January 19, 2024 10:00am

Knox County Growth Plan

A majority of survey respondents support Jacobs’ proposal to manage development in the county, but they are divided on its chances for passage.

Photo of Scott Barker
Knoxville, TN Correspondent
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The fate of Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs’ proposed amendment to the countywide Growth Policy Plan now lies in the hands of Knox County Commission, Knoxville City Council and the Farragut Board of Mayor and Aldermen. If approved by all three legislative bodies, the amendment would mark the first change in the Growth Policy Plan since it was first developed in 2001.

But before the panels vote on the proposal, which is the result of the two-year Advance Knox planning process, we asked Power Poll members to weigh in on the plan. A solid majority of respondents support the plan, though only a plurality said they thought it would get the necessary approvals from the legislative bodies.

Knox County’s population is projected to add 79,000 residents between 2018 and 2045. The Growth Policy Plan, which is mandated by state law, would set the broad parameters for future development. The amendment makes a few major changes to the county’s existing growth plan, which hasn’t changed since it was adopted 23 years ago. It changes the growth designation on about 14.5 square miles of currently “Rural” area to “Planned Growth,” which would allow a greater level of development. It also removes specific regulations on the development of slopes and hillsides, deferring instead to existing county policies.

Nearly two-thirds of Power Poll respondents expressed support for the plan, and only 12 percent said they did not support it. Many, however, didn’t take a position, with 24 percent saying they were unsure.

The shift of 14.5 square miles of Rural areas to Planned Growth dominated much of the deliberations of the Growth Policy Coordinating Committee, which voted 10-2 to recommend approval on Jan. 10. Committee members include Jacobs, Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, Farragut Town Administrator David Smoak, and representatives from the school system, utilities, the Knoxville Chamber and other groups. A coalition of farmers, residents and conservationists organized opposition to the reduction in the Rural development area, establishing a website and successfully encouraging people to attend the growth committee’s meetings.

A majority of Power Poll respondents — 58 percent — said the plan would result in the loss of rural areas. Only 23 percent said rural areas would be preserved under the amendment.

The survey responses showed that development and preservation were laudable goals, indicating that members want to see a balance between the two. Equal majorities of 91 percent said that increasing the housing supply and preserving family farms were both important. Fifty-seven percent said increasing the housing supply was very important and 34 percent said it was somewhat important; 55 percent said preserving farms was very important and 46 percent said it was somewhat important.

Though a majority of Power Poll respondents supported Jacobs’ plan, they were not overwhelmingly optimistic about its chances for passage. Under state law, County Commission, City Council and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen must speak with one voice on the plan. Only a few minor adjustments in the proposal would directly affect Farragut and Knoxville, but the municipalities are indirectly impacted by development outside their city limits. Many residents in unincorporated Knox County work or shop in Knoxville, and families living outside Farragut shop and send their children to the county schools located in the town.

A previous effort to update the growth plan was scuttled when it was voted down by the Farragut Board of Mayor and Aldermen in 2020. A solid plurality of Power Poll respondents — 43 percent — predicted all three legislative bodies would approve Jacobs’ proposal, but three in 10 said at least one would reject it. Another 27 percent were unsure. None of the legislative bodies has scheduled a vote on the proposal.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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