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Knox Co. Commission delays rezoning vote for big housing development in a rural community until April

"Once they destroy these farms and these rural areas, there is no replacing this," one community member said.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In the sleepy Dry Hollow community, life is quiet. Residents can hear birds in the air and see deer prancing through their backyards. For decades, this community has looked out at farmland, rolling hills and forestry. Now that view may be going away.

"The people that live in this rural area bought here because it is rural," said Dawn Close.

Dawn Close moved to this part of Knox County because of its ruralness. She also lived in a historic site surrounded by natural springs.

Brad Russell also lives in this little community.

"I own a farm that is adjacent to the property. It's been in my family for nearly 100 years, and we just don't want to see it ruined by development," Russell said.

Currently, 160 acres in this community are zoned for agricultural uses or are considered protected hillsides. Then, the land was bought by developers, Thunder Mountain Properties LLC.

In November, Thunder Mountain Properties requested a rezoning; however, due to great opposition, they postponed the vote.

Initially, the developers wanted to build 474 homes on 158 acres — three homes per acre. However, that plan was not profitable due to the more expensive cost to build on the hillsides. 

Instead, they asked for 255 homes to be built on the flat part of the land, which is about 65 acres. That's four-family homes per acre.

Knox County Planning approved the requested rezoning, to change that land to a planned residential zone. That vote was 10-4 in December 2021.

About 25 Dry Hollow community members were present at the planning meeting. All of them were frustrated with the decision.

"The traffic that this is going to cause is going to be enormous," Russell said.

"People are very concerned, the school overcrowding, grocery stores, overcrowding, all of it," Close said.

The developers were also at the meeting. They said they heard the communities concerns and are doing their best to accommodate everyone. Thunder Mountain properties said they addressed the traffic concerns with Knox County and have a plan for how to manage the growth. 

The transportation analysis states that some of the smaller surrounding roadways are in "poor condition." The FMA recommends improvements.

Although the rezoning was approved by the planning committee, it still had to be voted on by Knox County Commissioners to be officially approved. The locals were asking for that proposal to be turned down.

"It'll never be the same, the trees will all be taken down, the animals will all be gone. And that's the beauty of this area," Close said.

While they lost the first round of the land battle, the Dry Hollow community members said they weren't ready to "call it quits" just yet.

"What it means for us is we're going to just buckle down harder and fight even harder at the next meeting. We have to, we have really this one shot because once they destroy these farms and these rural areas, there is no replacing this," Close said.

The Knox County Commission voted to postpone the rezoning decision for 60 days until the April zoning meeting on Feb. 22. Members said they were working off a sector plan that is around a decade old, which could impact their decision.

Other county leaders plan to create a new growth plan soon to guide land use and transportation decisions in the future. They also said they wanted to delay the vote to give developers and community members a chance to speak about how they could compromise.

Commissioners said they were conflicted over preserving the rural landscape of the area and allowing developments to continue around Knoxville. They said they were worried about preventing homes from being built and were worried about how it could impact the city's housing crisis.

"Growth is coming, things are going to be built around where other growth is," said one commissioner. "More people bring more people."

During the meeting, they also discussed concerns about developers not trying to sit with the community members to find common ground, despite major opposition to the developments. They said normally, community members and developers talk about the plans to avoid conflict before development starts.

"You can still have a development," said Brad Russell, an organizer of 'Stop the Zoning.' "We can still have growth, but it's smart growth and not this ridiculous growth that's happening all over the county right now."

Developers spoke during that meeting as well, saying they believed it followed the county's policies and presented a development opportunity. They said without this location, they would need to build further out into rural areas that may not have infrastructure as good as this community. 

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