Retaining walls will hold up existing hillsides being excavated.

“The idea that there are these steep slopes we can’t grade on, I’d probably agree with that above 40 percent slope, and as a developer I wouldn’t want to go above a 40 percent slope,” Kirby says.

Knoxville attorney Michael Kelly, representing Kirby in front of the board, questioned the BZA’s authority in hearing appeals to use-on-review cases, but that did not stop the board from casting a ruling after some discussion.

Board member Kevin Murphy, who was the lone dissenting vote, said he had some concerns over the layout of homes and didn’t believe the site plan fit the type of development they hoped to see in unincorporated Knox County. Kirby says construction on the neighborhood will likely start this spring.


Featured Photo: West Knox County resident Michael Wright testifies before the county’s Board of Zoning and Appeals in a bid to stop the development of the Cambridge Shores subdivision near his home off S. Northshore Drive. Photo by Clay Duda.

Former Mercury staff reporter Clay Duda has covered gangs in New York, housing busts in Atlanta, and wildfires in Northern California. And lots of stuff about Knoxville.

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